Larry Dreamis Hill failed in his quest to take a bird during Kentucky's inaugural sandhill crane hunting season – but says it wasn't for lack of effort.
"These birds were extremely challenging and seemed to change their patterns a little every day. I really enjoyed the challenge and look forward to future seasons of pursuing this bird. I remember when the first sandhill cranes showed up in Cecilia (in Hardin County) years ago – now I have the opportunity to hunt them. It's very exciting," said Hill, Cecilia's retired fire chief.
Kentucky's first modern hunting season for sandhill cranes came to a close Sunday, Jan. 15. The month-long season marked the first time in nearly 100 years that Kentucky sportsmen and sportswomen had the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in the Commonwealth. By closing day, hunters had harvested 50 birds. Kentucky had allowed for a maximum harvest of 400 sandhill cranes.
"The harvest number was not surprising to us because Kentucky does not have a tradition of sandhill crane hunting," said Rocky Pritchert, Migratory Bird Program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "These are extremely wary birds and are a challenge to hunt. Sandhill cranes are hunted in a fashion similar to geese, using decoys in fields. Sandhill cranes are hunted for their meat. They are generally regarded as the finest table fare among migratory birds."
Kentucky was the first state to allow sandhill crane hunting on the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes. The Mid-Continent Population of sandhill cranes has been hunted for more than 50 years in the United States.
Last fall, a survey coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted a minimum of 72,000 sandhill cranes in the Eastern Population. "This population has experienced significant growth over the last decade and has reached a point where we can allow a limited harvest without impacting the population," said Pritchert. "As a biologist it is my responsibility to ensure harvest does not negatively impact the population and this season will not harm the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes."
This season, most of the cranes were harvested in Hardin and Barren counties. These are traditional wintering areas for sandhill cranes in Kentucky.
Hunters had to pass an online identification course before being issued a permit. Hunters will have to complete a post-season survey as well.
"The information obtained from these surveys helps us better understand how the season went," said Pritchert. "The information obtained from this hunt will help us manage future hunts of sandhill hunts in Kentucky and other states that might potentially hunt sandhill cranes."