The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has finalized the details for the 2018 sandhill crane hunting season permit allotment. They are increasing the number of sandhill crane harvest tags to a total of 2,711, up from 2,300 tags allotted last hunting season.
This year TWRA will issue 479 permits (each permit allowing three cranes per hunter per season) for the Southeast Tennessee hunting zone. There will be a handheld drawing for the permits on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. However, after an overflow crowd poured into the Birchwood Community Center last year, the Agency is moving the handheld drawing.
This year’s drawing will be held at Rhea County High School, 885 Eagle Lane, Evansville, TN 37332. TWRA Biologist Ben Layton says signup will begin at 8 am (EDT) and the drawing will begin at 10 am.
In addition to the permits issued specifically for the Southeast Tennessee zone, TWRA will hold a computerized drawing for 637 permits good statewide. Those permits will only allow hunters two cranes per season (increased from one per season in 2017). The application period for the computerized drawing is from Sept 5-16, 2018. There is a $12 fee for the computerized drawing (plus agent or credit card fees).
This is the sixth year for the permit drawing and for the annual sandhill crane hunting season in Tennessee. The first three years of the season, fewer than 400 people attended the drawing for the allotted 400 permits, meaning everyone went away successful. In 2016 421 people showed up for the handheld drawing, meaning only 21 people didn’t receive a permit. Last year, however, 558 hunters showed up for the handheld drawing resulting in the overflow crowd and 158 people were not selected for a hunting permit.
Tags are not valid until a 2017 “Sandhill Crane ID Test” validation code is written on the tag. The purpose of the test is to improve hunter’s awareness of and ability to distinguish between sandhill cranes and other protected species, such as whooping cranes, which may be encountered while hunting.
The 2018-2019 sandhill crane hunting season will open Dec. 1 and close Jan. 27, 2019 EXCEPT it will be closed from Jan. 18-20 in the southeast zone when the annual Sandhill Crane Festival is being held.
SANDHILL HUNTING INSPIRES NEW BUSINESSES
The sandhill crane hunt has inspired at least two new guide businesses in the area. Double HH Outfitters is a guide service based in Dayton catering exclusively to sandhill crane hunters.
Jason Jackson, a guide for Double HH Outfitters said, “I love watching people get excited and love watching the birds decoy in. When the birds cup up and commit and hit the ground, it’s a rush.”
Jackson Oster operates Always Somethin’ Outdoors (ASO), another new business created to guide hunters on sandhill crane hunts in Southeast Tennessee.
The management of the migratory sandhill cranes ultimately rests with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Biologists estimate that at least 30,000 sandhill cranes, often more, winter in southeast Tennessee. Many of those birds are concentrated on the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County and on the Yuchi Wildlife Refuge in Rhea County. However the big birds fan out to feed across several counties and even the Sequatchie Valley.
Of course the actual harvest of cranes is far less than permits issued. In general there are roughly 1.5 sandhill cranes taken per hunter.
The birds make excellent table fare. Many hunters commonly refer to sandhill cranes as “ribeye in the sky.”
For more information on sandhill cranes visit this TWRA web page.