Sandhill Crane hunting

Jayhawk

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Mar 15, 2009
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Kansas
Has anyone done any sandhill crane hunting? Do these birds decoy like geese or is more like pass shooting them? Looking to try it out this fall, was wondering what kind of decoys and how many to use. Also what shotgun loads to use. Thanks a bunch
 

mgood

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Jul 10, 2015
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Snyder, Texas
Hunted them with my dad as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s.

Up close they're much bigger than they look in the air. I've heard hunters say that if you can't hear their wings flapping, they're out of shotgun range. (May, or may not, be a tall tale. I never noticed the sound of flapping wings in the excitement.) Goose loads are what you want. We used 3" magnums back in the day. I'd never heard of 3.5" magnums back then, but I suppose that would be the thing to use now.

They have great eyesight and won't fly near man-made stuff, like your vehicle, unless they're so high you wonder if there's any oxygen up there, except occasionally they'll fly over long-abandoned structures.

We'd set up before daylight near a lake where they were and catch a few just as they were taking off first thing in the morning. Never used decoys.

Then we'd move to the edge of a field of wheat or whatever that had already been harvested where you'd see jillions of them out there, like a gray blanket over the land. Bury ourselves in the weeds. One person would drive waaaay around to the other side of the field and then drive the pickup across the field, honking and raising hell, to drive them towards us. (I suppose you could do the same on foot or on horseback if you couldn't drive across the field. Farmers considered them pests and were glad to have us shoot them back then and the fields were already harvested so we weren't damaging crops. Only issue was getting stuck.) Sometimes they came over us low enough to shoot if we didn't move until they were right there. Sometimes they were already too high before they got to where we were. (The driving vehicle was still way on the other side of the field, usually a section, so nearly a mile away, as the hunter was shooting up. So no way we're shooting anybody.) Move to another field and repeat.
 

phorwath

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Alaska
I don't think they decoy much. Our best success is patterning where they settled down in the evening, and figuring out their flyway as they get up and move around in the morning. Then getting set where you've seen them overnight and where they fly off to. That works until you shoot at them once, maybe twice. Then you plan on repeating that effort.

Entirely pass shooting where I hunt some locals here in the fall. Season opens September 1st and the locals are usually headed south by September 10th. Use the loads you'd use for 10-12lb Canada geese. If you break a wing, get over to where they hit the ground quickly. They're sneaky buggers. Still don't know if they run/sneak away, hide, or both. I have found a couple borrowed into and hiding in some cover. All I know is I've been surprised at the inability to find some cripples. I've not had a retriever with me. They've got a sharp beak and I'd think that would pose a threat to dog's eyes. It's common for a wounded bird to hiss and poise to strike out with its beak when confronted at close range. Never been struck, but their beak is not a bill. It's a dagger. Need some goggles for your labrador retriever...
 
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mgood

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It's common for a wounded bird to hiss and poise to strick out with its beak when confronted at close range.
:D
When I was a kid, I was the retriever. I'd go fetch my dad's birds and finish off the wounded. So I was used to grabbing dove and quail and twisting their heads off. First time I approached a wounded sandhill crane, I thought I was going to grab it. It stood up on one leg and spread it's wings like the Karate Kid and hissed at me! I took a surprised step back and blasted it with the shotgun. That thing probably could've hurt me pretty bad had I actually managed to get close enough. I was probably 11 or 12 years old. I learned to approach with caution.
 

phorwath

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:D
First time I approached a wounded sandhill crane, I thought I was going to grab it. It stood up on one leg and spread it's wings like the Karate Kid and hissed at me!
Funny. Similar experience here. Except I swung my 30" barreled 870 Wingmaster by the butt stock and clubbed the crane with the barrel. Probably not the smartest thing to do. I figured his skull was softer than the barrel... No dented barrel so it turned out OK...:)
 

c-ne-elk

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May 9, 2011
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Out west
We have been hunting sandhills for 20+ years every fall. We hunt over 40 full body decoys and about 100 grey rags (plastic). Cranes decoy well, just like geese. We mimic their call with our mouths to get their attention and then shut up if the start coming in. Tough buggers to bring down even close. We think dove and aim at the heads. Like geese, they appear to be flying slower than they are. Espically if you are pass shooting them. They are some of the best waterfowl to eat. You hear people calling them "ribeye in the sky" and I agree.
 

c-ne-elk

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Out west
If you use 3 1/2" Heavy shot and an aftermarket full choke for heavy shot you can knock them Down cleanly at 50 Yds. Anything other than heavy shot 35 yds is about it we use #4 steel on them when we decoy as most shots are 20 to 25 yds.
 

StrutNut

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Feb 5, 2015
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Blaine, MN
We used to hunt Saskatchewan a lot and always went after them. We mostly pass shot but some times they came into our goose spread. We used 3.5 inch BB Steel with good results but the Hevi-Steel and Hevi Shot loads were better. As far as chokes we used the same chokes as we used for geese. (Wad Wizard Supreme being my favorite) Great eating bird for sure!
 

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