ROCHESTER, Minn. — Obligations that attend the many rights of gun ownership include a nod toward civic-mindedness. Whether you own a six-shooter or a scattergun, you really need to help out when asked. Wendell Diller and I were discussing this the other day when news broke that the good city of Rochester had fallen unto a plague of crows.
As best we could tell from reports smuggled out of Olmsted County, perhaps by pigeon friendlies, no imminent threat was posed to the public.
But city officials worried the infestation could throw a wrench into the Mayo’s billing system, a cash cow upon which countless local businesses depend, not least tour operators specializing in credit-earning golf and spa junkets.
“Get this,” Wendell said. “The mayor is coughing up real money to find politically correct ways to persuade crows to spend their winters elsewhere.”
“Gotham’s in a fright,” I said.
If Wendell and I were offended by not being contacted to save Rochester from a messy fate, it’s because crows young and old would sooner gargle DDT than face the two of us on a cold morning.
After all, much of Wendell’s life has been dedicated to the cat-and-mouse game that is crow hunting, and he has the armament and ammo to prove it.
Not least are his custom-made shotguns with 7-foot-long barrels, silent killers that make arterial plaque look like a walk in the park.
Packing these, the two of us have for years cruised hill and dale in this state and beyond, sizing up old crow roosts and looking for new.
Transportation has been Wendell’s ’78 Volare wagon, a nasty ride that features a slant-six timed and tuned like a Swiss watch and a hand-painted 100-percent Bondo body that absolutely kills the hillbilly look many aspire to.
“Leave this one to me,” Wendell said a week ago. “I’ll scout it. Crow season opens March 1.”
So it was early on Thursday morning that the two of us, and Wendell’s wife, Galina, pulled into Rochester while the city still slept.
If the image drawn is one of Patton crossing the Rhine, it’s not unintended. We were patriots, and this was a mission. Also, we drove two vehicles, concerned that diversionary tactics might be necessary.
Elsewhere in Rochester just then, some old sawbones was knifing out a gall bladder, while another yawned through an appendectomy.
Me, I cranked up a Jason Aldean disc and kicked back a magnum of Five Hour Energy.
Professionals, I figured, each of us doing our jobs.
Wendell, Galina and I messed up in one regard.
My alarm had rung at 3:15, and still we arrived slightly late. You want really to be on top of these things well before sunup, and we weren’t fully locked and loaded, with our 20 or so decoys set, until just after that.
The good news was that above us while we set up, crows traded back and forth steadily.
Freed from their nighttime roosts within the Rochester city limits, they were airborne on their daily larks, looking for food and picking it, mostly, from farmers’ plowed fields.
Awaiting the birds were Wendell and me, also the Russian-speaking Galina, who, cool as a cucumber, jacked a hand-loaded subsonic shell into the chamber of her 12 gauge and slipped two more cartridges into the magazine.
In advance of their marriage, she and Wendell courted over the Internet, the same place everything else is ordered these days.
“Crows aren’t like geese or ducks, which can store fat and even skip a day or two of feeding if the weather is bad,” Wendell said. “Crows need to eat every day. They’re mostly feathers and bones.”
Wendell’s “quiet” guns have a particular advantage in crow hunting. When discharged, they offer little disturbance to fowl that are still approaching.
“There’s one,” Wendell said, nodding in the direction of downtown Rochester, some 10 miles distant.
Crouched in his makeshift blind, Wendell worked his call.
Wingshooters unfamiliar with the defensive tactics crows employ might not appreciate the sporting fare they present.
Living in fear of aerial assault by falcons, hawks and owls, they’re capable of diversionary tactics even fighter pilots would envy.
A slip of air through their wings, and they drop 10 feet in a split second, or loop up, or sideways.
Thus the best crow shots not only lead the birds properly, they shoot where one might be in a second or two, rather than where it is.
Wendell popped the first crow that overflew us, cartwheeling it to the frozen ground.
“Two more from behind,” I said.
But these birds saw something about our decoys they didn’t like and shied quickly away.
So it went. Over some birds we gained advantage and dropped, while many others remained safely out of range.
What hunters do with crows is a question often asked. The birds can be eaten — if a hunter wants — or otherwise be legally utilized. But they can’t be wasted.
The 20 or so birds that fell to our guns Thursday morning won’t dent Rochester’s crow problem.
But the season is young, Wendell and I are ambitious, also Galina, and another day in Olmsted County might just find us cruising hill and dale in Wendell’s vintage Volare, slouching behind smoked glass, on the lookout for crows.
Call it sport.
Maybe a lifestyle.
Rochester, we’re here to help.