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Kentucky Wraps Up Third Year of Controversial Sandhill Crane Hunting Season

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
Observation deck, Sacramento River NWR, Dayton, CA
Steven R. Emmons

Kentucky’s third annual sandhill crane hunting season wrapped up yesterday and Fish and Wildlife officials are calling it a success.The most recent numbers show87 birds were killed in this year’s sandhill crane hunting season, mostly in Barren County. That’s slightly lower than last year, when 92 birds were killed. But both years, the actual hunt fell far below the quota of 400 birds the Department of Fish and Wildlife set.Wildlife Biologist John Brunjes says nearly 400 people got permits to hunt sandhill cranes this year, but many weren’t successful.“They’re an extremely difficult bird to hunt, they’re extremely wary,” he says. “It’s a challenge. The biggest limiting factor is there are only a few places where they occur in the state.”So if you live anywhere outside the few counties that see significant sandhill crane traffic, you’re probably out of luck.But Brunjes says the reality is that hundreds of people probably got outdoors during the season, and still enjoyed themselves regardless of whether they could bag a bird.“We have provided opportunity for folks who enjoy hunting these birds and we’ve gotten a good number of calls from people who really have had fun,” he says. “I don’t know how many people I’ve heard from that went out and didn’t kill a thing and said ‘These birds, excuse me, kicked my butt and I had the best time ever. I’m going to get them next year.’”Kentucky’s sandhill crane season has been controversial. The state has allowed hunting the birds for three years; before that, the eastern population of sandhill cranes (which flies over Kentucky) was protected for a century. Opponents argued there was no reason to hunt the birds—they aren’t overpopulated, and don’t pose any threat to the environment.This year, Brunjes says there were about 68,000 birds in the eastern population…if that number ever fell below 30,000, that would trigger an automatic halt to the hunting season. And now that the hunting season is over, Kentucky State Parks is advertising two nature watch weekends (January 24-25 and February 7-8) at Barren River Lake State Resort Park, for people who would rather watch sandhill cranes than shoot them.