By Joe Healy
After not having allowed hunting for sandhill cranes since 1916, Alabama enjoyed its first crane hunt in more than a century this past season. Nicknamed “ribeye of the sky” because of their tastiness on the plate, cranes had been nearly decimated by the early 1900s. But the century-plus hunting ban allowed crane numbers to recover, and for the five years preceding this past season Alabama officials estimated the average overwintering population at 15,000 birds. As a result, they felt comfortable issuing a total of 400 permits by computerized draw—and the lucky recipients took a total of 291 birds (237 adults and 54 juveniles).
Each hunter was allowed a three-bird limit during the split 50-day season, which ran from December 3, 2019, to January 5, 2020, and January 16 to 31, 2020. The season was held in the northern third of the state. Applicants for the permits were limited to Alabama residents and those holding lifetime hunting licenses in the state. All drawn hunters had to pass a sandhill crane identification test.
According to Seth Maddox, the Migratory Game Bird Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: “In the 103 years since sandhill crane hunting was closed in Alabama, very few Alabamians have had the chance to pursue these majestic birds in other states. Therefore, a learning curve was expected. Many hunters seemed to figure out a successful strategy by the end of the season.”
Maddox confirmed that Alabama would have a crane season this fall and that the number of permits (400) and tags (1,200) would be the same. For more information, visit outdooralabama.com.