Coeur d’Alene hunters’ first foray into sandhill crane hunting proves surprisingly successful

LEWISTON – Ignoring a blind man no matter how slow the hunt is has a weird way of shaking things up.

This is how it turned out for Wes Baker. He, his father and a buddy were sitting in a field near Bear Lake with a row of sandhill crane decoys in front of them. The gangly birds flew but fled their installation.

Bored and disheartened, Baker began to look at his phone.

“Suddenly I look up and there are six right in our lap – right above us,” he said.

What is that?

Sandhill cranes are greyish-brown lanky birds that stand about 4 feet tall on stick-shaped legs. They have sharp beaks, red caps and an sometimes incessant squeaky, chattering cry.

But they were unknown to Baker. He previously worked for the Idaho Fish and Game Department in Lewiston. One day he walked into the office of the late Mark Hill, the chief conservation officer for the Clearwater area. Hill had a sandhill crane mounted behind his desk.

“I said, ‘What is this thing? »», He remembers thinking. “I’m from northern Idaho and had never heard of these things before.”

Shortly thereafter, Baker got a first glimpse of the living sandhill cranes while working in the agency’s Red River Wildlife Management Area near Elk City. But he heard them first.

“I was trying to figure out what that obnoxious noise was, and there are these two gigantic birds in a field. They are doing a horrible racket,” he said. “They are just the most obnoxious birds. It’s like it’s endless.

These two experiments planted a seed. Baker, an avid hunter, thought of them every time he flipped through the last few pages of the Idaho Migratory Bird Hunting brochure, where regulations for the state’s short crane season apply. Then last year he got a first come first serve swan permit in the Panhandle area and bagged one of the birds. Why not, he thought, try a sandhill next.

Crop damage

Sandhill cranes can congregate in large numbers and damage fields of grain, corn or alfalfa. Because of their large wingspans, even the simple landing and take-off in grain fields can cause damage, said Toby Boudreau, head of the Idaho Fish and Game Wildlife Bureau.

They are seasonally abundant in southeastern Idaho and the lower Columbia River basin in Washington. They are protected in the state of Evergreen, but hunting is permitted in parts of 16 states, including Idaho and its neighbors Montana, Wyoming, and Utah.

Idaho has turned to hunters as part of a strategy to reduce crop damage. It grants permits in the southeastern part of the state on a first come, first served basis and adjusts the available numbers each year based on demographic trends in several western states.

“It’s a very regulated hunt,” said Jeff Knetter, Upland Game and Game Bird Migratory Birds and Game Birds Coordinator at Boise.

In each of the state’s hunting areas, certain properties, called decoy fields, are closed to hunting. The idea is to harass the birds outside the majority of the cultivated fields but to teach them that they are safe in the decoy fields. Farmers who offer their fields as bait are compensated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“The idea is to help keep the cranes out of the grain fields,” Boudreau said.

The hunt

Baker, his father and his friend obtained permits for the Bear Lake hunting area, did their homework, and consulted with friends who live in the area but who otherwise hunted blind. Aligning their schedules was a challenge, so instead of hunting on opening weekend when the birds are less wary, they hunted during the third week of the season. By this time, most of the wheat fields had been harvested and the birds had been affected enough that they were wary of anything that seemed out of place.

On the first day, the men explored, searching for fields with cranes, then contacting the landowners for permission. Baker said most farmers don’t like cranes and the damage they can cause. They are therefore often willing to let hunters use their fields.

“It was a lot easier than I ever expected to get permission,” he said.

Break-in strategies

In a field, they tried to sneak up on the birds.

“We crawled along that adult fence for about 700 meters and went to jump those cranes,” he said. “We think we’re much closer than we are. They’re so big they look like they’re in range, but they’ve never been in range.

They went back to zero and while trying to figure out how they should hunt another field, a stray herd flew over the men. They unloaded and got one.

“We were delighted. We were on the board, ”he said. “It wasn’t quite what we expected, but it worked.”

Later that day, they switched to more traditional methods and set up decoys in a field, found shelter and waited. But not a single herd gave them more than a glance.

The next morning was their last chance. They planned to hunt for a few hours and then start the 9 hour journey home. Baker said they set up decoys in a field the birds had used the day before. Soon the cranes were flying.

“You can hear them a mile and a half away making a horrible noise. Some fly to the right, others to the left, ”he said. “It’s like they know they’re being hunted, so they’re not following any pattern.”

It was then that Facebook, via his phone, provided a distraction and perhaps a spark as well. He was looking at his phone and reading a message and looking up just to check. The herd of six sandhill cranes was directly above them, half to the left and half to the right.

“My dad pulls one out, and I pull one out and we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,'” he said. “We got up to retrieve them and others fell on us, and my father pulled one and I pulled another.”

It worked, and they were ready for the long journey back to Coeur d’Alene. But one of the birds managed to hit some cattails. The men spent two hours scouring the small wetland in search of the bird, without success.

Idaho allows sandhill crane hunters to use lead shot. Baker recommends heavy loads to bring them down. The birds are long but thin.

“Their necks are tiny, their heads are tiny, and their bodies are quite small,” he said. “They have a pretty stocky body.”

But they are also robust.

“We were using lead coyote charges, like 3 inch magnum balls. We started with 3 inch number 5s, and it didn’t even ruffle a feather. “

Enjoy your food

Sandhill cranes have a reputation for being excellent at the table, so good that they have received the nickname of rib eye from the sky.

“It’s very true, 100%,” Baker said. “Literally the best. It would be a very close link for the sand grouse and the black grouse. “

About Geraldine Higgins

Check Also

You can now request the deletion of your address, telephone number

Google has just started accepting requests to remove personal information such as phone numbers and …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.