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.
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