Sandhill Crane: The Need to Know

Thinking about hunting cranes in Alberta? Here’s a quick but important list of considerations for Alberta hunters.


There is a healthy population of sandhill cranes in North America. Long legs and necks make them look giant among other waterfowl, but most adult birds weigh somewhere between a mallard duck and a Canada goose, at three kilograms. Hunters must learn to identify this bird accurately—there is concern for the accidental shooting of whooping cranes, which use the same migration routes through western Canada. The key difference is colour: sandhill cranes are grey overall, with dull-red skin on the crown of adult birds, while whooping cranes are white overall with black primary feathers forming the wingtips.


Hunters wanting to hunt sandhill cranes in Alberta are required to hold a Federal Migratory Game Bird Permit and stamp, as well as the appropriate provincial game bird licence.

As a migratory game bird, sandhill cranes must be hunted with the use of non-toxic shot. Steel shot sizes used for geese are ideal. The tungsten-iron and tungsten matrix shot is very effective. Shot sizes BB, 2, or 4 are recommended.

Wildlife management units

The sandhill crane season in Alberta is limited to Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in east-central and southeast portions of the province. While sandhills will be found in northern parts of Alberta, they can’t be legally hunted there.

Sandhill cranes can be hunted in the following provincial WMUs: 200, 202 to 204, 206, 208, 220, 222, 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238, 240, 242, 244, 248, 250, 252, 254, 256, 258, 260, and 500 in the Federal Zone No. 1 and WMUs 102, 104, 106, 112, 116, 118, 119, 124, 128, 130, 132, 134, 136, 138, 140, 142, 144, 148, 150 to 152, 156, 158, 160, 162 to 164, 166, and 210 in Zone No. 2 are included in the season for sandhill cranes.


Cranes long, sharp beaks are agile and controlled instruments that pick up seeds, insects, rodents, or even amphibians. They are the crane’s primary defense when threatened. Dog handlers who love to see their favourite four-legged partner working and retrieving must use extreme caution—if there’s any chance a downed bird was only injured, its sharp beak could easily take out a dog’s eye or cause serious injury.

Hunters also need to pay attention when picking up downed birds. They often play dead and strike out as you bend down to pick them up. The long neck of a crane allows them to move their heads and beaks quickly, striking up to a metre in range. Don’t let your guard down and respect the safety of dogs and fellow hunters.