New Sandhill Crane Season in Tennessee
The modern era of sandhill crane hunting in Tennessee begins with the late waterfowl season on November 28, 2013 and runs through January 1, 2014. The US, Canada and Mexico manage sandhill crane harvest through the same regulatory mechanisms as waterfowl and other migratory game birds. Listed as a game species, many central US states, Canadian provinces and Mexico have been hunting cranes for over 50 years and all populations are stable or increasing. Hunting in the eastern US was closed until Kentucky’s 2011 season and now Tennessee’s 2013 season.
North American Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill cranes are the most numerous and wide ranging of all worldwide crane species with a population exceeding 600,000. There are six distinct migratory populations of sandhill cranes with breeding ranges extending across North America. During migration, sandhill cranes congregate in large numbers at staging areas of mid-latitude states and then migrate to wintering areas in the southern US and Mexico. Hunting occurs on four of the six migratory sandhill crane populations with over 26,000 cranes harvested annually. The hunting of sandhill cranes continues to grow in popularity since the first US hunts in 1961.
The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes has undergone an impressive recovery by rebounding from an estimated 25 breeding pairs in the 1930s to a minimum population of over 87,000 in recent years. The core breeding range lies in south-central Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin extending into adjacent Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Quebec. In recent years this breeding range has expanded east to include several of the New England states, as well as south, including Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa. The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways are the main migratory routes of the Eastern Population. These cranes winter primarily in Florida and Georgia though recently cranes are wintering further north in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and even southern Ontario.
Tennessee Sandhill Cranes
The sandhill cranes migrating or wintering in Tennessee make up a large proportion of the Eastern Population. The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes migrate through and winter in portions of Tennessee and is considered the world’s second largest sandhill crane population. Tennessee has wintered an average of over 23,000 cranes over the last five years. Two areas serve as the primary migration and wintering areas including the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge where thousands can be seen at one time. Hop-in Refuge and surrounding lands near the Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee attract several thousand sandhill cranes as well. Smaller groups of cranes can be seen scattered across the Tennessee landscape too.
2013–14 Sandhill Crane Hunting Specifics
Quota Hunt Draw: October 12, 2013. Check tnwildlife.org for updates.
Dates: November 28, 2013–January 1, 2014.
Hunt Zone: South of Interstate 40 and east of State Highway 56.
Limits: Daily bag, season bag, and possession limit is 3 cranes.
Shooting Hours: Sunrise to 3:00pm EST.
Check-in: Harvested cranes must be accompanied by a completed kill tag and checked in by the end of the calendar day by mailing completed business reply card on the permit.
Federal Regulations: No shotguns larger than 10 gauge or capable of holding over 3 shot shells. Federally approved non-toxic shot is required.
Notes: All wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane hunting. Hunters are required to fill out and return a post-season survey.
A total of 400 3-permit packets will be issued by handheld draw on October 12, 2013. Please check the TWRA website for further details and updates. Leftover permits will be available on a first come basis at regional offices. A (type 001) hunt/fish license plus a (type 005) waterfowl license or equivalent is required in order to enter the draw or obtain a leftover permit. Permits are non-transferable and individuals must be present to obtain permits. All persons legal to hunt waterfowl may participate in the draw.
Sandhill Crane Identification Test
All sandhill crane hunters must pass an internet-based crane ID test before hunting. All permits issued are invalid until a verifiable “Sandhill Test” validation code is written on the permit. The purpose of this test is to improve hunter’s awareness and ability to distinguish between sandhill cranes and other protected species which may be encountered while hunting.
There are approximately 100 whooping cranes in the experimental eastern migratory population and they share similar physical characteristics as well as habitats with the sandhill crane. An intensive reintroduction effort started in 1999 in which whooping cranes were taught their migratory path from Wisconsin to Florida by an ultra-light aircraft.
Take the protection of this rare species seriously. Be sure that bird you intend to shoot is a sandhill crane. Accidental or intentional shooting of a whooping crane is considered a dual violation and subject to state and federal laws. Please be careful.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.