Historic Sandhill Crane Season on Deck for Alabama

For the first time in more than 100 years, Alabama will allow the legal harvest of sandhill cranes this winter. The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division will conduct a draw of 400 permits allowing hunters to pursue sandhill cranes in northern portions of the state.

Permits will be available to state residents age 16 or older or Alabama lifetime license holders. Applicants must have a regular hunting license and state waterfowl stamp to apply. Successful applicants will each receive three tags, capping the harvest at 1,200 birds. Hunters will also be required to pass an online test covering species identification and regulations before they hunt. Registration begins in September, with the draw set for some time in October.

“This sandhill crane season came about through hunter feedback,” said Seth Maddox, WFF migratory game bird coordinator. “They started seeing increased numbers of sandhills while hunting and wanted the opportunity to hunt this species in Alabama. They heard exciting things from their neighbors in Tennessee (season began in 2013) and Kentucky (opened in 2011), who have had seasons for some time.”

Alabama is the third state east of the Mississippi River to offer sandhill crane hunting. Sandhills are legal game in nine Central Flyway states, as well as Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, and Minnesota. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory also offer crane hunting.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, sandhills are the most abundant crane species in the world, with an estimated North American population is 680,000. Of those, 400,000 to 500,000 breed in Canada. Northern Alabama’s average wintering population is about 15,000 birds, and aerial surveys show a 16 percent annual increase since 2010.

The first year of Alabama’s 3-year experimental crane season will be split, with the first portion running Dec. 3, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020, and the second open Jan. 16 to 31, 2020. Hunting will be limited to the north Alabama zone running from the Georgia state line down Interstate 20 to Birmingham, then north of Interstate 22 to the Mississippi state line.

The zone restriction will protect southern populations of resident sandhill cranes in southeast Mississippi and Florida. The — Bill Miller