I would like to take this time to thank Alboy for his time, work, and company for the great experience in sandhill crane hunting.
Of the many things I would like to try in my hunting and travels was hunting the Katy Prairies for snow geese. However, I have read stories and saw pictures of the sandhill cranes on the prairies. Here in the state of Ohio we do have some nesting pairs, none of which I have seen or heard. It was decided that hunting sandhill cranes with a muzzleloader was to be placed on my list of adventures.
Two years ago, I contacted Alboy from Blackpowder Waterfowler’s on this site. Arrangements were made the trip was scheduled. We weather co-operated but as happens the birds had different ideas. Now I was definitely hooked on the idea of a blackpowder crane hunt. Work prevented me from trying again last year. But not this year.
I kept my eye on the Texas Parks and Wildlife web page reading the weekly “migration reports.” The time was getting close, so a blackpowder crane hunt was scheduled.
I arrived in Katy, Texas, purchased my hunting tags, bought my powder, and cleaning supplies. Called Alboy to schedule a meeting time and place. We had dinner in a deli and I listened as Alboy told me of his scouting adventures locating the sandhill cranes. We parted to try to get as much sleep, yeh right, as possible for the early morning trip to what would turn out to be a great experience.
After meeting Ryan (I hope I got his name right), we drove to the Bay City area for blackpowder adventure. We arrived at the “Pitch Fork Ranch” in the early morning. Ryan gave us his scouting reports on the cranes, we preceded to unload our daily supplies as Ryan moved on to hunt a couple of duck ponds on the “back forty.”
As we set out about a ½ dozen snow goose decoys, we could hear the snow geese all around us. The cranes were very vocal this morning. Their voices are very eerie early in the dark of the morning. After decoy time it was now time to load and wait for the morning light.
The loads I patterned for my 10 gauge Pedersoli SxS with screw-in chokes using a modified choke (left barrel) and improved cylinder (right barrel) are as follows: 4 drams Goex 2F, ½ over-powder card, ½ cushion wad, Federal steel shot cup, 1 5/8 ozs. steel BBB’s (approximately 90 pellets), and an over-shot card. With a modified choke, I get 70 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 30 yards, this is 77% or full choke patterns. I figured this should harvest a sandhill crane.
To get the components for this load I bought a box of Federal 10 gauge BBBs steel shot ($13.99) and disassembled the shells. Now I have both BBBs and the shot cup. To do an equal volume shot to powder did not seem practical due to the size and weight of the shot so I decided to use the same amount of shot that was in the factory load. It measured almost 2 ounces according to my powder measure.
On with the hunt, as day light approached the birds became more restless, small flocks passed over head but legal shooting time was still in-the-waiting.
It is now legal shooting time and the birds start moving about. Flights can be seen in the distant sky moving in from the east. One single crane flew parallel to us from the north. This is one time I should have been shooting with a camera and not the muzzleloader. As the sandhill crane came into range, it flew across the face of a bright orange rising sun. The bird was a complete black silhouette against the bright orange globe. It would have made an exceptional picture, but now it will make an exception mount.
Alboy called the shot, I raised my muzzy grabbed the lead and with my first shot from the modified barrel the crane crumbled into a heap on the ground. The excitement was overwhelming. I have harvested my “first sandhill crane” with a muzzleloader. At this point, it no longer mattered if another crane never showed. I felt like the little kid in a candy shop. But that would change.
As morning continued, we could observe cranes flying from east to west north of where we were sitting. I don’t think sitting is the correct word; we were lying on the east side of an open ditch (about 6 feet wide and 3-4 feet deep) between two fields. A little strategic planning and we were on the move. We headed north while trying to stay under cover of the ditch. As we moved a small flock of cranes (small meaning the size of the flock and not the size of these birds!) moved towards us when within range they turn over us. This provided for another opportunity for more birds. We both stood up, I cocked back both hammers, dropped the outside right crane and then fired the second barrel to drop the next bird in line. My trip was complete. Not only did I get my first sandhill crane, but I also got a double. From this point on “all Texas waterfowl” will be acceptable for the rest of my stay.
These birds are quite large compared to Ohio waterfowl.
We continued to see flocks of sandies further to the north so, after gathering our shooting supplies we were on the move again. This time we saw three more cranes. After a meager attempt at using a crane call (I bought this call with a instructional cd a year ago. I would practice in my truck while going to work; it still sounds like a “party favor.”) These three landed about 75-100 yards in a field front of us. We would watch as they would feed and roam and sometimes calling to overhead flocks. It was nice to have live decoys, except these decoys kept moving as they were feeding. That meant we were going to have to keep moving to keep them in sight and hope that the flyers would come into range. This meant “crawling” across a land hard as rocks, with things that stick-stab-n-bite at every opportunity. At first, it seemed adventurous, but speaking for myself, my long term/distant crawling days are long past. It is amazing how “young at heart” we can be and yet our bodies don’t seem to agree. So “suck-it-up” soldier and drop to the ground. We crawled as best as two seasoned hunters to the nearest ditch and then we were able to stand slightly vertical, stay out of plain view, and stay with the birds on the ground.
Ryan met up with Alboy and me as he had finished his duck hunting. After a bit, the decoy cranes flew away. We were talking with Ryan when he mentioned that he saw a coyote scouting a duck he had shot. At that point we decided to go back and checkout the cranes we had left behind. The cranes were still there, time was closing in on 12:00 noon, so we decided to back it in for the day.
Back at the hotel parking lot, one crane was breasted out and the other two were stuffed in “panty-hose” (boy was that fun going into Walmart to buy panty-hose while dressed in camo) for the return trip to the taxidermist.