Millport crow shoot draws criticism
MILLPORT—Recreational crow-hunting has been enjoyed by hunters for many years, primarily as a means of controlling the agricultural depredations of the “black bandits” who love to pull upsprouting grains, and as a way of protecting wild ducks, whose young chicks are eaten by crows. Some crow-hunters tout the challenge of outwitting this highly intelligent bird as a means of sharpening hunting skills. Dave Allen, owner of the Wayne Market and All Outdoors in Steuben County, has participated in crow hunts before. He said, “like anything else it’s about population control.” He explained two of the biggest complaints against crows are the noise and the feces. Allen said he has also heard from farmers about animals getting sick because crows defecated in the feed. When it comes to hunting crows, Allen said the birds are killed as quickly as possible, usually using a shotgun. He explained, “we don’t go out and snare them.” “They are challenging to target due to their size and intelligence,” he added.
But a planned crow hunt in the Montour Falls area has generated controversy its organizer found unexpected.
“I’m getting harassing phone calls—this isn’t what it was meant to be,” said Troy Taylor, a member of the Miliport Hunting and Fishing club who rented the premises for the one-day event scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 11.
According to advertisements, three-man teams, each team paying a $30 entry fee, will finish that day’s hunt by 3 p.m. The team bagging the most crows for the day wins a cash prize.
“It’s gotten out of hand,” Taylor said. “They carry West Nile virus. Talk to the DEC.” Then he hung up.
Mike Wasilco, regional wildlife manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says crows used to be considered “a varmint species” but they’re now protected under the migratory bird act, with hunting limited to 107 days a year—Fridays through Sundays, September through March. They can be a problem in urban areas where careless food disposal offers them a banquet and lighted urban streets allow them spot predators like great horned owls before they’re in danger. “I haven’t gotten any complaints about the area,” he says of the Schuyler County region.
As for organized crow hunts, “We don’t have any real objection to it, but it does raise some concerns about what the ethic is,” he says. “It’s not like a fishing tournament which is competitive but catch and release. But as an agency we haven’t developed a policy on hunts for coyote, fox and crows organized on a competitive basis.”
Watkins Glen resident Arnie Bagchi organized a petition against the crow hunt. “Like many citizens, there are a lot of things that go on around me that I don’t have a voice in,” he says. “Talking about it, I found quite a few people also opposed to it. This isn’t a judgment. The petition is a way for us to express that opinion.”
One of those objecting to the crow hunt is Hector resident, singer-songwriter Crow Marley. Marley has indigenous American ancestry on both sides of her family and received her first name on a sacred occasion that made her more aware of crows in general. “I’ve been a hunter for more than 40 years,” Marley says. She grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania. “I’m not a vegetarian. We hunted for food, that was part of our culture, and how I still provide for my family. I was trained to hunt ethically by my father, grandfather and aunt. I would totally understand hunting for population control, but we’re not in the midst of a massive crow outbreak.”
Marley explains she objects to hunting for recreation and destruction rather than for food. “Crows are really intelligent birds,” she says. “Some people call them ‘flying apes.’ The ones on our property respond when I call to them, they do no damage to my garden. They’re almost like friends.” She also points out that crows serve a valuable ecological function, eating roadkill, garbage and other carrion, which would otherwise pollute the environment.
When Marley telephoned Taylor to talk about the hunt, explaining she is also a hunter, he told her he expected hundreds of participants, and thought they’d manage to kill thousands of crows. She asked what would happen to the dead crows and Taylor allegedly replied, “We’re going to eat them.” Then he hung up on her, she says.
There are, in fact, at least half a dozen recipes for crow on the website crowbusters.com. Fresh crow meat need to be soaked for several hours in salted water followed by a tenderizing marinade in Italian dressing to remove some of its gaminess. And because the only part of the crow recommended—at least here—for consumption is the breast meat, after this is dressed-out most of the bird must be discarded. Most crow hunters do not eat what they shoot—the term “eating crow” means to be humiliated or shamed perhaps because many find crow-meat extremely unappetizing.
One person who finds crows—live ones—fascinating enough to devote a lifetime to studying them is ornithologist Kevin McGowan, a professor at Cornell University. McGowan says the New York crow population was cut in half in the early 2000s by West Nile Virus, which is fatal to birds within four days of contracting the disease. This means, incidentally, that crows don’t “carry” West Nile virus. Ones who are infected, die quickly. Ones who are not infected are alive and flying. Crow populations are slowly increasing to pre-West Nile virus levels, he says.
McGowan is not against hunting in general, and says crow hunting is relatively challenging. In terms of bird population control, “It doesn’t make much difference—except to the crows who get killed,” he notes. “I am for hunting and I encourage it, especially for deer. I think it’s something that’s our natural heritage,” he says. “But to shoot for sport is more like vandalism.”