Hunting & Fishing for Stories & Photos

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Arizona Sandhill Cranes

One of the most obscure birds to hunt in Arizona is the Sandhill Crane. All tags are issued through a drawing for hunts that mainly take place around Willcox and the Sulphur Springs Valley in southeastern Arizona. My brother Erik and I first were drawn back in 2004, and have hunted four other years since then. Most of our efforts have been focused on the Kansas Settlement area because we have a good friend whose family farms in the area. We have not been successful on every hunt, but we usually are able to convince a couple birds to at least fly by our decoys.

Results of our first Arizona Sandhill Crane hunt in 2004.

When drawn, you are allowed two birds.

Erik shot this greater, which was nearly twice as big as the more common lessers.

We typically set out a dozen silhouette decoys in picked corn fields or cut milo fields, and then do our best to hide nearby. As the birds lift off the Willcox Playa after roosting there for the night, we use binoculars to spot the birds coming our way. We have found that flagging helps tremendously to bring the birds towards us. Once on the way, we do a little calling and hope the birds stay low enough to be within range. Our shotguns of choice shoot 3-1/2” Hevi Shot Dead Coyote T’s through Patternmaster Chokes. We have found the combination to be deadly, especially on such large birds at long ranges.

We use binoculars to glass for cranes as they leave their roost in the morning.

Once spotted, our homemade flag lures the cranes close.

I always took Lacey with me, but made sure that the birds were dead before allowing her to make a retrieve. An injured crane, with its long beak and poor demeanor, can be dangerous to a dog. However, as long as they are dead, there is nothing like watching a Labrador bring back a bird that is nearly twice as long as her! My brother took his German Shorthair on a few of the hunts, too. The crane hunt is a perfect hunt for kids to come along, so as soon as Erik’s oldest son Teague was old enough to join us, he became part of our hunting crew!

A crane hunt is perfect for kids!

Cranes must be tagged like Arizona's big game.

A crane tends to be a mouthful for a Labrador, but Lacey always figured out a way to bring them back!