DNR plans first-ever Minn. sandhill crane hunting season

Sandhill cranes
Sandhill Cranes fly in formation into the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, N.M., in a file photo.

Minnesotans will be able to hunt sandhill cranes this fall for the first time.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the sandhill crane season will begin Sept. 4 and go through Oct. 10.

The hunting area includes portions of Kittson, Roseau, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake and Polk counties. Hunters are limited to two birds in one day and are subject to a possession limit of four birds.

Because sandhill cranes are migratory birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates their harvest. The DNR applied to have a hunting season in northwestern Minnesota because that's where the Midcontinental population of sandhill cranes stay in the late summer and early fall before the lakes freeze up.

While another population of cranes, the Eastern population, can be found in other parts of the state, the federal government does not allow people to hunt them.

Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager, said the peak time for sandhill cranes in northwestern Minnesota is late September. The birds start arriving to that part of the state in late August, he said.

Merchant said many Minnesota hunters already travel to other states to hunt sandhill cranes. Ten other states in the Central Flyway have had hunting seasons for sandhill cranes for years, including the Dakotas, he said.

Sandhill cranes
A pair of newborn sandhill cranes waits to see what an adult digs out of the grass while foraging for a meal at a pond in Brandon, Fla. in a file photo.

"The populations are at a level that allow for a sustainable annual harvest," Merchant said.

Cranes are considered excellent table fare, but they are difficult to hunt, he said. The birds have good eyesight and are difficult to sneak up on.

"They're one of the more challenging and rewarding birds to hunt," Merchant said.

Minnesotans who want to hunt sandhill cranes will have to buy a special permit.

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