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Sandhill Crane Hunt In Minnesota

My Sandhill Crane tattoo designed by Paul Johnsgard.

Well, I guess I better keep my lower back covered in orange this fall:  The Minnesota DNR announced that after 94 years they are reopening a hunting season on sandhill cranes this fall.

I know some birders are outraged by this, but I have to admit, I’m not so outraged.  I’m a little curious that it seemed to happen with no discussion, the DNR just suddenly announced it without any public input.  The only hint I saw was a pole on the Outdoor News website a few months ago asking if Minnesota should have a season on cranes.  Originally, the pole was in favor of the hunt until the site was mentioned on a few birding listservs and birders swayed the pole to a firm “No.”  There’s currently another pole asking if people approve of the season.  Birders have yet to find it, so the overwhelming answer on the hunting website is, “Yes!”

I’m not a hunter, although this summer I have been trying my hand at fishing and I understand the interest in hunting.  Heck, quite a few of the techniques I use for getting photos of birds are similar to hunting techniques of getting closer to wildlife, I understand the human nature’s thrill of the chase (I have a ghillie suit for cryin’ out loud).  But I see this being a good thing in the long run. When a bird or any other animal is suddenly made a game species, all sorts of money goes to habitat restoration and insuring we have a sustainable population (to hunt).  Many other bird species including native warblers, sparrows, shorebirds and all sorts of wildlife would benefit from sandhill crane habitat protection, so in the long run, this could be good news for habitat.

Sandhill cranes are already a game species in a handful of other states.  I have had conversations with 2 different crane hunters.  Both had the same comments about cranes: 1. They are hard to hunt, very cagey and wary of decoys.  2.  It is some of the best bird meat you will ever eat in your life–better than grouse, better than turkey and even better than pheasant.

Who knows, maybe a Cranes Unlimited organization will sprout up?  Will there be a Crane Stamp leading to more conservation dollars?  Hunting groups are well organized and get the money they need for their species, I would argue they are more organized than most birding groups.

We have a healthy population of cranes in Minnesota. Our population that breeds in the state is part of a 450,000 bird population that exceeded the conservation goal of 349,000.  That’s a lot of cranes.  Birders may not agree with it, but they can at least take heart that there will be dollars seriously set aside for crane habitat.

And really, do birders have as organized a voice as hunters?  Had there been a time for public comment on a crane season, would they have had a strong enough voice to stop it?

35 comments to Sandhill Crane Hunt In Minnesota

  • My experience with Sandhill Cranes is quite different. I have found them to be the exact opposite of cagey, I have been able to easily get so close to them I could touch them. In fact I have even had a couple eat bird seed from my hand.

    Of course my idea of shooting is quite different from that of a hunter

    They are beautiful, and a pleasure to photograph.

  • Sounds like you should teach workshops. Most of the cranes I have encountered did not let me get close unless I was in my car. Even then, they were wary.

  • Becci

    “To attract more hunters (and their money), federal and state agencies implement programs—often called ‘wildlife management’ or ‘conservation’ programs—that are designed to boost the numbers of ‘game’ species. These programs help to ensure that there are plenty of animals for hunters to kill and, consequently, plenty of revenue from the sale of hunting licenses.

    Duck hunters in Louisiana persuaded the state wildlife agency to direct $100,000 a year toward ‘reduced predator impact,’ which involved trapping foxes and raccoons so that more duck eggs would hatch, giving hunters more birds to kill.(12) The Ohio Division of Wildlife teamed up with a hunter-organized society to push for clear-cutting (i.e., decimating large tracts of trees) in Wayne National Forest in order to ‘produce habitat needed by ruffed grouse.’(13)” (yes, I know, we all hate PETA–so check their references; those aren’t made up)

    Also useful, from a former hunter:

    I’m off, thanks for your (usually) entertaining posts. I’ve learned some pretty fascinating stuff on this blog. I think you are a fantastic birder and a really lovely person, by the way. Just a little tired of reading about how pro-hunting/fishing you are, so I’m unsubscribing. I know, I know, who cares? (By the way, yes, I know how much worse it is in slaughterhouses; that’s part of why I don’t eat meat.) Anyway, have a good day.

  • Fair enough. I lost a few vegan readers when I started beekeeping, so I understand. I almost told Non Birding Bill not to publish the fishing widow post because I knew some wouldn’t like it. C’est la vie.

  • That’s just silly. While I don’t agree on your pro-position for Crane Hunt, it’s good to see you not falling into the extremists trap. And for those vegans out there – how dare you eat plants – they have feelings, too!

  • Hey, Klaus, didn’t you just get that photo of the vegetarian heron?

  • Karen

    I don’t hunt. I’ll eat something that’s been hunted, but I don’t hunt. I used to fish–a LOT. Not so much anymore. Some of that’s an issue of time, some of that is an issue of not wanting to kill something. I used to wear fur. Still would if I could afford to.
    So, what do these things have in common? The very thing that you write about here–habitat. Once there is a commercial reason for preserving habitat (hunting, fishing, furs), the powers that be have more reason for preserving that habitat. It’s a matter of balance. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s better than more condominiums.

  • vickie

    do you mean ‘poll’ for pole?

  • pelligirl

    I agree on the money that comes from hunters are a good thing, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let them overkill any species. I love seeing the cranes on Galveston Island, Tx, and they have a hunt there also.

  • Ren

    After seeing the sandhill crane migration along the Platte earlier this year, I can’t imagine hunting them (and indeed they’re protected in Nebraska). If their numbers are too large, I suppose a hunt is justified. If not, well I hope those who hunt them actually eat them and don’t just do it for sport.

    I knew about your tat but didn’t know it was designed by Paul Johnsgard. I just showed the Crane Song dvd to a friend this week. I love the interview clips with Johnsgard and think it’s great that he still gets so excited for the migration after so many years.

  • nikkikoval

    When I was a child, Christmas was a joy to anticipate, now it’s spring and fall and going out to look for Sandhills flying over by the hundreds. I love to hear their cry. Hope that doesn’t change.

  • This is very interesting. Recently, I Googled something specific about Sandhill Cranes – don’t recall what – and was handed a list of recipes. Recipes! It was shocking until I read more and discovered just what you said – that in some states hunting Sandhills is legal, and for just the reasons that you stated. The recipe-givers were also going on and on about how delicious is the meat. Hm.

    I must ponder this and decide exactly how I feel about it. Ducks Unlimited, and hunter’s groups overall, are very organized and passionate about giving back to preserve habitat. Perhaps my reticence to embrace this idea is because I’ve only recently – the past 2-3 years – seen Sandhills for the first time and cannot picture them being hunted. Not after hearing their trumpeting calls, which brought tears of joy to my eyes.

  • OH! And I’m not a big fan of tats, but yours totally rocks BECAUSE it stands for something.

  • I appreciate that people have to follow their convictions, I just wish that more who value the environment as I do could prioritize the values they share with other groups, rather than forging battle lines over the few they do not.

    Regarding the swinging of a poll for hunters – if it is up on a hunting specific website, and is asking people who have already made a descision to hunt whether they would hunt that additional species – why ambush it with “no” responses? That seems like the equivalent of a local bird club polling its members on where the next local field trip should be held, and having the petstore owners of America unite to sway the poll to the local Petco – or something like that.

    I did see that the current poll seems to have been rewritten to reflect the policy question, so have at it! Their site traffic had probably never seen such a spike.

    Another good post to explore how we all view different relationships with our natural world!

  • Jacci

    I know you know this ….but us old English teachers die hard. ~ Poll ~ honey, not pole…..I know you knew!

  • Jenwithglasses

    I enjoy reading your blog. I’ve always been a wildlife/plant life/ macro/micro biology nut.
    I wanted to weigh in on people unsubscribing because they disagreed with what this particular post had to say. I find it a little odd that our culture has developed this overriding avoidance of any opinions that do not match our own to the letter. Everybody has preferences for entertainment or information but if we only allow ourselves to read our own opinions mirrored back to us I think that we will become very small minded indeed.

  • On the topic of birdish tattoos, check out this one.

  • I think my ability to get close has more to do with the Cranes that I photograph, than anything specific I am doing. I certainly don’t have that luck with Blue Herons

  • Nice…although, the hair over the finch is kinda freaky.

  • Probably, that is the result of my mind working faster than my fingers.

  • That tat is my favorite because Johnsgard designed for me.

    Paul Johnsgard is awesome and one of my favorite people EVER. A prime example of one person making a difference. When Nebraska opened a limited hunt on prairie chickens, he felt the population numbers weren’t strong enough for a hunt. Since there were only a limited number of hunting licenses available on a lottery system, he encouraged every birder he knew to apply for the permits. If birders got the licenses, there would be fewer people hunting them. The plan worked and almost half of the lottery licenses went to birders. It sent a strong message to game officials.

  • You can’t write a blog or put an opinion out on the internet without people disagreeing with you (and in some cases, hating you). That’s people, that’s life. I have said early on to trolls (aka people leaving profanity filled hate comments or sometimes threatening comments) to just stop reading the blog if they don’t like it. I appreciate that someone stated in a respectful way why she was unsubscribing. I don’t need to know, but I can understand why she left that comment. When someone invests time reading your blog, commenting and sharing it with friends and they see opinions they are morally opposed to coming up more often, I can understand the reason to let the blogger know that they have been disappoint and that they need to leave.

    I personally can’t subscribe to that logic (except when it comes to racism or spouse, child and pet abuse). If I quit reading websites, books, articles, etc because someone expressed views I disagree with on politics, religion or whatever–I would have nothing left to read. Heck, I wouldn’t have friends, would never speak to any family members and certainly wouldn’t be married to Mr. Stiteler.

  • Yes, the those vegetarian/vegan PETA freaks are usually hardliners, and their ethic is not compatible with reality. When I first read the news, I had mixed feelings, but I did not feel qualified to judge (besides, Minnesotans are hunting large mammals as soon as they break out of the womb . . . so there is some cultural ignorance on my part, since fishing is as close as I came to hunting in my childhood). I am impressed by your assessment.

    Regarding the barbigerous Gouldian, I think that it would worse if the man had shaved his leg :/

  • I always struggle with the relationship between hunters and birders. Obviously hunters do a lot to conserve the species that they like to hunt and that’s all good, however I do think that many birders tend to be a little romantic in their views of the ‘gentleman’ hunter or revered ‘outdoorsman’. Sure some are conservation minded but many others aren’t in the slightest. I’ve met a good number of hunters and for all the good ones there are an equal number of idiots – as with all forms of life. Unfortunately these idiots also have guns.

    Equally the money that they raise is really just a byproduct of a desire to hunt so while it’s all important money, let’s not overly romanticize where that money comes from, they aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their heart but rather to meet legal requirements. I also question that corny old grizzled crap about how tough stuff is to hunt. Lets face it the cranes are the size of a barn door and if you have a rifle it’s not that challenging! And as for what crane tastes like – dog might be delicious but that doesn’t enter into the process of whether it’s a good idea to kill and eat them (at least here).

    For many hunting is a sport and the kills are not for consumption anyway. Personally for me sport is something where the other guy has a chance. It wouldn’t be much fun watching a baseball match if one team wasn’t allowed a bat!

    Not being a scientist myself I’m intrigued how much benefit hunting actually has for bird species in the US that are really in serious trouble – scanning through the red list it’s hard to see what species would be benefited by more wetland duck or crane habitat Having been to Colorado a number of times and seen the diminished leks of the Lesser Prairie Chickens it’s hard to see how hunting them can be that good for the species? That is what I wonder about when I look at the hunting season in Minnesota. It’s hard to see what outstanding conservation work the local wildlife service will be doing with their $3:50 a pop crane permit unless there are a good couple of million wannabe crane hunters in Minnesota.

    My other concern with hunting is do many of these guys actually know what they are shooting at? The next three articles do make one wonder.

    In general it seems perfectly acceptable to have a nuanced approach to hunting – to note that some benefits do come from it but I don’t think it requires birders to defend hunting or think it’s cool – which seems to be the message we are receiving these days from some sources. Perhaps we might be allowed to think that it’s distasteful and prefer that it didn’t occur but still acknowledge the benefits it provides. Personally I wish birders would stop buying duck stamps and be allowed to buy bird stamps – say for conserving the Boreal Forests or important grasslands – then we could at least see if birders are willing to put their money where their mouths are on conservation issues.

  • I’m really fond of the sandhill cranes–they migrate over us twice a year. What concerns me about opening up a hunting season for them in the fall is that whoopers sometimes travel with sandhill flocks…and a missed shot at a sandhill could hit a whooper. (Do I think all hunters are perfect shots? No. Experience.)

    We also need to watch populations very carefully over the next 10-20 years, because of where cranes winter along the Gulf Coast, and the recent BP oil spill; some recent reports of the 30+ yo Ixtoc oil spill off the coast of Mexico indicates that oil continues to exert damaging effects in coastal marshes, where cranes feed. Although many fish stocks recovered in <10 years, species that depended on a marsh and shallow-water habitat are still not up to pre-spill levels. Whoopers (and presumably sandhills) have suffered from malnutrition in the past few years due to the Texas drought (which caused low production of blue crabs, among other things) , including deaths from malnutrition. It would be smart to take a pro-active approach to surveying populations and reproductive success now, before those birds return to the Gulf coast for the winter and then see how they're doing on return.

  • Rand

    “The plan worked and almost half of the lottery licenses went to birders. It sent a strong message to game officials.”

    Yeah, it sends the message that they can now sell twice as many permits. It’s like trying to suppress a newspaper story by buying all the copies: it may work in the short run, but in the long run all you’re doing is encouraging the newspapers to print more.

    Likewise, I have no problem with hunting in general, but I’m skeptical of these “hunting as conservation” programs because they create perverse incentives to unbalance ecosystems in favor of increasing the populations of huntable species.

  • I’m also somewhat skeptical of the “hunting as conservation” programs because they perpetuate the notion that ‘real’ outdoorsmen/women are hunters and fishers–consumers of the resource, and that producing a consumable resource (the game species) is necessary to support having wildlife at all.

    The contribution of non-resource-consuming outdoor activities like birdwatching, nature photography, etc., to the economy is not as easy to quantify, especially to government officials. Hunting and fishing licenses are obvious–you don’t buy them if you don’t plan to use them. Tying those to sales of firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, and so on is pretty easy. But the sales of binoculars, cameras and accessories, and the money flowing to communities (along the Texas Gulf coast and Lower Rio Grande Valley, where I grew up) is easily lost in the sale of the same items for other purposes, and travel/lodging/food, etc. purchased by those going to the same areas for other reasons (including hunting and fishing.) Park and reserve entrance fees, again, are not marked by purpose of visit at this time. In recent years, both the communities benefiting from non-resource-consuming nature-related tourism and those doing it have begun trying to make their economic contributions clear, but more needs to be done to change attitudes at the policy-making level.

    Times change. There’s less habitat (and decreasing habitat) for native species everywhere. We have lost, and are losing, species in the wild, some of which can’t be propagated in captivity anyway. I am not opposed to all hunting and fishing (says the person with venison in the freezer in an area of overpopulation of white-tail deer) especially as with less habitat, maintaining its quality requires managing populations. But the amount of harvest has to be titrated against the resource that supports the game species. Programs that target predator species, in order to promote more game, should be re-evaluated in the light of what we now know about healthy ecosystems, with hunting/fishing pressure shifted, where possible, to non-native species (wild hogs, for instance) or species that, through habitat loss, have become problems in urban/suburban areas.

    In addition, the proportion of birdwatchers, odonate enthusiasts, wildflower/native plant enthusiasts, nature photographers, etc. has risen markedly, in comparison with the number of hunters/fishers. Both their economic effect, and their sheer numbers of taxpaying citizens who deserve access to their desired share of wildlife and natural environments, should be more in balance with hunters and fishers. What this may take is a program that directly receives money for state and national wildlife and parks departments from non-consuming users of these resources so that state wildlife and parks departments know their income depends on serving these users.

  • Lehman

    For those people that don’t think hunting completely changes the way an animal acts just come to Va and I’ll take you to the Shenandoah NAtional PArk where no hunting is allowed. I can get close to turkeys,bear and deer with no problem. Just a few miles away in hunted areas you will never see anything but the backside of bears and deer running way. The same with turkeys. If everyone would stop eating meat and killing animals it would be musch better for the environment. PETA has been taking a strong stand using the environment for net eating meat because it’s true. I’m surprised Sharon hasn’t talked about all the penguins that recently died from starvation washed up on Brazils coast. Overfishing. Hunting sucks for people like me that like to take wildlife photographs. It sucks for the animals and it sucks for the environment.

  • Lehman

    I might add that another Mexican wolf has just been shot. That makes 3 now.

  • leo

    i am a birder.i do not hunt.i have friends who do.hunting and fishing,along with the purchase of all camping equipment pay for habitat which benefits all bird species.the same argument “eat wild salmon’ is being used to save native salmon and trout populations in the northwest usa.if people hunt or fish they care about,AND PAY for the habitat which benefits wildlife and this is a win-win for birders and hunters alike.what if birders and hunters worked together and have a dominating PAC?what good it could do!

  • Decisions on what species are legal to hunt/fish, and the limits, should be determined on sound ecological principles, and not on the preferences of hunters/fishers, or on market pressure (as in deep ocean fishing.)

  • leapfrog

    From what I understand, you only pay a $3.50 “administrative fee” to kill 4 cranes. Nothing goes back into conservation or management. Haven’t heard that this is any sort of limit to the number of “fees” they will be issuing. If 50K people purchase this and each kill 4 birds, that’s 200,000 dead birds. Add that to the number that don’t survive the oil slick and all of a sudden it’s endangered once again.

  • BirdHunter

    Waterfowl (i.e. cranes) can only be hunted with shotgun. Rifles are illegal to use (what Luke stated is untrue). That means they must be decoyed to usually within 40 yards. They have an uncanny eyesight and are extremely wary. They are considered the most difficult of all waterfowl to hunt. The are eagerly consumed and nicknamed ‘ribeye of the sky’ based off of their tablefare. Very few cranes are harvested annually in the US.

    The biggest threat to all wildlife populations is loss of habitat. In MN, that isn’t the case for cranes. There is lots of prime habitat for cranes, which is why they have an expanding population (and will still have an expanding population even with this hunt occurring). The justification for the season isn’t a $3.50 permit to cover the cost of adminstering a season (come on Luke, get your facts straight). The justification is that there is now a huntable population that has been managed at the expense of hunters for years. Some of you need to realize that hunters flip the bill for the majority of the wildlife viewing you enjoy…they pay for habitat and management for game and non-game species alike.

    Which brings up the question, when will birders start pulling their weight? Birders are a fast growing demographic in this country, that do very little to help the bird populations they supposedly care for. Those national wildlife refuges that are frequented in droves by birders were paid for with dollars from conservation minded hunters. Waterfowl production areas that are a boon for ducks and geese as well as shore birds, song birds, raptors, etc., also paid for by hunters. Virtually every acre of land conserved in this country has been done so by hunters and funded in one way or the other by hunter-conservationists (they are one in the same).

    I for one would like to see a birding license created. I think that anyone who gets to enjoy the tremendous public resources we have should at least help pay the bill for them. There needs to be fees for access for viewing areas of USFWS refuges, state management areas, etc. With hunters a declining demographic birders need to step up if we want to see thriving bird populations in the future. Simply being a member of the Audubon society isn’t going to cut it. Hunters donate and self-tax themselves for billions of dollars annually. What do birders do?

  • BirdHunter

    “If everyone would stop eating meat and killing animals it would be musch better for the environment. PETA has been taking a strong stand using the environment for net eating meat because it’s true.” —lehman

    This is not true. Hunting, when managed correctly of course, is one of the most land-friendly ways to eat there is. Historically, Hunter-Gatherer societies were the most land friendly of any. I’ll give you an example…

    I once had access to hunt a section of private land that was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in ND. This land was planted in native grasses and had a mix of short grass prairie, cattails and wetlands. I would hunt it every year for sharptail grouse, waterfowl, and deer. It was amazing how much wildlife existed on those 640 acres. Every year I came back and harvested wildlife and fed myself with pure organic meat…no steroids, antibiotics or hormones in it…just lean, pure, healthy protein. The land was in harmony. Every year it would renew itself. The deer would easily replace the one or that I killed for food (to the point where there was actually too many deer). There were always more grouse to chase and more ducks to decoy. The land was in harmony, capable of renewing itself, and I was part of the ecosystem.

    Then the market changed and the farmer took his section of land out of CRP, plowed it under and planted it all to Soy Beans the next year. The wetlands that were teeming with ducks were drained, the prairie grass full of grouse no longer there, the cattails that held deer…all gone. All that existed left on that square mile was an insidious monoculture of Soy. The land was dead, except for the one species of plant grown for food. The wildlife was all gone, even down to the insects, and most likely never to return.

    The moral of the story is that we are all human beings, living in the most consumptive country in the history of humankind. We all need to recognize that by our very existance, we are stopping the existance of something else. I’ve never understood this about vegans or vegitarians…it’s as if most of them think that their food is grown where nothing ever existed before??? What do you think those farm fields looked like before they were plowed to grow your food? What do you think happened to the animals that once lived where your food is now grown?

    For you to eat and live, something else must die. For some this is hard to stomach, but this is the story of human history.

  • Hey Birdhunter – I think you may be missing my points. The first – whether it’s a rifle or a shotgun – shooting things just isn’t that hard for all your protestations. If you were going mano-et-mano with your prey using just your bare hands or a bowie knife I might think that there was some sporting aspect to hunting ;) When you have a gun it doesn’t strike me personally as particularly sporting – just my POV. BTW out of interest in your estimation do the birds look 40 yards away in this video? Check youtube for hunting videos and you can find plenty of cranes coming to decoys. Maybe these big birds aren’t wily geniuses after all?

    The original post seems to also imply that a lot of conservation dollars will be raised by the crane hunt – as you have noted yourself – they won’t – the $3:50 is just an admin fee. You can argue that hunters have already done good conservation work, but any implication that this hunt is raising any more important conservation dollars seems erroneous – so I think the facts I was trying to highlight are just fine as they stand.

    Out of interest if hunters are so concerned with conservation why is lead poisoning still one of the main issues for California Condors even though lead shot is banned in most of the areas these birds inhabit – seems slightly willful on behalf of the local hunting community to be using illegal shot no? Not going to touch on the Lesser Prairie Chickens either I guess? Still hunted in Kansas even though they have been virtually extirpated from NM, OK and TX – sure habitat is key with any bird species but it does strike me as mildly incongruous for ‘conservationists’ to be hunting birds that are obviously in trouble – there must be other stuff to kill in Kansas?

    As I said in my piece I’m intrigued as to whether the conservation that hunters carry out corresponds neatly with the conservation issues birders are concerned with – I doubt it does much for really endangered species – Golden-cheeked Warblers, Black-capped Vireos, Kirtland’s Warblers, Rusty Blackbird or any of the Hawaiian passerines etc. I’ll be happy for you to prove me wrong – I was merely positing the question.

    Hence my thoughts on a birding stamp for birders that can be directed towards funding bird species that are actually in trouble rather than the relatively abundant waterfowl of the continent. Have a check on ABC’s most important conservation issues – not many (if any) of them seem to have that much correlation to the kind of projects that duck stamps support:

    As for hunters in general – I know quite few – a couple of very good birding friends of mine are keen hunters. They are conservation minded guys and maybe you are too but lets not pretend that hunter and conservationist are somehow interchangeable words.