Of Corvidae and Camouflage
When my wife and I bought our first home, she found a place “On the Other Side of the World”. In other words, while we had built our lives in northwest Houston and she had found a likely house in northeast Houston. To most folks this would seem like no big deal but the reality was almost fifty miles going in a straight line (Metro Houston is a big place). We discussed travel to work and starting anew in a strange area but eventually went to see the place.
Of course, she loved it.
We did make the move and one of the benefits unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that the property backed up upon a flood plane of the San Jacinto River including many square miles of swamp forest containing deer, bird life, squirrels, nutria, snakes of many descriptions and crows. In between my initial fascination with archery and my current fascination with archery there was a long spell of fascination with everything firearms related. To take advantage of the squirrel opportunities in my new woods and to satisfy my craving for accuracy I assembled an inexpensive scoped, single shot, bolt action Savage .22 rifle. After working through some hitches in the accuracy department the rifle became a tack driver from which no squirrel was ever safe.
Now I know that the concept of hunting tree dwellers with a rifle will no doubt raise safety questions regarding shooting skyward with a rim fire instead of using the traditional shotgun; however, I placed a personal limitation on my activities in that there would be no housing behind the trajectory of the shot AND there would be a substantial portion of a tree behind my target to catch the round. One may say “He must never have had a single shot!” Far from it, many squirrels found their way into the black iron skillet where my Mother-in-Law (God rest her beautiful soul.) concocted a gravy born of the Great Depression and Heaven and transported to our home via a bag of flour and some butter along with some salt.
My wedding to the .22 came from having past bitten on many a shotgun pellet whilst dining on various waterfowl. One must remember this was the time before small hand-held metal detectors were readily available to easily find errant balls of shot waiting to destroy vital masticating surfaces. When I was young, I promised myself that when I “grew up” I would never attempt the ingestion of metal objects again, if I had any say in the matter. Numerous .22 squirrel dinners produced zero projectiles in the pan, on the plate and more importantly between my teeth.
The squirrel rifle was then pressed into service fighting the Never-Ending War of the Snakes. Many was the afternoon when walking the dog along the edge of the pond bordering the woods that various and sundry snakes met their doom at the muzzle end of the now famed squirrel rifle. Death came in the form of a high velocity .22 long rifle lead bullet. Incidentally, I was using the exact same load that worked so well on the tree dwelling rodents.
It was during the protracted War of the Snakes that I adopted the use of a cardboard toilet tissue paper roll taped to the objective lens bell of the scope to cut reflections from the water and a shooting stick. In most instances I conducted my operations against the invading snake army in the late afternoon and as such faced almost directly into the setting Texas sun. The stick is an Aspen memento from our honeymoon camping in the Rockies of Colorado. I won’t get into where the cardboard tube came from. The electrician’s tape I used on the tube is still the original installed some twenty years ago. I think if the tube were now removed, I would not recognize the rifle.
Many was the time I considered how nice a target the native Common Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) presented with their perfect contrast of midnight black against any background nature could provide. That clear definition combinded with their insessant, rawckus cacauphny had more than once attracted my attention and mumbled curses on a quiet Saturday morning’s stroll or sorte’ to the pond for another battle with the snakes. The vermin were always be within easy rifle shot and eventually the temptation became more than I could resist.
As soon as I conciously decided to pursue the dark valkrie, they somehow knew they had been elevated to the status of “fair game”. It took only two forays attempting to bring crows to the bag to show me their uncanny intelligence and I knew I would need to adopt another stratigy other than wearing my standard issue blue jeans and black tee shirt.
At first I tried wearing camophlage shirts. Then I added the pants. Then came the hat. Finally a full face mask and netting garbed the squirrel rifle. Hey, I had wached tose sniper movies too!
It seemed like they saw me coming from a mile away. I even tried driving my truck to the far edge of the woods, entering the canopy, donning the complete costume and then working my way slowly back to the crows’ usual haunts. Mind you, I had yet to fire a shot in anger. I had yet to get within range. This frustrating process continued for about three weeks. It was one evening, standing guard over the pond (You will remember I told you the War of the Snakes was never-ending?) that a white tailed deer came slinking down to the water’s edge for a drink. I was not trying to hide my presence but I was not moving either. It was then that it came to me that even though the deer was not “camophlaged” it only took a few steps into the bush before he dissappeared. His primary color was grey…a flat grey with light tints of brown along the backbone. It got me to thinking if the deer was not splotched with greens and browns perhaps there was a reason for wearing all of that grey!
That evening I dug out my old solid grey sweat pants and hooded sweat shirt that I had gotten from Walmart or someplace else equally cheap. The next time I went to on sorte’ against the crows, they didn’t know what hit them. The Stealth Bomber had nothing on me. (At that time the Stealth had yet to be built but you get the point.) Two of the dangerous beasts fell to the squirrel rifle that day and both shots were within 50 yards. At one point I had been stalking a cawing crow for about thirty minutes and when rounding a large tree I was caught off guard when I found him on the other side low down in the brush. I don’t know who was more surprised, the crow or me. I could not raise the rifle without being seen and he would not stop looking straight at me. I assume he was trying to identify what had disturbed his wonderful songs in what he had believed to be an uninhabited wood. Looking back on the event I probably looked something like the now famous Predator from the movies with the cloaking device turned “on”. Sure enough, I decided to take the shot but was unable to find him in the scope prior to his becoming startled and taking wing. When I got my heartbeat back below 120bps I finally figured out the scope was set on nine power. He was only at about 10 or 15 yards. Some lessons are hard learned and now when stalking anything the scope is always set on the lowest power. I did not miss taking the shot from lack of time. I blew the opportunity because I couldn’t find the target!
Now I ask the kind reader, was the wearing of the grey and my sudden new-found ability to seek up on those guys coincidental? I can tell you it definatly was not! I consiquently killed more than a score of crows from that stand of woods over the next couple of years. As space became available another troop would move in. During that time I witnessed my first “Murder” of crows where literally a hundred or more gathered in that same stand of pines and oaks swirling and looping, calling and croaking for hours. I believe it was some sort of mating ritual designed to mix up the gene pool because it was later that spring I identified the pitiful cries of the newborn.
If yoou have never heard the calls of young of crows not yet fletced it can only be described as erie sounding. When first I heard it I thought of a small injured sheep, a small child or maybe an injured deer. The noise is queer and haunting to say the least. But I found the nests and stalked to the base of those trees and saw with my own eyes the adults coming and going on their parental duties. No, I never molested crows’ nests. Only four points or more are “legal” in my book.
The crows of the stand eventually became honored enimies and I warned my wife that the next one to fall to one of my rifles would be professionally mounted for display. She looked at me like I had flipped my lid! Can you imagine?
By now, I had used everything in the safe at one time or another on the pests…including my Browning A-Bolt 375 Holland and Holland Magnum. You may be surprised at my use of what you may think would be “too much gun” on “mere” crows but have you ever seen the fangs on some of those guys? To this date, my all time longest distance shot on a crow was made with that rifle wearing a Leupod 2.5 to 8 power Vari X III scope. The “standard” load for my 375’s (Yes, I have more than one.) uses the Sierra 300 grain spitzer boat-tailed projectile moving right at 2650 fps. I mean, if you have a rifle in the safe, shouldn’t you use it…particularly when faced with the prospect of dangerous game like the Corvidae?
Yes, a heart shot with a 300 grain 375 diameter bullet will kill a crow with one shot…every time. I know because I’ve tested the theory and results bore out the concept numerous times.
Eventually, another Black Demon fell to the .22 (the 375 presented taxidermy problems for which technology was unable to compensate) and was mounted beautifully, looking like he did the day he fell. When I first took the bird to the taxidermist he looked at me like I was crazy too. Every time I went to the office to pay off the work and check on his progress, the fellow looked at me strangely. Eventually, the work was completed and when I went to pick up my trophy you could see the pride on his face for the work he had done. He confided in me that while he had mounted game from all over the planet (evidence abounded in the show room) this was the first time he had mounted a trophy crow. Admittedly, this specimen was not the largest or the oldest I had killed but none the less it was important to me to give some modicum of thanks for all of the enjoyable hours spent a field in their pursuit. For no reason that I could ever understand, my wife refused to allow my trophy to be displayed in our living room!
The point of this whole protracted story relates back to the question of the effectivness of modern camophlage on wildlife. I know the human eye is easily defeated. It may be that deer see differently than birds. Still I wonder, if my old grey sweats were treated with an anti-UV product, would they be as effective on deer as they were on my warey crows? I watch the Outdoor Channel and I see “new” camo designs every year but could it be that God in His wisdom already has produced an “All Season” camo pattern…flat, un-sexy, un-patentable drab grey?
As an after note: Whenever I am hunting from a ground position and sitting, I cover my lower extremities with an old, grey, wool army blanket. It breaks up my outline and I know it helps to keep me stay warm even during a drizzle. Prior to hunting, I wash the blanket in plain water and line dry. Then it stays in a garbage bag until I am on my way to stand.
The older I get, the more I become convinced grey is the ticket for almost any critter but then I have yet to try the idea in Africa.
I wonder what color lions really are…they seem pretty stealthy.
Of Corvidae and Camouflage
“The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter can not be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”
Col. Jeff Cooper