With the nickname "ribeye of the sky," sandhill cranes are considered one of the best tasting migratory birds hunted during the waterfowl season in some jurisdictions. After many attempts to open a season in Alberta, it was approved at provincial and federal levels for the September 2020 hunting season.
Birds of a feather flock together. Sandhill cranes are social, staging and feeding in large numbers along migration routes. Like other waterfowl, sandhill cranes will come into decoys that look like other cranes already resting and feeding in a field. A dozen decoys can draw the attention of large flocks of up to 50 birds.
Fields, dry slough bottoms, or areas of grassland where hunters have spotted cranes feeding are ideal to return to and set up decoys. Morning and evening flights of birds head out to feed before returning to a roosting area—typically a gravel bar on a river, or shallow wetland.
Duck and goose hunters often shoot incidental sandhills that fly into range. One strategy is to place six sandhill crane decoys on the upwind side of a goose and duck decoy spread to draw potential birds into range.
Because sandhill cranes stage in large numbers, they can provide pass shooting opportunities. Watch for birds coming off the river or a wetland and intercept the main flight path. Most of the cranes will follow a similar flight line to feeding areas, making them vulnerable to hunters hiding in a treeline or behind a rock pile on a hill. On cloudy, windy days, pass shooting can be most productive.
Hunters in all provinces are required to hold a Federal Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit and Stamp, as well as the appropriate provincial game bird licence. Hunters must use a non-toxic shot. Steel shot sizes used for geese are ideal—shot sizes BB, #2, or #4 provide the pattern density and required knockdown power.