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Sandhill Crane Season in Tennessee

Sandhill Crane

The modern era of sandhill crane hunting in Tennessee began with the late waterfowl season on November 28, 2013 and ran through January 1, 2014. The US, Canada and Mexico manage sandhill crane harvest through the same regulatory mechanisms as waterfowl and other migratory game birds.  Listed as a game species, many central US states, Canadian provinces and Mexico have been hunting cranes for over 50 years and all populations are stable or increasing.  Hunting in the eastern US was closed until Kentucky’s 2011 season and then Tennessee’s 2013 season.

North American Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide ranging of all worldwide crane species with a population exceeding 600,000.  There are six distinct migratory populations of sandhill cranes with breeding ranges extending across North America.  During migration, sandhill cranes congregate in large numbers at staging areas of mid-latitude states and then migrate to wintering areas in the southern US and Mexico.  Hunting occurs on four of the six migratory sandhill crane populations with over 26,000 cranes harvested annually. 
The hunting of sandhill cranes continues to grow in popularity since the first US hunts in 1961. 

The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes has undergone am impressive recovery by rebounding from an estimated 25 breeding pairs in the 1930s to a minimum population of over 87,000 in recent years.  The core breeding range lies in south-central Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin extending into adjacent Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Quebec.  In recent years this breeding range has expanded east to include several of the New England states, as well as south, including Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.  The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways are the main migratory routes of the Eastern Population.  These cranes winter primarily in Florida and Georgia though recently cranes are wintering further north in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and even southern Ontario.

Tennessee Sandhill Cranes

The sandhill cranes migrating or wintering in Tennessee make up a large proportion of the Eastern Population.  The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes migrates through and winters in portions of Tennessee and is considered the world’s second largest sandhill crane population.  Tennessee has wintered an average of over 23,000 cranes over the last five years.  Two areas serve as primary migration and wintering areas including the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge where thousands can be seen at one time.  Hop-in Refuge and surrounding lands near the Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee attract several thousand sandhill cranes as well.  Smaller groups of cranes can be seen scattered across the Tennessee landscape too. 

2014-15 Sandhill Crane Hunting Information

Species Season & Zone Permits and Limits
Sandhill Cranes* Nov. 22 - 23, 2014

Nov. 29 , 2014 - Jan. 1, 2015

Standard Federal Regulations Apply. 
Daily bag, season bag, & possession is 3 cranes.   Harvested cranes must be accompanied by a completed kill tag and checked in by the end of the calendar day by mailing completed business reply card on the permit.  Hunters are also required to fill out and return a post-season survey.
 Zone: South of Interstate 40 and east of State Highway 56
*400 3-permit packets will be issued by handheld draw.  A type 001 Hunting & Fishing License and type 005 Waterfowl License are required to enter the draw.  Leftover permits will be available on a first come basis at regional offices.  Individuals must be present to obtain permits.  Permits are invalid until proof of passing a bird identification test is obtained and permit is signed by the individual.  

 

Sandhill Crane Hunting Zone

  • Shooting Hours: Sunrise to 3:00 PM EST
  • Check-in: Harvested cranes must be accompanied by a completed kill tag and checked in by the end of the calendar day by mailing completed business reply card on the permit.
  • Federal Regulations: No shotguns larger than 10 gauge or capable of holding over 3 shot shells. Federally approve non-toxic shot is required.
  • Notes: All wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane hunting. Hunters are required to fill out and return a post-season survey.

 

 

How to Participate in the 2014-2015 Tennessee Sandhill Crane Season

  1. Obtain a type 001 Hunt/Fish License plus a type 005 Waterfowl License or equivalent, including Lifetime Sportsman License, Type 004 Annual Sportsman License, or be a qualifying landowner according to T.C.A, military on leave with papers, under 13, or born before March 1, 1926.

  2. Enter the handheld draw (information coming soon) at the Birchwood Community Center (formerly Birchwood School) in north Hamilton County (5623 Hwy 60, Birchwood, TN - Get Directions). Registration begins at 8am EDT and the drawing will take place at 10am EDT.  There are a total of 400 permits available and each permit carries a limit of three birds. Permits are non-transferable and you must be present to obtain a permit.
                                                                       OR
    Obtain a leftover permit (if there are any) in person at any of the regional TWRA offices on a first come, first serve basis. Leftover permits will be available at 8am CDT (9am EDT) on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Check the TWRA website on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 to find out how many permits will be available.

  3. Pass the sandhill crane identification test (see below). All the information needed to pass the test is included in the test. You may take the test as many times as needed. The test will be available in October.  Computer stations will be available at the draw event for your convenience.

  4. Write the validation code obtained at the end of the test on your sandhill crane permit. You will write the code a total of six times; twice for each of three birds that the permit allows. Your permit is not valid and you may not hunt sandhill cranes until the validation code from the crane identification test is appropriately written on your permit. Also, fill out the other blanks with your name, signature, and TWRA number.

  5. Obtain a Type 007 Tennessee Migratory Bird Permit and a federal Duck Stamp.

  6. Now you are ready to hunt! The season opens with the late waterfowl season on Nov. 22 - 23, 2014 and Nov. 29, 2014 - Jan. 1, 2015. Shooting hours are from sunrise to 3pm EST. The hunt zone is south of Interstate 40 and east of State Highway 56. Daily bag, season bag, and possession limit is three sandhill cranes.  Federal regulations apply and all refuges are closed to hunting.

  7. Harvest a sandhill crane. Before you move the bird, fill in the appropriate harvest information on your permit. Tear the permit at the perforated line and drop the pre-paid business reply half in the mail and keep the other half with the bird.

  8. At the end of the season, whether or not you were successful or hunted at all, fill out the hunter diary/survey that was issued with your permit and drop it in the mail.

Sandhill Crane Identification Test

*The test will be available for this year's permit holders in October*

All sandhill crane hunters must pass an Internet-based crane ID test before hunting.  All permits issued are invalid until a verifiable “Sandhill Test” validation code is written on the permit.  The purpose of this test is to improve hunter’s awareness and ability to distinguish between sandhill cranes and other protected species which may be encountered while hunting. 

Note: The validation number received at the end of the test (if/when you pass the test) is not sufficient to allow one to hunt sandhill cranes in TN. You must also have a sandhill crane quota permit as well.

Whooping Crane
There are approximately only 100 whooping cranes in the experimental eastern migratory population and they share similar characteristics as well as habitats with the sandhill crane. An intensive reintroduction effort started in 1999 in which whooping cranes were taught their migratory path from Wisconsin to Florida by an ultra-light aircraft. Please take the protection of this rare species seriously and be 100% sure that bird you intend to shoot is a sandhill crane. Accidental or intentional shooting of a whooping crane is considered a dual violation and subject to state and federal laws. Please be careful.

FAQ's

I thought the sandhill crane was protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  Why is there now a hunting season?
By 1916, American pioneers had decimated many bird species by hunting to supply the commercial market, especially the millinery or hat market.  The draining of marshes for farming purposes also contributed to the decline of many wetland birds, including the sandhill crane.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 halted the hunting of migratory birds unless a regulated harvest and population monitoring program was established.  The sandhill crane (along with the mourning dove, mallard, wood duck, and over 800 other bird species) is listed as a protected migratory bird under the Migratory Treaty Act of 1918.  Sandhill cranes have been hunted in the U.S. since 1961 and are currently hunted in 15 states, Canada, and Mexico. 

A full report on the population status and harvest report can be found at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/NewReportsPublications/PopulationStatus.html

I thought sandhill cranes were once on the brink of extinction.  Isn’t it too soon to begin hunting them?
Currently the most common crane in world, the sandhill crane is no longer threatened with extinction.  In 1925, the sandhill crane population that lives and migrates in the eastern U.S., known as the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes, consisted of approximately 50 birds in 1925. However, they have made a massive recovery with a current minimum population of over 87,000 and are now the second largest sandhill crane population in the North America.  The trend in all U.S. populations is increasing or stable.  Two non-migratory sub-species of sandhill crane, separate from the Eastern Population, found in Mississippi and Florida are on the federal endangered species list. 

Will hunting sandhill cranes prevent the growth of the Eastern Population?
No.  The implementation of a harvest regime on the eastern population of sandhill cranes has been planned since about 2004 and thoroughly vetted by all entities currently managing sandhill cranes under a variety of authorities, including all states east of the Mississippi river, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and their Canadian counterparts.  The allowable harvest of the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes is very conservative, so that this population will continue to grow.  Other populations of sandhill cranes in the US have been managed for over 50 years with similar strategies that include allowable harvest.  All populations of sandhill cranes in the US are stable or growing.

Will the sandhill crane hunting season in Tennessee endanger whooping cranes?
No. Since the reestablishment of sandhill crane hunting in the US in 1961, only 5 whooping cranes have been killed due to mistaken identity as snow geese or sandhill cranes.  Additionally, all Tennessee sandhill crane hunters are required to pass an internet-based crane identification test before hunting.  The purpose of this test is to improve hunter’s awareness and ability to distinguish between sandhill cranes and protected species which may be encountered while hunting.  Also, each sandhill crane permit contains a bird ID section to further aid in distinguishing the difference between sandhill and whooping cranes.

Will sandhill crane hunting affect bird watching opportunities? 
No. Other states with long-standing seasons report no effect on crane watching.  Several states with crane seasons host annual festivals to celebrate the birds’ arrival.  Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, for example, promote both crane hunting and crane viewing.  Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike travel across the continent to encounter these birds.  TWRA intends to continue to support the annual sandhill crane festival at the Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood, Tennessee.

I am concerned that hunting pressure will cause the sandhill cranes to move to an area other than Hiwassee Refuge and disrupt crane viewing and the annual crane festival.
Most of the time game animals under hunting pressure flee to localized areas where there is no hunting pressure.  This means that it is likely that the number of sandhill cranes on the Hiwassee Refuge will actually increase.  It is unlikely that the migratory route and historical staging areas of the sandhill crane will change, as the knowledge of these routes and stopovers is passed down from generation to generation. 

Will the Agency make additional revenue from this opportunity?
No. Similar to many other quota hunt opportunities, this is not a revenue generating hunt.  Quota hunts are typically very popular with participating sportsmen as they provide special or unique access to certain public lands or, in this case, species. Costs of such specialized opportunities are often minimal and offset by other sportsmen activities.

How do people hunt sandhill cranes?
Most hunters use decoys set up in agricultural fields.   Hunters scout for fields where cranes are feeding in the evening; they set up the next morning hoping the birds will return.  Sandhill cranes are extremely wary and difficult to decoy. 

Are sandhill cranes good to eat?
Many hunters consider sandhill cranes the best tasting of all migratory game birds.  The early 19th century explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark dined on cranes when they reached the Columbia River.  In an account published in 1622, Edward Winslow and William Bradford noted that during the Pilgrim’s first year in North America, a “fat crane” was a welcome addition to the dinner table.  From this and other information, many have suggested that sandhill crane was likely to have been on the original Thanksgiving dinner table.  Numerous recipes for sandhill cranes are available online or in wild game cookbooks.  Most recipes call for cooking cranes like any other wildfowl; though some cooks prefer to grill the breast meat like a steak.