Murdering Crows

A look at the “sport” of hunting crows.

The Great Auk, buffalo herds coloring the plains – the Carolina Parakeet, species once so numerous that their wholesale slaughter happened without worry. In our time we might think of species preservation as protecting those endangered – not usually protecting those who are common.

I’d just come in from a walk in a nearby field watching fledgling crows begin to explore their new home and found a message from a friend up north. He’d seen a brown crow, he thought, and wanted to know if it could be true. It wasn’t really that unusual for this person to exhibit such auspicious timing. He went on to say that he’d typed brown crow into his search engine and what came up, he said, was “not for the faint of heart.” So I did the same. Brown crow.

Among the top of the search results, if you haven’t looked, is a page on the website, titled Oddities, featuring photographs of crows that differ from the standard in some way. All of the crows pictured are recently shot and killed. In fact, most of the pictures on this site are of crows that have been killed.

Crow Busters is strictly concerned with killing crows, and the sale of products to enhance the enjoyment or the efficiency of killing crows.

US federal law permits killing crows. The regulations are slim: the season can last no more than 124 days each year; killing must not occur during the main nesting season in any given state; only rifles, shotgun, handguns, archery, and falcons may be used to kill crows. If these crows are engaged in, or about to engage in property destruction, including ornamental trees, fruit trees, all agriculture, or depredation of wildlife, or if they have gathered in number or manner sufficient to cause a human health hazard, or any other nuisance (italics mine), then the federal government offers no protection whatsoever, regardless of the season. At no time during the year is a “bag limit” imposed by the federal government.

If a state wishes to offer greater protection it may. The federal regulation is a minimum standard. This may mean that in your state killing crows is illegal. Let’s hope so. More likely, your state adopts the federal wording, and adheres to the letter of the law. California appears to lead the way on increasing the protection to crows with a 24 bird daily limit. Most states extend the “crow season” by limiting the carnage to three days each week. Even these slight restrictions wear on the patience of crow-killing enthusiasts, although it is still essentially legal to kill as many crows as you can. A crow hunter in Pennsylvania told me,
“I’m either just over or under 1000 a year. That’s all combined, geese, duck, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, crow. I rack up large crow numbers. I hunt 3 states and shoot anywhere from 1500 to 2000 rounds a year to hit that number. What I spend on ammo could feed your family for a year!! That I know!!”

In 2010 the crow season in Pennsylvania, in deference to nesting season closed April 6 2014. Three days previously, Hunting held its 2nd annual crow shoot. Participants from around the state posted their results with photographs on the website’s forum. The season re-opened on July 2. July 11 the Pennsylvania Crow Shoot was held in Erie County. According to the organizer of the “event,” 32 shooters killed 251 crows. Afterward, they had a picnic.

32 people killing 251 crows may seem destructive but it isn’t outside the norm by any means. In California, according to an agency report, in 2003, with its 24-bird daily bag-limit, 40,000 crows were “harvested.” That same year the state’s Department of Fish and Game rejected a proposal to extend the crow season to year-round and to eliminate the bag limit, ostensibly to help the citizens of Yuba City “offset the nuisance caused by crows.” The grounds for rejection cited were that the 124 day season was federally imposed, that the popularity of the crow hunting had declined over the last 20 years, and that the relative low numbers of the yearly “harvest” of crows at 40,000 individuals, and the low number of crow hunters, 3,100, made alteration of the existing statute unnecessary. It was also stated that “[c]hanging the bag limit from 24 per day to no limit may also bring with it negative public perception and misunderstanding.” As it stands, 330 crows being killed every day of the 124 day season apparently isn’t viewed negatively by the public and is “understood.”

Wildlife rehabilitator and self-described “crow mama,” Sandy Beck, who has raised orphan crows since 1989, describes the degree of slaughter that has been considerd normal and understood in an article she wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat (September 9 1996)

Fort Cobb Oklahoma, the heart of Oklahoma’s rich peanut crop, boasts the world’s largest crow roost. I learned this fact in a eye-opening but (mercifully) out-of-print book, The Varmint and Crow Hunter’s Bible, [written by Bert Popowski] which I picked up in a local used book store. It also includes chapters on such “nuisances” as bobcats, coyotes, snakes, great horned owls and foxes.
During harvest season, the Fort Cobb State Recreation Area drew as many as ten million crows. To coincide with this event, they hosted the annual Fort Cobb Crow Shoot. No bag limit.
Red Watt, the author’s “all-time favorite crow-shooting buddy” came all the way from Omaha to score between 80 and 90,000 each year.(empahasis added) Red’s pet crow named Judas was an excellent live decoy. Red also mimicked a young crow’s distress call.
When I called Ft. Cobb recently to ask if they were still planning their crow shoot for this year, the park ranger said, “You know, it’s the darndest thing. We haven’t seen a single crow in these parts for six years now.” Small wonder.

In Oklahoma, the season is on right now, running each year from 10 Oct – 16 Nov and 9 Dec – 4 March, with no bag limit. In Massachussetts, the season is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday of each week except during the period from April 11 to June 30.

In Washington the 124 day season runs consecutively from September 1 to December 31. No restrictions greater than the federal regulations are placed on killing crows.

Auburn, New York is apparently notorious for its annual “crow shoot” weekend, with controversy over it gaining national attention in 2003 and for the next few years. According to the Auburn Citzen, in February 2004, 52 teams killed 1,067 individual crows.

The reasons usually given for the Auburn crow shoot relate to alleged problems associated with with a resident flock of crows whose population fluctuates around 50,000. Crow killers complain that crows are dirty and noisy.

You can purchase instructional DVDs produced by Kansas crow killing expert, Bob Aronsohn. Featured on the Crow Buster‘s front page was a new write-up from Bob of his recent crow killing exploits, traveling around Kansas, shooting crows with his friend Jerry.

Our first hunt was an afternoon shoot. We had a nice windy afternoon in which to hunt in. The wind was in the northwest at 20 to 30 mph and 58 degrees outside. We were in a river bottom out of the wind and started shooting by 1:30 pm. We shot 331 crows from 1:30 pm to 4:45 pm. Bob – 157 Jerry – 174

Bob and Jerry travel together for the next couple of weeks, wreaking havoc on crows wherever they go. A hundred here, a few hundred there until –

Day 7 – Our last shoot. We did another field setup where we put the dead crows on top of the cut milo, they sure looked good to the crows because we shot 234 of them from 11:00 am to 4:30 pm that day. Here is a good photo of Jerry with the crows on the cut milo (below). Bob – 125 Jerry – 109… Grand total came to 3,584 crows on 16 shoots. Bob – 1,872 Jerry – 1,712 This is the most crows I ever shot on a crow safari. This is most definitely a hunt that Jerry and I will remember for the rest of our life.

Bob Aronsohn claims to have killed 125,000 crows – a remarkable admission to say the least. Other staff at the same website claim tens of thousands. On the website you can read “hate mail” they’ve received and find humorous.

Aronsohn appears to be a celebrity to other crow killers, and he drops in to other forums – offering counsel to youthful beginners, in this case, a teenager from Anacortes, Washington:

by Stonegoblet » Wed Oct 24, 2007 9:31 pm

Here’s a little party favor for ya! This is the same gun I took down that squirrel with in a previous post.
Set em up, and Knock em Down!
Posts: 191
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2007 11:34 pm
Location: Anacortes, WA

by Bob Aronsohn » Sat Oct 27, 2007 6:59 pm
Hey there Stonegoblet,You sure look happy and rightly so. If you should decide to buy a better air rifle in the future you will really be hell on wheels, no damn varmint will be safe with you around!Does that rifle shoot pellets or bb’s? If it shoots both, what did you shoot the crows with?Bob Aronsohn
Bob Aronsohn
Posts: 238
Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2005 12:44 pm

by Stonegoblet » Mon Oct 29, 2007 6:46 pm
lets see, it was about a year ago, or at least eight months when it happened. I was using Rocket pellets, also called Tomohawks. You know, the B.B. tipped pellets. At fifteen pumps, with a well aimed shot, i capped him right into the neck, where it lodged in his spine. Instant fall.The gun shoots B.B.’s and pellets, but as you can see, it needs a repeater to feed in the pellets, so for a while i could only use B.B.’s Now I’ve got four repeaters, and a Dangerous Grin! Feel Free to PM me, I’ll tell ya more cool stuff. Think that’s about it…
Set em up, and Knock em Down!
Posts: 191
Joined: Sat Jun 23, 2007 11:34 pm
Location: Anacortes, WA

by Bob Aronsohn » Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:11 pm
Hello Stonegoblet,Have you ever tried shooting birds on the wing with a shotgun? That is a ball calling the crows to you instead of you sneaking up on them. I was about your age when I could call them well enough with a hand call to get them to respond and come a winging over the treetops. I would guess your about 14 or 15 years old so you have your whole life ahead of you to enjoy popping those pesky varmints.Good hunting young blood!Bob Aronsohn

Of course, this isn’t new.

The brutal destruction of Eskimo Curlew, at the hands of “gunners” in Nebraska – shooting wagonloads of the birds, whose migrating flocks in flight would cover forty or fifty acres, according to Scott Wiedensaul in his elegant book of the migration of birds Living on the Wind (1999) – shooting the birds as they rose from the burned-off prairie, in numbers so large that 19th century colonists called them “prairie pigeons,” reminded of the Passenger Pigeons that once filled the eastern forests, before they were shot into extinction. They’d shoot them until they’d filled their wagons and dump the shot birds to rot on the ground and keep shooting until they had filled them again.

At the time, it was commonly believed that the numbers were so great, and the birds lives worth so little, that no great harm was being done. So it comes as no surprise that the crows shot today are called pestilent, or too many, or in the way. The same charge was leveled, along with shotguns and rifles, railroads and laws, against the bison, prairie and the people whose lives depended on its health and abundance.

The stories that naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts and subsistence hunters often hear and tell are of the days when this or that species, – pigeon, curlew, waterfowl in California’s central valley – so numerous their flocks would darken the skies, sometimes for days, as they passed. But now they are gone. As are the chestnut forests we hear of – so thick a squirrel could run from the Mississippi river to the Atlantic Sea without touching the ground; – and salmon, so many, you could cross the river they blackened by walking on their backs.

DSC_0383Do crow shooters view what they do as hunting? When asked, the Pennsylvania man who shoots 2000 rounds a year was incredulous, his reply mocking, and perhaps to him, laced with humor, “No! It’s killing! and it’s something I’m damn good at.” He said he hoped the country “lights up a second civil war” so he can “really practice his trade.”


5 thoughts on “Murdering Crows

  1. Excellent article, but this practice is awful! I don’t particularly like crows, but I absoluely don’t understand those people. The guy’s comment at the end is particularly revealing.

  2. I would like to set the record straight. Red Watt never shot 80 to 90 thousand crows at Ft.Cobb Oklahoma. The author of this article is talking about Bert Popowski who shot somewhere between 80 to 90 thousand crows over a 45 year period during his hunting years.

    He mentions that he contacted Ft. Cobb in later years only to find out that the crows no longer roost there. The crows moved for two main reasons, first was a change in policy where the fish & game department started to allow roost shooting inside the roost at night! I abhor this because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, and guys who do this are slobs, no fair chase here I can tell you. Before this the fish & game department would not allow this, it was pressure from the peanut farmers that caused fish & game to change there policy in the late 1970’s. The second reason was that the peanut farmers switched from peanuts to cotton and there was not enough feed to sustain the crows that did stick around, this is why there are no crows at Ft. Cobb not because they all got slaughtered! Crows are the forth smartest bird in the world and will not stick around if they are shot directly inside there roost, those guys only ruined it for themselves!

  3. I have a story to share with all of you. Years ago when I used to travel to Argentina to hunt waterfowl my friend approached a land owner to get permission to hunt ducks on his ground. Now in Argentina there were no bag limits in those days. The land owner said no hunting because he was a naturalist! My friend offered him a sizeable chunk of change and the land owner then said ok. Well to make the long story short the land owner would observe these hunts from his house with field glasses. By the end of the season the naturalist asked my friend “do you know where I might buy a good used shotgun” and Jorge helped him out!

    The moral of this story is that many people who have had no hands on experience with hunting have some preconceived Ideas about it. Once they see how the hunts are actually conducted they find that they really like it! Now granted not all will like it but some do once they see it’s another way to enjoy the great outdoors!

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