A word about sandhill cranes: Hunters unfamiliar with the big bird often ask, “What does it taste like?” Veteran waterfowlers that know will answer, “Sandhills are ribeyes-in-the-sky!”
The sandhill’s meat is quite different from other waterfowl. Perhaps that is because of its diet. They are omnivorous; they eat a wide variety of plants and animals, such as: Grains, seeds, berries, plant tubers, insects, grubs and earthworms, salamanders and frogs, lizards and snakes, mice, mussels, and crayfish. But sandhills do not eat fish as herons and other wading birds do.
Sandhill crane hunting has taken place in other (western) states for years. However, it has only been since 2013 that hunters have been allowed to pursue them in Tennessee in the southeast zone. Alabama is inaugurating their first sandhill hunt this year.
As sandhill crane populations have increased, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has granted TWRA wider latitude to provide hunting tags. The agency is closely monitoring the crane harvest, while also requiring hunters to learn how to differentiate sandhill cranes from the rare and protected whooping cranes. For more on this season go to www.state.tn.us/twra/article/sandhill-crane.
The 2019-20 statewide sandhill crane season begins Dec. 7 for those who have already drawn tags. Earlier this year the wildlife agency conducted a computer draw for crane hunting tags, but also held a hand-draw in an area of the state referred to by TWRA as the Southeast Crane Zone. Hunters in the statewide drawing were issued one tag (white) each, while those for the southeast zone only received three tags (blue).
Sandhill crane hunting statewide occurs Dec. 7 – Jan. 31. Hunting in the Southeast Crane Zone has a split season. The first segment is Dec. 7 – Jan. 16; the second is Jan. 20- 31. Daily hours of hunting are a half-hour before sunrise until 3 p.m. EST, 2 p.m. CST. Hunters with statewide tags can hunt in the southeast zone, but not during the closed portion of the zone’s split season.