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Crow ping-pong and the hunt for glory

  • Who invents a game called crow ping-pong anyhow? Next time someone claims that America has cornered the global market on the unusual, the Germans should step up and at least claim responsibility for Crowbusters — a group of Bavarian bird hunters waiting for the apocalypse.

Farmers sometimes spread liquid manure on the ground and wait for crows to arrive — not exactly bees to honey, but it works. In one particular case, crows had been damaging plastic wrap covering silage bales. When the crows showed up for the manure feast — boom, boom, Goodnight Irene.

Nothing so strange with that scene, admittedly manure isn’t a typical hunting bait, but killing pesky crows has surely been going on since the dawn of agriculture. But there’s more to the story: A game of crow ping-pong, a group of Crowbusters, and a crow-killing controversy in Germany.

Who invents a game called crow ping-pong anyhow? Next time someone claims that America has cornered the global market on the unusual, the Germans should step up and at least claim responsibility for Crowbusters — a group of Bavarian bird hunters waiting for the apocalypse.

OK, the apocalypse bit might be a stretch, but the Crowbuster devotees do come with a hint of zealotry. Spiegel recently ran an article on the crow-killing group that is facing a mounting backlash for their enthusiasm.

The self-dubbed Crowbusters dress in military fatigues, shoot with semi-automatic rifles, wear face masks and well … love to kill crows by the hundreds. They maintain an online presence and trade stories about their exploits with a good deal of fervor. From Spiegel: “Drove 1,651 kilometers (1,030 miles) in three great days, slept six hours. It was a hell of a lot of fun.”

One thousand miles to kill some crows?

The Crowbusters often trade excited utterances about their kills via cell phone with each other while the hunts are going on — that’s the back-and-forth mobile appeal of crow ping-pong.

Confused yet? Maybe this killing frenzy is some kind of revolt against insanely tough and tangled hunting laws in Germany. Dunno. A good number of Americans hunt crows; I never have, but if given the opportunity, I’d grab a shotgun and take my turn. The crows wouldn’t have much to fear from me — during dove season each year I burn boxes of shells in exchange for a sore shoulder and wounded ego.

It’s no secret that in the U.S. crows ravage tree nuts and fruit crops, as well as raiding waterfowl nests. It’s also true that the crow is a phenomenal bird, one of the most clever creatures in the entire animal kingdom. The video evidence of their high intelligence is remarkable as seen is this clip of a crow baiting fish with bread crumbs:

And equally striking:

• Examples of crows using tools; here and here.

A crow dropping walnuts in traffic to get the meat.

The Crowbusters cite the “nuisance” factor when criticized in the German press, blaming overpopulation of crows for small game declines, but their argument comes up hollow when contrasted with the online glee, braggadocio and crow ping-pong. Spiegel reports that “… the conservative German Hunting Association has recently decided that the ‘excesses’ and ‘questionable images’ associated with the Crowbusters’ actions could hurt the image of hunting in general.”

Five thousand years past, some young boy got tired of standing sentry over his father’s fields and draped his cloak over a stick. He then snuck off to play, having just invented the scarecrow. Five thousand years later, German Crowbusters are running around in military clothes giggling about their exploits on mobile phones. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

November (not verified)
on Feb 9, 2012

Dear Sir,

Your first question, though rhethorical I guess, was who would invent "a game called crow ping-pong anyhow" - as a matter of fact, I did. The only thing is, it is not a game but a name for a hunting tactic which I am gladly going to explain to you.
With the rising numbers in crow (corvus corone) population and the increasing damage not only to farm crops and fodder silos but also to the wildlife, especially to ground nesting birds and small animals such as hare or rabbit arose the need for a way to deal with this. Based on several studies, culling is the only means of effectively keeping crow population adapted to the habitat.

As crows are rather smart animals, hunting crows needs a bit more sophistication and tactics. This includes decoys, camo clothing and a blind to hunt from. Back in 2010 a group of crow hunters from all over Germany who had been in contact over the past five years discussing crowhunting and new equipment and tactics met in Bavaria. The idea was to give local hunters the theoretical background for crow hunting and then hunt together with them, providing an insight into practical crow hunting. During this hunt, we also placed two decoy spreads roughly one mile apart in order to see if a group of crows that had been shot at, at the first decoy spread would still fly to the next decoy spread. To confirm this, we were in contact via cell phone and were happy as it worked out. This "new method" was dubbed "Krähen Ping Pong," translated crow ping-pong, as we needed a neologism for this and ping-pong appeared pretty accurate to the effect.

Did we drive one thousand miles to "kill some crows?" Not at all. We drove pretty far to meet other crow hunters, to exchange experience and to teach unexperienced hunters interested in crow hunting as we believe this is the way it should be, each one teach one. You make "zealotry" sound as if it was a bad thing, which it is not in my book. Zealotry and idealism is what keeps hunting, what keeps environmental intiatives, nature conservation alive. You have a prime example of this in the US, Ducks Unlimited!

What I find striking is that you would "grab a shotgun and take your turn" hunting crows, not without a certain pride stating that you are just blazing away at doves, being a miserable shot. This is pretty much the kind of hunter no German crow hunter would want to be associated with - just in it for the fun. In this context, I can not quite make out what the point is you are trying to make with your article, on the one hand you do acknowledge the need for crow hunting but then again criticise crow hunting?

As to the "dress in military fatigues, shoot with semi-automatic rifles, wear face masks" part, I reckon you have seen people duck hunting and their clothing and guns? You do the math.

It appears to me, the only word that is accurate in your article is, let me cite this: "dunno." I am truly sorry to tell you this but your article is founded only on the Spiegel article which in turn is as a matter of fact compiled of material provided by various anti-hunting-initiatives.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 10, 2012

How does military fatigues (cheaper than real camo), and semi-auto shotguns (as compared to the less formidable pump or break barrel), effect hunting. It's not anything out of the ordinary for a person to walk into a field with surplus store camo and a semi.

Talking on the phone about hunting? Do you have to mock strategy? Is it any different than flashing your headlights at an oncoming car to say watch out?

Having seen almost 100 pics of dead animals on my facebook page linked from different friends, I fail to see how anything here is out of the ordinary, aside from maybe the 1000 mile drive. But people have driven that far for much less.

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