Boy’s First Limit: Sandhill Cranes

Have shot many sandhill cranes over the years but usually while set up for geese or ducks. It's been my experience that sandhills are extremely wary and generally require tall shooting unless the hunters are perfectly concealed. I've heard that some crane hunters prefer to shoot small buck shot (lead shot is legal for sandhill cranes). My outfitting partner assured me that tall shots would be the exception if I would just make the long drive to west Texas, saying he really wanted to help Forrest get his first crane.

We arrived to the hunt location, a field adjacent to one of the gazillion playa lakes that dot the west Texas landscape, about 2 hours before shooting time, brushed our blinds (low profile Power Hunters for them, a Finisher for me and Delta), deployed the crane silos and enjoyed shooting stars; the eerily beautiful sound that only a thousand-plus sandhills roosting about 1/4 miles upwind can make. We practiced throwing back the Power Hunter lid and shouldering his 20 guage a few times with Forrest. Even in the dark he began to look like a seasoned pro!

On cue, a pair of sandhills glided silently into the decoys at precisely 6:47. A lone shot from Forrest's 20 gauge cleanly folded the bird on the right and I picked off the retreating bird on the left. Forrest had his first sandhill crane within the first few legal minutes of the hunt! Hungry flocks of sandhills picked up off the roost and departed in all directions for distant fields including the wheat field near which we were hidden. Their distinct calling soon surrounded us.

Within the next half hour, we repeatedly enjoyed the sight of decoying sandhills. So close were the shots, hevi-shot 6's and 20 gauge steel 2's were ample. We yielded first shots to Forrest. I especially enjoyed watching my 8 year-old son picking his shots and accomplishing his first wingshooting limit. It is something I will never forget. The last bird of the morning was Forrest's and it sailed into some tall grass in the roost pond. Not wanting to send Delta after a live bird we glassed the grass for the crane's head for quite awhile. Convinced it was dead, I gave her a line down wind of our mark. Turns out it was alive (the only live one of the morning). Luckily it was a juvenile and Delta was able to quickly subdue it.

You other Dads know what I'm talking about: there's no better feeling like watching your young hunter hoist his first honest-to-God limit ever plucked from the air...

The second morning we setup about one mile west where fields of harvest milo, harvested beans and winter wheat converged. Sandhills had been in each of the fields thick the previous day.

The hunt was a repeat of the first morning, but with only 2 juvenile birds downed. Done by 8 o'clock, my favorite part was just watching Forrest putting it all together. It was brisk, with about a 25 mph wind out of the north, but the boy just won't wear a coat because it impedes his shooting. That's my boy!

Ramsey Russell, GetDucks.com