From waterfowl, snipe and cranes to pheasant, grouse and partridge, the Prairie provinces offer wingshooters unparalleled opportunities
With the 2020 introduction of a sandhill crane season in Alberta, hunters can now pursue these prehistoric-looking birds across all three Prairie provinces. Sandhills are ungainly in appearance, all legs, neck and bill, like avian teenagers who’ve yet to grow into their bodies.
What they lack in aesthetics, however, they more than make up for in challenge. They can be frustrating to decoy and equally difficult to anchor. And their outlandish physical characteristics lead many hunters to shoot before they’re within effective range.
As with geese, cranes roost on large waterbodies, making return morning and evening trips to feed in nearby grain fields. When they don’t have far to travel between their roosting and feeding areas, they fly quite low, leading many hunters to hide along their flight path and pass shoot them as they fly over. Wounded cranes are notorious for being aggressive towards dogs and hunters alike, so be careful when approaching them and go to all lengths to ensure your retriever doesn’t get itself into a dangerous situation.
Sandhills offer a challenging hunt, and fine table fare
Decoying cranes offers the most excitement, but you have to pay attention to the details. Cranes see exceptionally well, so your blind must be well camouflaged or situated up against natural cover. Full-bodied crane decoys make a huge difference in your hunting success, but they’re expensive and cumbersome. Fortunately, you can get away with just a couple dozen, especially early in the season.
Often referred to as “the ribeye of the sky” for their reputation on the plate, sandhills have garnered a cult-like following of hunters. If haven’t had the chance to hunt these birds yet, invite yourself along with the next group of crane hunters you encounter. Trust me, the experience will be worth every après-hunt breakfast you have to buy in exchange.