Controlling crows with an air rifle
PUBLISHED: 11:05 26 December 2020
Jamie Chandler reports back from a recent farmland hunt which provided the opportunity to cull some crows with the air rifle; shotguns and gas guns had previously proved too noisy for the location
I’ve probably said this many times before so skip on to the next paragraph if necessary, but of all the species we can hunt in the UK with an airgun, the grey squirrel is by far my favourite to go after. I’m not talking about shooting the tree-wrecking, birds’ nest raiding rodents over a pre-placed feeder; although an effective pest control, it’s not ‘hunting. in my opinion. I’m talking about tracking – stalking and bagging them in the woods. It’s 100% immersion in the here and now, being utterly present or missing your opportunity, thinking you’re on to a shot and then watching as your quarry just seems to vanish, and all in the middle of beautiful woodland.
With this in mind, I called my friend, Ben, the other day to ask again if I could go up to the new permission he let me on, that I wrote about last month. There were signs of an abundant squirrel population that needed thinning, and although 38 miles away, an hour in the car and the usual bottle of a Châteauneuf du Aldi was a small price to pay for an excellent day’s sport. Annoyingly though, the wily old bugger had another plan in store that would help him out, yet still cost me a bottle of Aldi’s finest for the privilege!
MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL
On part of one of Ben’s permissions is a large dairy, milking a herd of over 150 cows, amongst some wonderful looking but crumbling farm buildings. Ben met me by the gate and explained that pest control efforts with a gas gun and shotguns had been thwarted somewhat by complaints of noise from a new build, ‘executive style’ housing estate, some 300 yards away. I was pretty sure Ben’s decibel level as he explained his thoughts on ‘townies worse than rats’ might trigger more complaints, but finally, his disdain subsided and he explained the job in hand. Feral pigeons and crows had been targeting the dairy for a free feed, defecating in the feed clamps and troughs and becoming more and more of a nuisance and health hazard. As we stood there, I could see his point as hundreds of crows circled overhead flitting between some cut maize and feed, whilst a flock of 20 or so white ferals landed on the dairy roof.
“Figure it out and just get rid of ‘em all, then you can come out squirreling again. ‘Bout time you did somethin’ useful, Chandler,” my ever-charming, eloquent host quipped as he drove off, leaving me standing in a bleak, cold wind with little idea of where I was, let alone where to start. I hatched a quick basic plan, I’d go after the ferals first, which were flighty but favoured the dairy roof, then target the crows in a small spinney they were sitting in, before flopping into the adjacent rolled maize stubble.
I’d had to borrow my mother’s little Fiat Punto to get up there because my trusty 4x4 was waiting for the mechanic to finish self-isolating after a trip to Turkey, so even getting up the track to the dairy was precarious. Deep tractor ruts, hidden by sitting water from the torrents of recent rain, lurked like sharks, ready to rip whatever they could from the underneath. My first decision was to abandon the car in favour of walking between areas. It was easier than explaining to my mum how I’d managed to misplace her exhaust pipe.
With the ever-trusty Air Arms TX200 .22 over my shoulder, loaded with an Air Arms Field Diablo, I made my way. The wind was cold and coming from directly behind me so I took shelter in the wedge of a cosy bale stack, facing toward the dairy; the ferals were used to people around the place so concealment wasn’t an issue.
I sat with my forehand rested on my knee, lined up on my first feral, and a cough from the TX200 then a thud, saw the feral dropped cleanly. I reloaded as fast as I could and waited for another opportunity. Fifteen minutes later, the ferals settled back on the roof and I dispatched number two. So far so good!
I reloaded again, but as I prepared for a third shot I noticed that the dairy had come alive and cows were forming a queue to be milked. This was a new situation to me and I didn’t want to upset anyone, and with that in mind, I found a farmhand to ask, who said he’d prefer not to have someone shooting so close whilst they were milking, so I swapped plans and headed toward the spinney to try to bag a crow.
The crows seemed to be everywhere; over the dairy, on the feed claps and even sitting on a horse manure pile, with little interest in humans relatively nearby. I reached the spinney and set up on the outside, under some scrub, targeting the tree where I’d seen so many coming in. After a short wait, I was rewarded as eight of the squawking feed thieves landed in the tree. As they were joined by others, my efforts to get a clear shot on even one were thwarted by the branches and leaves. In the wind, the crows were using the lee side of the tree to shelter and protecting themselves from me as a by-product. I decided to decamp and explore the inside of the spinney to see if I could find a better firing point. From the outside, the spinney looked thick with cover, but once inside, it offered clear shots into the sitty tree. I set up in shadow, in the roots of a beech tree and waited.
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After an hour, four crows dropped into the uppermost branches and I was on them and ready, moving slowly in the deep shadow and aiming slightly off to counter the wind. A burp from the TX200 and again, a thwack signalled my first crow in the bag. It dropped to the floor as the others screeched skywards.
A quick reload and I was ready as more came in, screaming their disdain at the treatment of their brethren. I took aim and another dropped to the TX200 and again, I quickly reloaded from my darkened lair. Within minutes, a third hoard came screaming into the tree and I dropped another and another from a fourth group that followed suit. A group of crows is a murder, and I was begining to feel that way myself as I took a fifth. I’ve never seen crows come back so often into danger, in the space of probably about half an hour.
The screeching subsided so I gathered the fallen and hid them out of sight. I heard a rustling and went to investigate, following a tree rat as it charged along the ground at breakneck speed, in and out of cover. I thought I had it, but missed as a twig deflected my shot, sending the squirrel out of the spinney and away, so the waiting resumed.
My wait was rewarded after an hour or so, just as I was getting really cold due to the wind and my inaction, as another murder of crows noisily announced their arrival. I took aim, squeezed the trigger and … nothing. I thought it was weird that the safety was off when I aimed, but I hadn’t reloaded from my squirrel miss. Ever so slowly in the shadow, I fought with numb hands to get a pellet into the breach, but kept dropping them, and after six flawless reloads, I couldn’t manoeuvre a pellet for love nor money. Inwardly, I screamed at myself for not bringing a PCP, but after what seemed like hours, I was loaded – and the crows were gone.
Finally, after another half hour and I’d decided to leave, more crows came in, and again and again for the next hour and a bit. All in all, I bagged 12 crows from the spinney and I was more than chuffed with my efforts. That was my biggest bag of crows to date, and utterly unexpected. I sent Ben a photo to show how I’d got on and he came back quickly, ‘Have a couple more days on them and the rats, and we’ll get you some squirrels’, came the response.
I’m not sure who’s using who, but it’s certainly mutually beneficial and for a bottle of plonk and an hour’s driving, it’s a bargain!