Proposed Sandhill Crane Hunt

Sandhill cranes have made an amazing comeback since the days when Aldo Leopold wrote of their diminished numbers in his Sand County Almanac. There are now roughly 650,000 in the U.S. and that number is growing. Around the White River Marsh where we train our Whooping cranes to follow us, they are the most commonly seen wildlife.

That abundance has irritated many farmers who say Sandhills are as affective at picking out kernels of corn as their seed drills are at planting them. It has also prompted hunting groups to propose a regulated season. Fifteen U.S. States already allow controlled hunting of Sandhills and the controversy has been dividing the people of Tennessee for several years.

A survey commissioned by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) and reported in the Tennessean newspaper determined that 84 percent of the general public supports legal hunting, so it is a hunter based state. However 62 percent are opposed to hunting Sandhills.

Within the hunting community, 42 percent are in favor of hunting Sandhills while 35 percent are opposed. That means that most of the general public of Tennessee, and many of the hunters don’t want Sandhills to be a game species so if the majority opinion was the only criteria, the answer would be obvious and the cranes could winter peacefully in Tennessee. But that is not the only issue.

The term “conservationist” is generally applied to individuals and groups that support wildlife and their habitats. That term also fits hunting groups. Ducks Unlimited is a leading conserver of wetland habitat. In fact, they just obtained a one million dollar grant to protect a thousand acres of habitat on the Platte River where Whooping cranes stop on their migration to Texas.

Through Duck Stamps, hunting fees and taxes on guns and ammunition, the hunting community funds more than their share of the conservation work being done to protect wildlife.  The point is that all hunters are not kill crazy and all conservationists are not tree huggers.

Sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes

Sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes often gather or ‘stage’ at the same areas during their annual migration flights.

The balance of nature is no longer occurring naturally. Human encroachment, habitat loss, predator removal, pollution and introduced species have influenced every aspect of what we refer to as wildlife. That means that when a population explodes, like deer for instance, the normal checks and balances cannot correct the situation. The result is often disease, starvation or over grazing that threatens other species. Having thrown off the pendulum so extensively, some would say it would be inhumane to let the animals suffer the consequences of our actions. Restoring a healthy balance, or at least one we can live with, becomes our obligation. Once we have meddled with the ebb and flow of the natural stability we can’t disown the responsibility.

So what mechanism can we use to restore equilibrium when a population gets out of hand?  Regulated hunting is one option for keeping populations at a healthy balance.

There once was a time when Canada geese were rare. When I was a child, seeing a chevron honking their way south was an event worthy of reporting at the dinner table. Today they are hated by golfers and park users and anyone with a lakefront expanse of lawn.  There are few, if any festivals to celebrate geese and what were once the harbingers of the changing seasons are now referred to as flying rats. There are an estimated seven million Canada geese in North America and the only difference between them and Sandhill cranes is population size.

Justifying a hunt to help balance the population may apply to the deer that cause highway accidents or decimate crops but Sandhill cranes have not yet become a nuisance.  In general, they don’t foul our parks and we have not yet grown to hate them.  If the population continues to grow that could happen sooner than we think but in the interim a ten percent annual harvest seems a lot for a population that just recently recovered. Maybe it is time to abide by the doctrine of democracy and let the majority rule.

If you would like to read more or vote in an online poll go to

If you would like to comment you can email TWRA.Comment@TN.Gov  (please include “Sandhill cranes” in the subject line) 

Share Button


  1. christine olle August 11, 2013 4:06 pm

    Stop the cull, do not hunt the cranes – they are vital to the ecosystem

  2. Linda Mann July 31, 2013 2:55 pm

    Well said, Joe.

  3. Cyndi July 30, 2013 10:28 pm

    I encourage all those who want to express their opinion about this proposed hunt PLEASE take a minute to write to TWRA.COMMENT(AT) (Please include Sandhill Crane as subject line) You have until August 10th to do so!!
    Please be the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves!
    Thank you!

  4. Evelyn Horn July 30, 2013 7:03 pm

    I’m opposed!
    We had a proposal to hunt our Greater Sandhills here in Colorado. The birding community showed up to the hearings in force. The proposal was tabled.
    Sandhills were only recently diminishing. Now is hardly the time to begin hunting them!

  5. Madeline July 30, 2013 3:09 pm

    Have any Whooping Cranes been ‘accidentally’ shot in the state of Tennessee? The proximity of the Whooping Cranes at Hiwasee should be sufficient argument against hunting Sandhills.

  6. Cyntjhia Staples July 30, 2013 9:06 am

    What a sad thing. Bad enough Dick Cheney shooting doves in Texas. Why? Do they eat them? Do they “taste like Chicken”? Where is the moral compass here… ? The Shakers always planted an extra couple rows of corn for the crows.

    • Cynthia Staples July 30, 2013 9:37 am

      Spelled my name wrong (sheepish) But I am passing on the info to all my friends and family. This is crucial to the conservation profile, anyone who loves birds, and everyone who cares about nature.

  7. Paul J. Baicich July 30, 2013 7:42 am

    Thanks, Joe, for an informed and responsible position. Yes, even within the hunting community there is a large group that questions the wisdom of adding Sandhill Crane to the list of game species in Tennessee. Moreover, these cranes are a regional resource, and cranes harvested in Tennessee may come from states (e.g., OH or IN) where the species is considered state-endangered, threatened, or of special concern.

  8. Margie Tomlinson July 27, 2013 8:15 pm

    Excellent presentation/report on the situation, Joe! Let’s hope more people will go to the web-site you posted and express their opinions on the subject/matter to those who need to hear them. Thanks for your leadership in this wonderful organization!

  9. Ruth Holloway July 26, 2013 7:57 pm

    I recently heard about the proposed hunting of Sandhill Cranes in Tennessee.


    I see no purpose in this barbaric action. These wonderful creatures should not be set in the targets of hunters.

    Tourists and bird watchers travel from around the country to Tennessee to view them. A whole festival in January is devoted to the birds. Tourists spend a lot of time and money in Tennessee – and when they come to see the Sandhill Cranes, it seems to reason, they appreciate the wildlife of this state.

    Why – what is the possible purpose of hunting >killing > murdering these birds? Must every creature’s existence be to humor humans by letting them shoot them?
    All creatures deserve the right to live unharmed by greed or blood-thirst to kill. Is tourism money not enough?

    I stand firmly against this hunting proposal. And, I certainly hope you hear from others who are opposed to this as well.


    Ruth Holloway
    Maryville, TN

    • Heather Ray July 27, 2013 9:32 am

      Ruth, the entry includes information at the bottom where you can comment.