Hunting Crows in Harlan Saskatchewan

Written by Harold McNeill on September 2nd, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Crow attacks child

Photo (Web):  As most realize, crows are one of the smartest birds on the earth. They work hard to protect each other and would never hesitate to attack someone who has either hurt one of their own or is damaging their property.  Such was the fate of my cousin Stanley and I as we went about trying to destroy one of their nests.

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Spring, 1949

“You better check those limbs carefully Stan or one is going to break and you’re gonna take one helluva fall.” I commented, as Stan and I climbed another ten feet up the dead poplar. A pile of dead brush and rocks circled the tree about twenty feet below.

Stan was as agile as a monkey when he climbed but went way to fast, never taking time to test the limbs to see if they would hold his weight. He was a real dare devil, probably a trait he inherited from his bronco busting, bull riding, steer roping, rodeo dad, Tart.

“Ah, don’t be chicken shit Harold; we can easily reach the nest.” Stan retorted as he looked down at me slowly picking my way up the tree.

The dare was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I grabbed the next dead branch and continued to climb more quickly.  At least I knew they had not broken when Stan went up.

Crows NestsBy now the crows were in full rage, swooping in like dive bombers attacking a carrier. You could tell those black bombers were warning us not climbing higher and if they got lucky perhaps they could knock us from the tree. Sometimes on a dive they came so close they would touch our clothes or head on the way by. On one expedition one had actually drawn blood after hitting my head.

The closer we got to the nest the more nasty they became. Their aggressive actions confirmed the nest was filled with eggs. That was our goal – reach those eggs and toss them to the ground some 25 feet below. We were two young boys on a mission – a mission as important to us as a military squad infiltrating enemy lines and destroying gun emplacement high on a mountain.

Suddenly there was a loud ‘crack’ above my head and a split second later Stan went hurtling past, missing me by fractions of an inch. This was followed by a loud ‘ker-thump’ as he hit the bottom. A cloud of fine prairie dust and small branches rose at the base of the tree then settled back on top of Stan.

For a few seconds I hung there twenty feet above the earth, paralyzed with fear. Stan did not move a muscle and I feared he might have been killed or badly injured. As the crows continued to dive at me I quickly climbed down to check on Stan.

Filled with a mix of fear and anger, I thought: “Stan, you stupid ass, I told you to test those limbs.” He was about as good at taking directions as my baby sister.  It was strange how a day could start so well and then end up as a complete disaster.

Over the past three weeks Stan and I often wandered off hunting crows’ nests that dotted the dead poplar in the area. Now understand – we didn’t dislike crows. On the contrary, we rather liked them. They had guts but just like magpies, gophers, coyotes, rabbits and everything else that disturbed man’s belief in his right to control the environment, they were considered pests.

While other bird, rodent and reptile ‘pests’ would scramble to keep their distance, crows would always put up a terrific fight in defence of their territory and nests. You had to admire a ‘pest’ that put up a good fight.

Gophers, on the other hand, were the most docile of the lot. They would just give up.  You could drown them out of their burrows, shoot them or chase them with the dog and they would just turn tail and run. Think what twenty or thirty gophers could do if they decided to take a stand and attack like the crows. Man, we would have been the ones on the run as there were virtually tens of thousands of those little buggars running around the farm. The only thing that outnumbered them were snakes and those bloody ‘garter’ snakes lived in every available hollow, nook and cranny.  I shall have more to say about them later.

For their part magpies created a noisy fuss just like crows, but they only did so from a safe distance. Walk toward them and they would fly back to another limb in order to maintain that distance. Sneaky bastards! As for coyotes and rabbits they just tried to float under the radar.

Now, please, don’t think to badly of us. We were two young boys growing up at a time when most farm families hunted gophers, rabbits, coyotes and wolves for the small bounty the government placed on their heads.  At one time we could even get a few cents for a ‘crow’s foot’.  It was not bad pocket money for a couple of enterprizing kids. Of course we didn’t get any money for breaking crow’s eggs – we just did that just for sport! Nasty – eh?

What made the whole adventure even more exciting was the fact that one day when Uncle Warren had caught  found us high up in a rotten tree. He called us down and read the riot act about climbing those dead poplars. We held off for a couple of days then went sneaking off on a new search. Uncle Warren could not be everywhere at once. We knew we would get ‘holly hell’ if he ever found out but we would worry about that if it every happened.

Now Stan was lying at the bottom of a tree and for all I knew he might be dead. When I got to the bottom, I brushed some of the dust off and noticed he had missed all the big rocks, landing instead on a pile of smaller broken and rotting limbs. When he spiraled in like a fighter in flames, his fall appeared to have had been cushioned by the limbs.

After a few minutes he started to move and was trying hard to catch his breath. I guessed he had had the wind knocked out of him.  After a few minutes he sat up and slowly started to breath normally.  I checked his back and although he had a couple of nasty red spots that would soon turn black and blue, along with a few scratches, he seemed to be otherwise uninjured.

Meanwhile twenty or thirty crows were sitting in the tree cawing (laughing) their heads off.

“Assholes!” I shouted: “We will return and then you’ll be sorry!” Stan laughed, but winced as he did. I hoped he had not broken a rib or two but even at that we should be able to cover things for a few days until he was healed. We were good at thinking up excuses for why things happened.

On the way home we made a pack never to tell his step-dad or mom and also agreed we better not tell Betty or Louise. Those two idiots would probably tattle on us, not that we ever did anything to them!

I have kept the pack until this day even though my childhood tree climbing, crow baiting, snake catching, gopher hunting, horseback riding and world of pretend buddy, has long since passed away. It was an unforgettable time of boyhood adventure.

Harold McNeill
Cold Lake, 2008

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  • Mike Fedorowich

    September 1, 2023 |

    I have gone through the above noted text and have found it quite informative.
    I am a former member with several law enforcement agencies from across Canada.
    I worked in the First Nations service under the authority of the RCMP with the over sight of the OPP. My law enforcement service was conducted under the authority of the Nishnawbe – Aski Police Service in North West Ontario the Louis Bull Police Sevice in Hobbema AB, the Kitasoo Xaixais Police Service in Northern in side passage on Swindle Island, the Lac Suel Police Service North West Ontario and the Vancouver Transit Authority Sky Train Police Service. I’m presently dealing with an RCMP member for falsifying a report against me for a road rage event. Court case is finished and the charge was dropped but I have an on going complaint with the member and have forwarded to the WATCH DOGS IN OTTAWA FOR the RCMP review and consideration. I believe the said officer is in violation of his oath of office and should be held accountable for falsifying his RTCC all the while dragging me through the court system here in Nanaimo. RCMP continue to stonewall the appeal but Ottawa and the crowns office are still looking into the matter. if your able and find the time or the interest in this very brief introduction, I would very much like to speak with you and would be grateful to hear any wisdom that may come across from your end. I served with First Nations Police Services for ten years in isolation and six years with Transit Police out of New West Minster. I do value and appreciate any time you could spare to chat for a bit on this particular subject matter. Respectfully with out anger but an open mind, Mike Fedorowich Nanaimo BC 250 667 0060

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email:

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.