Crow Hunting In New Hampshire

Sep 11, 2013

They eat your crops, they scold you from the treetops, they prey on songbirds.  Experts consider the crow, which can use tools and recognize human faces, one of the smartest birds.  And while many people don’t know it, crows are also hunted in NH.

The crow, like the rat and the pigeon, is a synanthropic species, which means they've learned not only to live alongside us, but to thrive because of us. For farmers like Ralph Rathjen who grows sweet corn, blueberries and squash on his farm in Sanbornton,the crow is nothing but trouble.

Oh 5:30 in the morning it's the first sound I hear out of getting out of bed.  I've come around the porch many days with a loaded shotgun, but as soon as they see you, they fly away. 

And that's why Rathjen came to the Owl Brook Hunter Education center in Holderness, to learn from crow hunting expert Pete Lester how to protect his crops.  

How smart are crows?  Smarter than most hunters.They're a very canny and intelligent animal and that's what can make them difficult to hunt for those of you who've tried and had limited success. 

The 20 people in attendance  nod in agreement.  Mike Powell from Laconia, an avid hunter, says the crow has him stymied.  

One of the things I came here to learn was the actual calling.  How to get em to come in. Because they are smart birds.  It's amazing.  I play around with them and I can't get em to come close.  So I was like, what am I doing wrong? That's why I'm here. 

To hunt the crow, Lester says, you have to know the crow. Concealment is important. Hiding behind brush or in a blind. Like airplanes, crows land into the breeze so having the wind at your back, a contrary position for most hunters, is key. But the trickiest part is getting the crows attention. To do this, you need to learn their language.  

Crows that have separated at night and have roosted are now looking for each other as they start to wake up.  Where are you?  I want to get something to eat, do you want to go with me? I'm sure that's what they're saying.  But what you'll commonly hear are three and four long notes. Tell me you haven't hear this. Caw Caw Caw. You hear that early in the morning, that's one crow looking for another.  If you do that, he's probably come looking for you. 

What's hard to know is exactly who's looking for the crows.  Anyone with a valid hunting license can shoot them. Unlike deer or grouse, there's no bag limit. But that's not really what troubles John Marzloff, Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. 

I mean I'm a hunter, I'm a fisherman.  And I have no problem with hunting, but crow hunting is very different. Crows are killed and they're just left or piled up sometimes.  It's not the typical hunting where you're out to gather a resource which you can enjoy and eat, although I'll tell you, they taste great.  

In his second book on the great tasting bird, The Gift of Crows and Ravens, Marzloff elaborates on our longstanding complicated relationship with the crow. 

That bird is often revered as the creator or the bringer of life and also the taker of life and the trickster and the pain in the butt of all birds.  So they are viewed very strongly, positively and negatively, even within the same society. 

Pete Lester has never tasted crow and doesn't plan too. Regardless,he says crow hunting is completely within the range of the sport.  

Why do you hunt crows?  There are a lot of reasons.  But make no apologies for being a hunter.  Hunters are part of nature. A farmer might have a reason that a couple of the guys in the back of the room don't but they still want to do it.  

Wanting to do it and doing it successfully are two different things. Even armed with Pete Lester's tips, Marshall McGuirk of Walpole still isn't confident he has an advantage over the crows. 

A lot of other animals won't catch you moving as quick as a crow does.  If you're up in a tree stand a deer will walk right under your tree or even walk up to you if you're sitting on the ground.  A crow sees you and is gone, before you even know it's there.