The American crow has captured the attention of some Pennsylvania sportsmen for years. Though they aren't the most sought-after game species in the commonwealth, crows do have a following of dedicated hunters who regularly look forward to pursuing the abundant and intelligent birds each season.
In 2012, a Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist reported, "About 25,000 Pennsylvania hunters harvest around 200,000 crows annually." Though that number seems fairly large, it pales in comparison to the 303,973 deer taken by hunters during the 2014-15 season. In my opinion, crows are overlooked as a challenging target species.
The American Crow is actually classified as a non-game migratory songbird – the only one of its kind that may be hunted. The federal government limits crow hunting to no more than 124 days a year, and prohibits states from establishing seasons during prime nesting periods.
However, the feds do leave all other decisions – including season dates, hunting regulations and bag limits – up to each individual state. In Pennsylvania, crows may only be hunted on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from July 4-April 5. There is no bag limit on the number of crows that hunters are allowed to harvest, and the only required permit is a general hunting license.
Though the season is winding down, now is the best time of the year to hunt crows. A lot of birds are migrating through the state, and this provides a good window of opportunity to thin their explosive populations just before peak nesting begins in late April.
Controlling numbers is important because crows are a highly adaptive and opportunistic species that can thrive in a wide-variety of environments. They can raid suburban gardens, pick through city garbage cans, and demolish a farmer's orchard with ease. They are even known to steal eggs and sometimes feed on the young of other birds. In large quantities, they can become quite a nuisance.
Though crows are pretty intelligent, they do respond to calls and decoys fairly well. Success can often be found by setting up right at daybreak, and utilizing a crow and owl fight sequence on an electronic caller. A few well-placed decoys can really help lure crows into shooting range as well.
Crows have very keen eyesight, so it is important to choose a good setup location with hemlocks or other overhead cover, wear full camouflage and keep unnecessary movement to a minimum.
Selecting a location with a low tree line will help ensure close shots. Calling first thing in the morning when the sun is rising also seems to make them more willing to dive in low to check things out, perhaps because they can't see as well in the low light conditions.
Calm days are typically more productive than windy days. This is likely because the birds can hear the call better, and an absence of heavy gusts allows sentinel birds to hover and circle longer without having to fight wind currents, resulting in higher percentage shots.
When the birds arrive, the action happens pretty quickly. If you miss or don't get a clear shot, it is best to just pack up and try somewhere else, because the birds will need some time to settle down before coming to the call again.
If you feel like you could go for a little early morning excitement, consider hitting a local woodlot for a late-winter crow hunt. It's a different kind of hunting, but it's easy to get into and can be a great experience to share with family and friends.