The Newest Waterfowl Hunting Opportunity
You will no longer have to to go out of state to hunt Sandhill cranes.
By Chuck Sykes
It is not every day a species that was once hunted to the brink of extinction has a population rebound enough to open a new hunting season. Chances are that no living Alabamians have ever had the chance to hunt sandhill cranes in their home state, since hunting was suspended for this species across the United States in 1916. In 2019, Alabama’s hunters will once again have the opportunity to hunt this bird in the Yellowhammer State through a limited quota draw hunt.
In 2011, Kentucky became the first state east of the Mississippi River to open a sandhill crane hunting season since 1916. In 2013, Tennessee became the second state to open a season. Since 2011, more than 11,000 permits have been distributed and more than 3,000 cranes have been harvested in these two states. Beginning in 2019, Alabama will be the third state to open a sandhill crane hunting season.
In the mid-2000s, wildlife biologists began noticing an increase in wintering sandhill cranes in Alabama, primarily in the northern part of the state in the Tennessee River Valley. Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division began counting cranes in 2010 as part of our annual aerial waterfowl surveys. As wintering cranes have become more numerous and shown up in new areas, these large birds have piqued the interest of many hunters, prompting them to voice interest in an opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in Alabama, especially since Kentucky and Tennessee have opened seasons. WFF personnel have been working for several years on passing a proposal through the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils for an experimental hunting season in Alabama. In 2018, the proposal received concurrence from both Flyway Councils and was approved by the USFWS Service Regulation Committee.
The first three years of Alabama’s sandhill crane hunting season are considered experimental, meaning a state must demonstrate that implementation does not have a significant impact on the species. Sandhill crane hunting in Alabama will be a limited quota draw hunt: you must be drawn for a permit and tags to hunt. To be eligible for the drawing, an applicant must be at least 16 years of age or older and a resident of Alabama or a Lifetime Hunting License holder of the state of Alabama. Applicants must obtain a valid All or Small Game Hunting License, plus a State Duck Stamp; or a Lifetime Hunting License plus Lifetime Duck Stamp; or be an exempt resident landowner or immediate family hunting their own land; or an Alabama resident over 65 years of age; or combination of above. The drawing for sandhill crane permits and tags will be by randomized computer drawing, and applications will only be accepted online at www.outdooralabama.com.
Four hundred hunters will be drawn for a permit (one permit/hunter) for a total of 1,200 tags (three tags/hunter). The application period will open in September 2019, with the drawing taking place in early October 2019. Drawn hunters must take and pass the online sandhill crane identification test before receiving their permit and tags. Permits and tags are nontransferable. Permits and tags will be issued once confirmation is received that drawn hunters took – and passed – the online test. Drawn hunters must also obtain a Federal Duck Stamp and HIP certification (if applicable) to legally hunt. Once you have the necessary licenses and stamps, and the permit and tags in hand, then you are ready to hunt.
When you harvest a sandhill crane, before moving the bird, fill in the appropriate harvest information on your permit and tag, and attach the tag to the bird. Each harvested crane must be accompanied by a completed tag (each tag allows the harvest of one crane) and must match information written on the permit. All hunters issued sandhill crane permits MUST go online to fill out and return a postseason survey, regardless of whether they hunted or harvested a sandhill crane. Failure to complete and return the mandatory postseason survey will result in hunters being ineligible to apply for a permit in future drawings.
WFF has selected a 60-day season beginning in early December 2019 and running through late January 2020 for the inaugural limited-quota sandhill crane hunting season. The daily and season bag limit and possession limit for sandhill cranes is three and based on the number of tags awarded to an individual permit holder. Two sandhill crane zones will be designated, one hunted and one nonhunted. The sandhill crane hunting zone will be defined as the area north of Interstate 20 from the Georgia state line to the interchange with Interstate 65, then east of Interstate 65 to the interchange with Interstate 22, then north of Interstate 22 to the Mississippi state line. The nonhunting zone will be the remainder of the state.
The conservation foresight of our forefathers and the recovery efforts by many wildlife professionals have created opportunities to hunt sandhill cranes once again in the eastern U.S. Among hunters, sandhill cranes have come to be known as “ribeye of the sky.” If you are interested in hunting sandhill cranes in Alabama, your opportunity has arrived. Beginning in 2019, Alabama’s hunters who get drawn to take part in this hunt will have stories to tell and table fare to share.
The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Migratory Game Bird Program is dedicated to improving migratory game bird habitat and hunting opportunities on public and private lands throughout Alabama. We are excited to offer new hunting opportunities to hunters across the state. We are currently working on restoring habitat and infrastructure on our established wildlife management areas, as well as establishing, restoring, and adding habitat and hunting opportunities in other parts of the state. Biologists are available to provide technical assistance to landowners and other entities regarding many aspects of migratory game bird management. For more information about the Migratory Game Bird Program or WMAs, visit www.outdooralabama.com.