For some reason, shooting a crow became a big goal for all the teenage hunters in my neighborhood. I think we were affected by the crow hunting section in The Varmint Hunters Bible (ironically, many of the varmints in the 1970s Bible are now protected species), and by articles in Outdoor Life and Fur, Fish, & Game about what noble prey the crow is. We were also going through a phase where we had purchased various game calls. I had a predator call and a crow call, and Billy had a hawk call and a predator call. Amazingly, crows responded to our amateur calling, to the point where we thought we might actually get one within shotgun range.

Please excuse this slight aside, but I have to share another crow hunting story with you. My archaeology professor told me this story, and claimed that it happened to a friend of his (and who am I to doubt this?). A young man (a dedicated crow hunter) was seriously dating a young lady. One day when he was over at her house, he was admiring a stuffed owl in her father’s den. “Daddy is so proud of that,” she observed. Our young hero knew that the sight of an owl will drive crows crazy. They will swarm around owls, making for easy hunting. You set out an owl, give a few excited caws on your crow call, and then it is shooting time. So, my professor, er, I mean, his friend later snuck the stuffed owl out of the den. The next day, he and his buddy went hunting, and the owl worked as advertised. They balanced it on a fence post, knelt in a nearby ditch, and had great shooting. Unfortunately, late in the day, our hero had a bead on a crow which dipped behind the owl at the last moment. BLAM! The regal horned owl was reduced to a pile of feathers, wood wool, and two glass eyes. Not sure what to do, the hero threw the remains into a paper sack and fled the scene of the crime.

Now, it turns out the young lady owned a cat. Upon sneaking back to the den, unsure of what to do, our hero saw the cat, looked at the sack full of feathers, and looked again at the cat. Quickly covering the cat with feathers, our hero fled the house. I mean, how much trouble can a cat get into?

That night, he received a call from his distraught girl friend: “You’ll never believe what Daddy did. Fluffy attacked Daddy’s stuffed owl, and Daddy got so mad that he took Fluffy out back and shot her.”

I had a great neighborhood for growing up. You could step out the front door with your .22 or shotgun and be in hunting fields and woods within a mile walk. Some days – opening day of dove season, for example – it was an easy choice which weapon to take with you. Other days, it depended on what you felt like shooting and how much of which ammo you had.

On my day of glory, I was hunting alone with my .22. I had grown tired of squirrel hunting just beyond the edge of the neighborhood, and had decided to try another stand of hardwoods about a half-mile farther out. Here, a woods lane led through hickory trees down to an old peckerwood saw mill location, with its slab pile and sawdust mound. At the start of the road, the woods, a large pasture, and a plowed field shared a corner. We always looked down the pasture on the off chance that crows or some other shootable beasts could be seen down the pasture.

This same pasture had a single strand, electric fence running across it. The fence was about knee-high, and running perpendicular to the direction we usually walked. You had to pay attention as you walked down through there, or everybody else would suddenly stop to tie their boots, in hopes that you would walk into the wire. This fascination with seeing people shocked was best demonstrated at one of Billy’s parties. His parents were out of town, and a large crowd of people (many uninvited) descended on his house, yard, and pool one summer evening. I remember well because I was determined to master a one-and-a-half off his low board that night. After repeatedly slamming my face on the water, having completed a one-and-three-eighths, I sought other diversion. Now, Billy’s sister kept a horse just beyond the yard, and there was a single-strand hot wire to keep the horse out of the yard. The fence ran just behind several small shrubs and trees, but the wire was exposed at the gap where they fed the horse. The first guest unfamiliar with the fence asked Billy where the bathroom was, and Billy simply told him to go piss behind those bushes. Victim, 1 got a thorough shock, actually fell over, and was all indignant for about five minutes, before deciding, “Let’s get somebody else.” This went on through the night, with each victim eventually deciding to set up somebody else. Those of us who knew the place (i.e., those of us who were invited), knew better, but there was a long string of strangers to keep the night lively.

On this day, there was a flock (more properly, a murder or congress) of maybe 12 crows on the wooden fence corner about 200 yards down the pasture. This would be a long shot, but I could use the fence at my end as a gun rest. However, before I could get situated, the crows began to fly my way. I took a step back into the woods, and, thank you Santa Claus, the crows landed in the treetops above me. It was an awkward, upward, free-hand shot, but I hit a crow.

This would be a fairly unremarkable story if I had killed the crow outright. Instead, I had wounded the crow, which fell to the ground near my feet. As a taxidermist duly trained and diplomatized (I know that’s not a real word) by the mail-order Northwestern School of Taxidermy, I did not want to mess up this specimen by clubbing it or shooting it again. Instead, I began the death squeeze, essentially squashing the breath out of the crow. I had previously only done this on a blue jay, driving crazy my sister’s cat. More typically, wounded birds (doves and the very occasional quail) destined for the frying pan were dispatched by the head flick, a casually brutal method whereby the head is held in your fingers and the bird is tossed toward the ground, causing head and body to separate. Of course, crows are tough and the bird began a surreal death caw, which lasted several minutes. The noise was bad enough, in and of itself. However, it was the behavior that the death caw prompted from the other crows that was more upsetting. His fellows, rather than getting the hell out of there, began to circle and dive around my head. Just my luck to have a rifle and not a shotgun. I felt like I was at the gas station in The Birds. Finally, I subdued the crow, and all the others left.

In keeping with the house rules of eat it or stuff it, I put the crow in the freezer for later taxidermy. That night I pulled out the crow to show my unbelieving friends. I opened the plastic bag and showed them the crow, just as a large flea decided to jump to something warmer. What my family doesn’t know won’t hurt them. I quickly borrowed the cat’s flea powder and dusted down the crow.

Just another brief aside for the only good taxidermy joke I ever heard. An old lady brings in two dead rabbits to a taxidermist. She tells the taxidermist how the two rabbits had been together for years and years, and had parented hundreds of little rabbits. She tells the taxidermist how they always went everywhere together, and now they are dead. Finally, she says she wants them memorialized together. The taxidermist, a busy and impatient man, inquires, “So you want them mounted?”

The shocked lady blushes and responds, “Heavens no, just holding hands.”

That crow was one of the best mounts I ever created. It rested on a piece of slab wood from the old saw mill, and there was corn scattered at its feet. My father decided that I should make a gift of the crow to my Uncle Pete. You have to understand that both Dad and Uncle Pete were word smiths in the advertising field, and both were aspiring authors. Dad included a card:

For your muse, use this crow
It’s no raven, but you’re no Poe.

Chris Espenshade is a professional archaeologist and an aspiring creative writer. Raised in North Carolina, he currently lives in Corning, New York.