Sandhill Crane Hunting - The Ultimate Guide | Great Days Outdoors

Sandhill Crane Hunting – The Ultimate Guide

Sandhill crane hunting is a thrilling and challenging experience for hunters who are looking for an awesome wing-shooting experience. Hunting sandhill cranes requires a specific set of skills, knowledge, and equipment. From obtaining access to and scouting the right land to choosing the right gear and choosing the right outfitter, sandhill crane hunting demands careful planning and preparation. Whether you’re a beginner looking for a new challenge or a seasoned hunter looking for where and who to book a guided hunt with, we’ve interviewed one of the top outfitters in the industry to help you get started on your sandhill crane hunting adventure.

Sandhill Crane Hunting Season

The sandhill crane hunting season varies depending on the state or province and the specific population of sandhill cranes. In the United States, sandhill crane hunting is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and individual state wildlife agencies, which set the dates, bag limits, and other regulations for the hunting season.

Most sandhill crane hunting seasons in the U.S. occur in the fall, coinciding with the migration of the mid-continent population. The dates of the hunting season can vary by state, but typically fall between September and January, with the exact dates and bag limits determined by each state’s wildlife agency.

sandhill crane hunting

It’s important to note that sandhill crane hunting is not legal in all states, and even where it is legal, there may be restrictions on hunting methods, equipment, and access to hunting areas. It’s crucial for hunters to obtain the necessary licenses and permits and to abide by all applicable laws and regulations to ensure the sustainability of sandhill crane populations and the continuation of the hunting tradition.

Where Can You Hunt Sandhill Cranes?

Sandhill cranes can be hunted in several states in the United States and in some provinces in Canada. In the United States, sandhill crane hunting is currently legal in several states including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. In Canada, sandhill crane hunting is legal in certain provinces including Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  The specific regulations and hunting seasons vary by state and can change from year to year, so it’s important for hunters to consult their state’s wildlife agency for the most up-to-date information. It’s important to note that sandhill crane hunting is highly regulated, and hunters must obtain the necessary licenses, permits, and tags and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. 


Techniques For Hunting Sandhill Cranes

I recently caught up with Vince Kimbrough of Prairie Bomb Outfitters over on the Huntin’ Land Podcast to pick his brain on how he advises his clients to prepare themselves when getting ready for a hunt.

Q: What is the sandhill crane hunting experience like? Is it similar to other types of waterfowl hunting or is it its own thing?

A: “It’s kind of a mix to be quite honest with you, it really does resemble a dry field goose hunt in a lot of ways because we’re gonna set up on some type of cover, either in an A-frame, on a pivot head, something that gives us a place to hide that the birds are used to seeing. They do decoy just like a goose or duck but the thing about sandhill cranes that makes it pretty interesting is that they can see a long way away, and you hear them a long way away, and they’re super leery. So they’ll start their descent into your decoys really high and they’ll start dropping in and if the slightest thing is off, you’ll just all sudden seem just kind of start picking back up.

And they’ll just completely go right over the top of you. So whether it’s too much movement, or if we’re running socks and the socks are creating too much noise those little details really make it tricky to hunt sandhill cranes. They are smart birds. We do some calling, not a lot, we try to call enough to the birds to hear us make a little noise and have them come in and decoy. Those are kind of the differences from typical goose hunting. 

Texas Sandhill Crane Hunting

The sandhill crane hunt can vary depending on which flyway you are in. Vince had this to say about the number of birds in Texas. “We’re pretty lucky [In Texas] we’ll get our first push of birds early. We’ll get Nebraska birds coming in a little bit early to start our season in late October up in the Amarillo area. We have about a six-week seven-week window to really get on him before the weather is going to push them south of us. 

crane decoys
Sandhill cranes have had a rocky past, but thanks to careful conservation efforts their numbers have increased to the point where a huntable population has been attained. (Photo courtesy of Prairie Bomb Outfitters)

Our season starts in late October and technically runs all the way through January 31. Texas is split into two zones, our coastal zone, and our western zone. The Coastal Zone allows two birds per day, and our Western zone, where we hunt, three birds a day. We’ll start off in late October and will run hard on cranes until the first couple of weeks of December. And then for us, it’s kind of weather-driven after that, if we have good weather, and it’s not too cold, we’ll hold cranes. If the weather gets bad like it did last year, our cranes will push and we’ll have to pivot to ducks and geese. 


Points To Consider In Sandhill Crane Hunts

If you’re like me, you’ve probably gone the cheap route on gear and ended up in the field with a poorly functioning piece of equipment. In those moments, I would have gladly paid for the more expensive option just to have what I needed and have it working. Another area I’ve done this in is with guided hunting and fishing trips. I often look for the DIY option so that I can feel the accomplishment of being successful totally by my own doing. While there is nothing wrong with this, I’ve experienced many hunting and fishing trips where I would have gladly paid for a guide to get me into the right areas, and even worse, I’ve hired a guide only to realize they weren’t working as hard as I’d hoped and I should have done more research. 

sandhill crane hunting
Seth Maddox poses with a sandhill crane. These large birds are fantastic eating and are commonly nicknamed “ribeye of the sky.” (Photo courtesy of Dave Owens)

I asked Vince to help us with some questions we can ask before booking sandhill crane hunts and he had some sage advice. “Find somebody that either has hunted with them before or someone you know and go look at the reviews. Go on Mallard Bay, look at our reviews, go online, look at our reviews, Google us. Find out what people are saying about that outfit. Ask that outfitter how they hunt. Do you want to have an outfitter that puts 15,18, 20 people in a field? Or do you want to have an outfitter that puts eight people in a field? You know, our idea of a hunt is about an experience whether we shoot a bird or not. It’s about the experience of coming to West Texas, putting yourself in a position to shoot or my job is the guy to put birds in front of you.”

Booking Sandhill Crane Hunts

Booking a guided trip can be a pain before, during, and after the trip. Using a booking site like Mallard Bay empowers users to find the perfect trip for themselves without the endless back and forth.

Mallard Bay allows its users to search for the hunting or fishing trip of their choice, filter by price, and view details of every outfitter on their platform. They’ve compiled all of the information you need such as lodging, amenities, and other details so you know exactly what to expect. All you have to do is fill out a form, pay online, and they take care of the rest. And if you have a problem, they have a dedicated team available to chat directly on their site. If you are interested in seeing a ton of Great Sandhill Crane Hunts available for this season, check them out here

Sandhill Crane Hunting Gear

One of my favorite things about putting together hunts is researching, compiling, and acquiring (when necessary) the specific gear I will need to ensure a safe and successful hunt. Sandhill Crane hunting is no different. 

Sandhill Crane Hunting Shotgun

A 12-gauge shotgun with a 3-inch chamber is the most common choice for sandhill crane hunting, but some hunters prefer a 10-gauge for added power. As with most waterfowling pursuits, a semiautomatic or pump shotgun will serve you well in the marsh or in a layout blind. I Favor an autoloader for fast reloads and softer recoil. 

Best Shot Size For Sandhill Crane

Hunters should use high-quality ammunition with shot size should no smaller than #3 and no larger than #BB, with most hunters opting for #2 or #3 shot. Shots are typically close and the limits on Sandhill Cranes are typically 2-3 birds per day, so buy the best ammo you can afford. 

Sandhill Crane Hunting Clothing

Camouflage clothing is highly recommended, as sandhill cranes have incredible eyesight. Choose a pattern to blend in with the surroundings of your hunt. Waterproof or water-resistant materials are a must, and temperatures can vary widely depending on what time of year your hunt is taking place and where you are hunting them. Layering is the key for sandhill crane hunting, and many other types of hunting for that matter. 

Sandhill Crane Calls

Sandhill cranes are known for their vocalizations which can be heard from over a mile away in the right conditions. Tube calls can take some practice to master, but the feeling of convincing a wild bird to come to your calling is an accomplishment every hunter can and should be proud of. 

Sandhill Crane Hunting Blind

Hunters should use a blind or another type of cover to conceal themselves from the birds and avoid detection. Layout Blinds and A-Frames are common in agricultural fields but your blind choice will depend heavily on where you target these birds. 

Sandhill Crane Decoys

Sandhill Crane Decoys

Realistic sandhill crane decoys are vital but can be expensive. There are a variety of decoys available for sandhill crane hunting, including full-body, shell, and silhouette decoys. Ultimately, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so choose decoys based on realism first, and price second. 

Sandhill Crane Identification

Sandhill Crane Size

Sandhill cranes are one of the largest bird species found in North America, and their size can vary slightly depending on their subspecies. On average, adult sandhill cranes stand about four to five feet tall, with a wingspan that can range from six to seven feet. They have long necks, legs, and beaks, which gives them a distinctive appearance.

sandhill crane
The sandhill crane population is much larger than the whooping crane population.

Sandhill cranes typically weigh between eight and twelve pounds, with males being slightly larger than females. The smallest subspecies of the sandhill crane is the lesser sandhill crane, which can weigh as little as five pounds, while the largest subspecies, the Canadian sandhill crane, can weigh up to fourteen pounds. Despite their large size, sandhill cranes are capable of impressive aerial acrobatics. 

Whooping Crane Vs Sandhill Crane

Whooping cranes and sandhill cranes are two species of large, long-legged birds that are found in North America. While they share some similarities, there are also several differences between the two species. Whooping cranes are slightly larger than sandhill cranes, they are mostly white with black wingtips and a red crown. In contrast, sandhill cranes are gray with a red crown and white cheeks.

Whooping cranes are a highly endangered species and are found only in a limited range in North America, primarily in the central and southern parts of the United States. Sandhill cranes, on the other hand, have a much wider range and are found throughout North America, from Alaska to Florida. Whooping cranes are critically endangered, with a population of only around 600 birds. In comparison, sandhill cranes have a population of around 700,000 birds. Whooping cranes are highly dependent on wetland habitats and require undisturbed areas for breeding and feeding. Sandhill cranes are more adaptable and can thrive in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural fields.

What Do Sandhill Cranes Eat?

Sandhill cranes are omnivores and their diet varies depending on the season and availability of food. In general, sandhill cranes feed on a wide range of items including seeds, grains, small invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and even small mammals. During the summer months, their diet is predominantly plant-based, consisting of grasses, sedges, and other wetland vegetation. In the winter, when food is scarce, they rely more heavily on animal sources such as insects, snails, and small mammals.

Sandhill cranes are also known to feed on agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, which can help hunters in targeting them. Overall, sandhill cranes are opportunistic feeders and will consume whatever food is available in their habitat. Their diverse diet allows them to adapt to a variety of environments and thrive in different regions across North America.

Are Sandhill Cranes Endangered?

It is a common misconception that sandhill cranes are endangered. Sandhill cranes are not currently considered to be endangered, but the status of their populations varies depending on the subspecies and geographic region. In general, sandhill crane populations have increased in recent decades. There are several subspecies of sandhill cranes, and some of them are more threatened than others. For example, the Florida sandhill crane, which is found only in Florida, has a population of around 5,000 and is listed as a threatened species. Similarly, the Mississippi sandhill crane, which is found only in a small area of Mississippi, has a population of around 130 birds and is listed as an endangered species. Overall, sandhill crane populations are stable or increasing across most of their range.

Sandhill Crane Recipes

Sandhill crane meat is considered a delicacy by many hunters. The meat is described as having a rich, savory flavor and a tender texture. It’s often compared to beef and known affectionately as the “ribeye in the sky”. Because of its beefy flavor and texture, sandhill crane recipes that highlight grilling or searing the meat are most often preferred. 

Final Thoughts On Sandhill Crane Hunting

Sandhill crane hunting is a bucket list experience for many hunters. But with return hunters comprising 60-70% of all bookings, it might just move from a bucket list adventure to a yearly tradition for you and your hunting buddies. Do your research, get geared up, and get after them, you won’t regret making new memories and experiencing the thrill of a sandhill crane hunt. 

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