There will be no further conversation," said Wendell Tesh, the leader of the crow hunting party, "from this point on."
Six of us were crowded into a station wagon that was rolling along a back road near the village of Poplar Branch on the seacoast of North Carolina about 25 miles north of historic Kitty Hawk.
We all nodded to Wendell, a tall, ruggedly built man wearing a tattered Marine Corps jacket and a green cap. He is the senior member and No. 1 caller of a group of North Carolina businessmen who have been crow hunting together every spring for seven years now. The group includes Tom Coppedge and Max Sessions, who, like Wendell Tesh, come from Winston-Salem, and Arnold "Sol" Tesh (no relation to Wendell), who is from Lexington, N.C. Also hunting this day was Max's brother Hoyt Sessions, visiting from Dallas, Texas. Though an experienced hunter, Hoyt had never shot crows before.
I was along as observer and non-combatant. I had been offered one of the 12-gauge shotguns but had declined for two reasons: 1) it was just possible that, in the excitement, I might wing a crow hunter instead of a crow, and 2) I am a secret admirer of crows.
My admiration for crows began when I read a line from Henry Ward Beecher which said, "If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be wise enough to be crows." Elsewhere I had read about how crows post a sentry along roads like the one we were traveling to give the alarm if hunters appear. I had been convinced by old crow men that the birds speak an actual language of their own and hold meetings to discuss future movements and new ideas for bedeviling people, cats, horned owls, hawks and other of their foes. Crows have no friends.
Actually, despite my own admiration for them in their outwitting of humans ( President Eisenhower tried calling them on his farm at Gettysburg and failed miserably), there is nothing really good to be said for crows. They ruin cornfields and rob birds' nests and eat the eggs. They kill birds and small chickens and will peck a cat to death sometimes. Down South they dig up peanuts. That is why farmers are overjoyed when crow hunters appear.
Our station wagon stopped at the edge of a wooded area adjoining a cornfield. We got out and closed the doors as silently as so many burglars. Sol Tesh brought out his battery-operated record player and some recorded crow calls he had bought from Abercrombie & Fitch in New York.
Everyone looked at Wendell Tesh for instructions. He headed into the woods and we followed him. When Wendell had found a spot to his liking, he directed us to our stations. I was put behind a tree, out of the line of fire. The others, all wearing variations of camouflage, were concealed in the undergrowth. Wendell moved off a few feet and signaled Sol Tesh to get his record player set up.
Four of the five hunters were to participate in the calling: Max Sessions, Sol Tesh, Tom Coppedge and, of course, Wendell himself. As a novice at crow shooting, Hoyt Sessions was disqualified; Tom Coppedge had had to serve a two-year apprenticeship before he was permitted to call. Now, nobody was to start calling until Wendell Tesh had set the theme with his 18-year-old caller, handmade by a certain Tom Turpin of Memphis, Tenn.
WHERE ARE THE CROWS?