Last week the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the state's first modern sandhill crane hunt, Nov. 28-Jan. 1, 2014. A drawing for 400 permits will be held Oct. 19. The birds are rare in Pennsylvania, though some nesting pairs have been reported. Hunting is prohibited here.
The sandhill crane is a large bird -- 4 feet tall, 6- to 7-foot wingspan, 7 to 10 pounds. It's a charismatic species that birders and wildlife watchers enjoy. Western crane populations are healthy, and many western states have a long history of hunting sandhill cranes.
In the fall, many of the 87,000 eastern cranes pass through Tennessee on their southbound flights to Georgia and Florida. Birders and wildlife watchers have been delighted with increasing crane numbers. For 22 years the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) have partnered on an annual Sandhill Crane Festival held at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.
Tennessee hunters have also shown great interest as the bird's numbers increased over the last 12 years. A sandhill crane hunt was first proposed in 2011, but the decision was deferred until this year.
Birders and wildlife watchers opposed the hunt for several reasons. TOS spokesperson Vickie Henderson said it's hypocritical to celebrate sandhill cranes with a festival and then shoot them a few weeks later. She also worries that an endangered whooping crane might be shot accidentally.
"There are only 104 whooping cranes in the eastern population, and we expect nine to 24 to be present during the hunt," she said "Losing even one whooping crane would be tragic."
To minimize the risk of accidentally killing any whooping cranes, hunting regulations call for a conservative 35-day season. Legal shooting hours are limited from sunrise to 3 p.m. so hunters can avoid low light hours when misidentification would be most likely. And every hunter who gets a crane permit must pass an online identification test.
Kentucky began a sandhill crane hunt two years ago. They killed 50 cranes in 2011 and 93 last year.huntingfishing
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.