As last fall’s hunting seasons closed, it seemed like ages till they would open again. However, the time seemed to fly by and it was already September again. Combines harvesting, the leaves turning color, and the days getting shorter and a bit cooler.
I was more than ready to go hunting as the waterfowl seasons opened, but a bad bit of luck kept our initial hunt success low as the geese were roosting too close to the field we had picked for opening day and left en masse when the shooting started. We ended up with 4 and had dropped another in the middle of a standing field of wheat which made it nigh on impossible to find.
Later that week we had a disappointing hunt and got skunked. The geese did not seem to be around in the numbers they normally were and what was around was extremely wary. I scouted a few times the second week and despite seeing lots flying during the morning I had a hard time finding where they were feeding in the evening. The odd flock of snow geese were in the area, but it was mostly all the birds that nest here during the summer.
I was hoping for a good hunt to setup for on the second Saturday of the season, but it was not looking promising. I was hard pressed to find anything on Thursday night as I only found 2 fields with birds on it and not in huge numbers. WE started driving around on Friday night and after contemplating a field of Canadas we discovered that the sandhill cranes had come back in force. They had occupied a field that I knew very well to be a hotspot for cranes and we estimated upwards of 1000 cranes on the field that night. It was a simple matter to get permission. Here was finally a hunt I could get excited about.
5 of us got up early that Saturday morning and headed out to set up with our 15 sillosock crane decoys. Our best crane hunt previous to this was 3 years ago and had been a quarter mile from here with the birds flying the exact patterns they had been the night before. The setup was ideal: The cranes had been coming from a marshy area to the north of the barley field and flying low over a swathed canola field and were landing on the very edge of the barley field right up next to the canola field. We set up our blinds along the first swath of canola and put the decoys about 50-60 yards into the field, hopefully far enough that the birds would be watching the decoy and not the canola swath.
The first birds started flying close to sunrise and my brother knocked down the first loner that came in. To our surprise most of the birds started coming from the opposite direction; from the southeast instead of north. Apparently most of had gone back to the bigger marsh in that direction. We lucked out however as there was a strong southwest wind that forced them to come in down the edge of the canola field. some of them came straight down the swath we had our blinds up against and others would go past a bit and then come straight over the swaths. Some of the birds coming down the swath would see us and flare, but the ones coming over the canola swaths were low and did not flare till we would start shooting. The unfortunate part of this arrangement meant that the 2 of us on the east side blinds got a lot more shooting than those on the west side blinds. I had tried to put myself in the spot where there would be the least shooting, as 2 of the guys with us had not shot cranes before, and thinking they would come from the North, thought the the east side would be that spot. I inadvertently set myself up for a lot of shooting.
A few flights came in and we knocked several down. We had 2 canadas converge with a flock of cranes right when everything was in shooting range and my little brother and I took the canadas while the others concentrated on the cranes. As the morning went on, the cranes were landing on the field to the north of the canola field and drawing most of them away. However there were still flights that wanted to land on the barley field with our decoys. I had shot 3 cranes and the 1 goose when we had a flight come right on top of us no more than 10 feet off the ground. As they flared no more than 25-30 feet from us I knew I had a chance at a triple. I waited till my little brother shot the first one with his single shot and knowing there would be no chance of him shooting at the same one as me by the time he got another shell in his gun, proceeded to knock 3 of the cranes down in quick succession.
This was one of the few mornings where I was “ON”. I could hardly miss and managed to shoot 3 cranes at 50 yards+. I ended up with 10 birds out of the 21 total we got and did not go through a box of ammo, about 50% accuracy. I wish they would have come in where everyone would have got a better chance at them, but was thankful that I was at least able to shoot decent enough so that I didn’t feel bad about getting all the shooting and missing them to boot 😉
We finished the morning with a loner that passed overtop of us 4 times before David was able to knock it down after the barrage of shots on the first 3 passes missed.
Final count was 19 cranes and 2 geese. I had to leave the chessie at home as wounded cranes and retrievers are a bad combo, which I thankfully found out before I ever tried taking him on a crane hunt.
Zachary with his first ever sandhill crane.
Cleaning birds became a family affair as even the 3 month old got involved.
We will be keeping an eye on the cranes this week and see whether the snow geese finally decide to show up in force.