By EDWARD T. MARTIN
I HAVE eaten crows, which, as an article of diet, I cannot say that I recommend, although a crow is enough better than nothing when a person is hungry. Also, as if to even up things, on one occasion the crows invited themselves to a banquet at which I was to be the only article of food, and this from my standpoint was not as good as my eating them.
During the Civil War, in the South meat was meat, and a crow when served properly — well peppered, cooked with onions, and boiled until tender—(fuel was cheap) often found its way into polite society. I do not know how well farmers like crows, but imagine there is no love lost between them, some writers to the contrary notwithstanding. It certainly is a crop destroyer, an egg eater, as well as almost everything else that's bad and this I do know; the crow has few friends among sportsmen.
Late in the fall, and early in" the spring, when shooting is mostly about air holes and around ice, the ducks killed, particularly those falling some little distance away, are left until the shooter is through his day's sport, before being gathered. Then there is many a good bird found half eaten and entirely ruined by the black robbers.
On not a few occasions a flock of crows, keeping just beyond the range of my big gun — and I must say they were good judges of distance — would descend on any duck that went sailing and dropped a couple of hundred yards away on the ice, then before it was possible to pull the skiff out of the blind and head their way — the boat was on runners and easy to handle—two or three of the crows would be hovering over the duck, tearing great holes in its breast and leaving the bird fit for nothing but crow bait. So at a very early period of my hunting career I acquired a strong dislike for them and all their kind, which is one reason why there has been a war on between the crows and me; a war that has caused me many a time to pass up a shot at other game, and kill a crow.
Once I spent the better part of two days trying for a chance at the king of the crows, an albino over whom the rest of the flock was making a great ado. To this day I am not certain whether they were finding fault with him for being white, and anxious to change his color to red, with their bills, or if they feast at which they were to be the eaters, and I the eaten, and it was as much a wish to get the laugh on them as anything else, that nerved me to make the effort to escape, which was successful.
I know I forgot the cold, forgot the icy water, forgot all else but the determination: "They shall not serve me as they have served my ducks!"
On the same hunting trip a friend and his mate found an open spot to which the ducks were working nicely, and wishing to skim off all the cream, after they had staked out some white canvas for a blind, they shot until very late that night, so very late that the morn must have been ashamed of the performance, because every one knows that for many long years there has been a law in Illinois against night shooting.
When looking up it was possible this night to see clearly enough to shoot, particularly if the bird came between the eye and the moon. It was too dark in the shadows, though, to find a dead duck with any degree of certainty, so they decided to let the birds stay where they fell until morning.
One said: "They are on ice, they will keep all winter."
The other replied: "Yes, and the ice is rotten, so we cannot make it back to camp with an overloaded boat. Let's keep on shooting, but it will never do to let the old man know how late we've been out. We'll tell him the ice was so rotten it would not bear us, and that we were signaling for help. He'll have the laugh on us tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Oh, my, just wait!"
So they shot as long as there was a shell left; there was a happy look on their faces, a manner very different from what shooters usually have who come back cold and hungry, after having been out more than half the night, but I was sleepy, so rolled up in my blankets, closed my eyes and said nothing. There would be time enough later on to make inquiries.
In the morning they were not in much of a hurry to get started, and they pushed their skiff lazily to the air hole, for were not their ducks on ice? Why should they make haste?
Yes, the ducks were there all "right, and so were the crows! Of thirty-eight big mallards left the night before, thirty-two were ruined, and the only reason why six were spared was that there were more ducks than there were crows!
The story was too good to keep, and the men told it on themselves. No stories told of the sagacity of crows can be exaggerated. Personally, I have exhausted all my skill in efforts to trap one, and have always met with failure. Once I set a steel trap on the top of a haystack where crows often lit; several came, held a consultation over it, then flew away with "caws" of alarm, nor did any return to that stack for a month. They would not fall for a figure-four trap, as did several hawks and an owl; a pen such as was used for wild turkeys they laughed at. Poisoned corn they passed up — the good they ate. Worse than all they got drunk on corn soaked in whiskey and came back for more. They refused to come within the "reach" of a pigeon net, but ate all the bait on the bed until the net was set. After the first day or two they hob-knobbed with scarecrows, and seemed to enjoy their society.
They were not afraid of a man on horseback, or of a woman with a hoe or broom. Give the man a gun, though, and they kept beautifully out of reach. Boys on raised platforms beating tin pans they regarded as a joke, and could they have made themselves understood, probably would have told them: "Give us a dance tune, please!"
The corn was saved from crows by mounted patrols, with shotguns, after, the same manner that wheat formerly was saved -from geese, in California, but then the corn was getting pretty well past the danger mark, which may have had something to do with it. At the same time, whether a man be a shipwrecked hunter, floundering in the water, a shooter who has killed game that he intends leaving out all night, or a grower of corn, he should remember it is a good thing to Beware the Crow!
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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