If you want to look at sandhill cranes–or just shoot them–opportunities abound this season.
Kentucky’s second annual sandhill crane hunting season runs December 15 to January 13. Barren River Lake Wildlife Management Area is a popular spot for the birds–and therefore for the hunters, too–but there are several areas that are designated as off-limits. One of those areas is Barren River Lake State Resort Park, which is touting two “nature watch weekends” for the cranes in late January and early February if you’re more inclined to ogle rather than shoot.
The press release from the Kentucky Department of Parks describes the birds:
Sandhill cranes are tall, gray birds reaching heights up to 4 feet, weighing up to 12 pounds with a wingspan of 6-7 feet. They have two distinct features about them: one is their appearance of a crimson, red-crowned forehead, white cheeks, and fluffy rear end; the other is when in flight, the long dark legs trail behind and the long neck is kept straight out, rather than tucked in towards the body.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife put it a bit differently in a document when the hunt was proposed…it described the birds as “excellent table fare,” but the Department of Parks chose not to mention that.
Kentucky had its first sandhill crane hunting season last year, over objections from groups that argued there was no reason for the hunt. The eastern population of sandhill cranes (which follows a migratory path that takes them through Kentucky) has been protected for more than a century. Only fifty birds were killed last year–far below the quota of 400.
This year, the quota is 400 again. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will grant up to 400 permits, and each hunter is allowed two sandhill cranes. The season ends on January 13, or when 400 birds have been killed, whichever comes first. Migratory bird coordinator Rocky Pritchert said he wasn’t sure how many applications the state received for permits, but he thought it was somewhere in the 300 range.
The state has committed to at least one more year, unless something catastrophic happens to the sandhill crane population. There are about 60,000 sandhill cranes in the eastern population. If the population fell below 30,000 birds, Pritchert says the hunting season would automatically stop.