Teach­ing the art of crow­ing

Tom Sykes con­tin­ues coach­ing Char­lie – this time con­cen­trat­ing on how to de­coy crows, from build­ing hides to get­ting on tar­get


Tom Sykes con­tin­ues coach­ing Char­lie – this time con­cen­trat­ing on how to de­coy crows, from build­ing hides to get­ting on tar­get.

Last month I wrote about in­tro­duc­ing my girl­friend, Char­lie, to shoot­ing by get­ting her started on clays and build­ing her com­pe­tence level to al­low her to bag her first pheas­ant. We are a long way from the cold wet days of win­ter and are now firmly fix­ing our sights on sum­mer corvid con­trol.

Char­lie ex­pressed her in­ter­est in want­ing to get in­volved in the less glam­ourous work of crow con­trol, which I was happy to help her with. De­coy­ing crows can be a fairly com­plex sub­ject for a begin­ner, one that takes a vast amount of first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence to un­der­stand. I’ve been shoot­ing crows since I was a child with my fa­ther and I’m still learn­ing and test­ing new tech­niques with ev­ery trip into the field. The good news for Char­lie is that I have learnt from my mis­takes over the years, be­ing rel­a­tively self-taught, and I’m able to pass that onto her to save time to help get her up to speed quicker.

Where to start

As with get­ting her ready for stand­ing on a peg, I de­cided to break the sub­ject down into dif­fer­ent sec­tions. One of the main things with de­coy­ing crows is be­ing able to hit them. The best way to prac­tice is to head down to the clay shoot and fire some shots. Clay shoot­ing helps in a few dif­fer­ent ar­eas as it builds up muscle mem­ory, tech­niques in mount­ing, gen­eral com­pe­tence around han­dling a firearm such as safety catches, load­ing/

Muscle mem­ory can be built up in lots of dif­fer­ent ways. As a child, I used to sit in the gar­den with “snap caps” in a shot­gun to en­able me to prac­tice my swing and trig­ger squeeze on pass­ing song birds. I also used to plink away at tar­gets with the air ri­fle, which is also a great aid in shoot­ing tech­niques. I set Char­lie up on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to prac­tice her mount­ing with the help of a mir­ror. This is a cheap but ef­fec­tive method to build the muscle mem­ory and check the gun is be­ing mounted cor­rectly. I also added the ad­di­tion of a chair in front of the mir­ror to repli­cate mount­ing from a seated po­si­tion. This al­lowed Char­lie to prac­tice all dif­fer­ent meth­ods of shoot­ing from sit­ting, stand­ing and the tran­si­tion from sit­ting to a stand­ing po­si­tion in the com­fort of a home and for free. un­load­ing and it in­creases the shooter’s con­fi­dence lev­els in the field.

Ev­ery time we went to the clay­ground, I kept a watch­ful eye over every­thing Char­lie was do­ing, but took a back seat so that she had to do most things on her own and only chirped up when asked a direct ques­tion. This coach­ing tech­nique al­lowed her to be­come self-re­liant and not need me to help her with ba­sic tasks like load­ing and mount­ing. It also meant that the op­er­a­tion of the safety catch would be­come sec­ond na­ture – safety is a key thing with all types of shoot­ing.

The use of de­coys

I must ad­mit that I was fairly bom­barded with ques­tions when we got onto the sub­ject of de­coys. I had ex­plained to

Char­lie that there was no ques­tion too silly and to fire away with any­thing to try and give her the best un­der­stand­ing of this mas­sive sub­ject. It is amaz­ing how we take a lot of our knowl­edge for granted and it isn’t un­til ex­plain­ing things to a new­bie that we re­alise. I used some of my old Sport­ing Gun ar­ti­cles with de­coy lay­outs to give her the best un­der­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent pat­terns de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, en­sur­ing that I fully ex­plained the vari­ables like wind di­rec­tion, hide place­ment, flight­lines, re­con­nais­sance etc.

Putting it into prac­tice

Af­ter weeks of plug­ging away with the coach­ing we fi­nally had a chance to put it into prac­tice. I re­ceived a phone call off the head keeper of the es­tate telling me that a new field of drillings had been sown right in the mid­dle of the park­land. Both the head

“The best way to prac­tice is to head to a clay­ground and fire some shots”

keeper and my­self thought that this would soon at­tract the at­ten­tion of the lo­cal corvid pop­u­la­tion and one that I would keep a keen eye on.

Af­ter a few days, I had the “sit rep” off the keeper say­ing that there had been move­ment on the field at all ran­dom times of day, but noth­ing repli­cat­ing a pat­tern. Keen to get Char­lie out in the field, I de­cided to give it a go any­way and be­gan to cob­ble my gear to­gether. The fol­low­ing morn­ing we ar­rived at the field and be­gun to lug the gear down the field to the de­sired shoot­ing area. It is a field that I have shot many times so I knew where to set up in re­la­tion to flight­lines. I was now in a po­si­tion to show how to build a hide, set up de­coys and hope­fully bag some birds. Within a short while, we had the am­bush set and were tucked into the hide await­ing our first cus­tomer. The crows on the other hand must have heard about Char­lie’s story from last month’s is­sue of the mag­a­zine and de­cided it wasn’t wise to come any­where near the field.

The­ory test

Although I thought it wouldn’t be the most pro­duc­tive day due to the in­tel­li­gence I had re­ceived, I still ex­pected there to be a few birds to al­low us to get Char­lie on the score board with her first crow. Need­less to say, the op­er­a­tion wasn’t a com­plete fail­ure as it gave her the chance to put the the­ory to the test and ac­tu­ally set the lay­out up. There was also the valu­able les­son to take from the day that it doesn’t al­ways go to plan. I am now con­fi­dent that the next time will be a suc­cess, es­pe­cially af­ter our dummy run! As well as prac­ti­cal in­struc­tion in the form of clay shoot­ing, Char­lie and I also watched my videos from pre­vi­ous years. My videos and film­ing style al­low me to show some­one ex­actly what it is like in the field, from hide dis­ci­pline to shoot­ing tech­niques, with the help of Shotkam. I gave an on­go­ing nar­ra­tion to her ex­plain­ing key points to re­flect on. It is amaz­ing how tech­nol­ogy has come on over the years, and I am a firm be­liever in us­ing it where pos­si­ble to aid with train­ing and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple. The Shotkam es­pe­cially al­lows me to show the amount of lead needed on a par­tic­u­lar style of quarry, like the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­coy­ing crow or a driven pheas­ant, which can be very dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to a begin­ner.

Tech­nique Clay shoot­ing helps build up tech­nique in a few dif­fer­ent ar­eas

On cam­era Video tu­ition is a good way of show­ing be­gin­ners prob­lems that may be hard to ex­plain

Load­ing Load­ing tech­niques can im­prove by shoot­ing at a clay­ground

Lay­outs Char­lie was still able to put the­ory to the test and set the lay­out up

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