Sandhill crane hunting is an unique, challenging and exciting experience.
Sportsmen can hunt sandhill cranes in 15 flyway states. As many as five other states have pending proposed sandhill crane seasons. The most popular states for hunting sandhill cranes include Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona.
The first step to exploring sandhill crane hunting is to obtain the appropriate licenses and tags from the state you are going to hunt in. All states will have some version of the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP). You will need to fill out a survey and either print out your registration or record the number and keep it with you.
Check out this video to get some pointers.
More from Wide Open Spaces
To hunt sandhill cranes, you will need shotgun and non-toxic shot. Most hunters stick to 12-gauge shotguns, but many people are successful with 20-gauge shotguns and if ever there was a good excuse to use a 10-gauge sandhill cranes is it.
Typically, guides will recommend large shot sizes from #2 shot to BB shot. Sandhill cranes are large birds with heavy wing bones so heavy shot sizes are required for good penetration and bone-crushing ability.
The conditions and environment that sandhill cranes are hunted in vary widely so the range that shots are taken vary as well. Modified choke is a reasonable, all-around option that will serve well in many situations. However, once you are familiar with the set-up and hunting conditions you can decide if you would benefit from a more open or more constricted choke.
If you are going to do-it-yourself you will need decoys. Sandhill cranes are very wary and often decoy shy. The best decoys are “flocked” or covered with a realistic looking material. However, many top guides that provide hunts for sandhill cranes use actual taxidermy decoys.
A call is also an important tool to hunt sandhill cranes. Calling to birds in sight help to relax them and trick them into landing among your decoys.
It is wise to check with local taxidermists to see if they will want your sandhill cranes to make decoys out of. Often the taxidermist will give you back the meat in exchange, or they will offer a discount on a mount if you let them keep the extra birds.
In order to find a place to hunt sandhill cranes, scouting is the key. Locate farms, reservoirs and fields where sandhill cranes are seen settling in at last light, leaving from at first light or flying to just after first light. If you are going to use and guide or outfitter, you will have less investment in decoys and calls. The guide should have already secured good places to hunt where sandhill cranes are frequenting.
What are your sandhill crane hunting secrets? Let us know in the comments.