Oklahoma Hunt Produces Ribeye of the Sky
Fourteen hunters hid tucked away in a 50-foot long blind brushed into a fencerow of a seemingly endless Oklahoma milo field. A large grey cloud was moving our way. But this wasn’t a rain cloud. It was an enormous flock of sandhill cranes.
Bryan Baker yelled, “take ‘em,” and the roof of the blind flew open. An intense volley of shotgun fire ensued. When the smoke cleared a half-dozen cranes laid lifeless in the field. As we gathered them up, I paused for a moment to absorb the immense size of these birds, which are known to be one of the best tasting wild game animals hunters have the privilege of pursuing in North America. Many refer to sandhill cranes as the “ribeye of the sky.”
Sandhill crane hunting doesn’t take place across the entire country. Missouri does not allow crane hunting. It is popular in the Central Flyway where hundreds of thousands of sandhills migrate from North Dakota down through Texas. Only two states east of the Mississippi River, Kentucky and Tennessee, allow crane hunting.
Although sandhill cranes are large birds, with an average weight of 10 pounds and wingspans up to 8 feet, they are not easy to hunt. They have incredible eyesight and typically fly too high for passing shots. Hunting them takes real know how that involves aggressive scouting and large, realistic decoy spreads. The outfitters I hunted with in Oklahoma are the Crane Wreckers, and they are quickly developing a reputation as some of the best crane hunters in the business.
Bryan Baker and Monte Feck are the co-owners and lead guides of the Crane Wreckers. They started the business based on their own personal passion for chasing cranes and a realization that there was an opportunity to build a business on guiding crane hunts.
“Crane Wreckers is a professional hunting guide service that Monte and I are proud to operate. We began guiding sandhill crane hunts in western Oklahoma three years ago. We both enjoy crane hunting with our buddies, so we decided to begin our business together. It has worked so well that we are expanding and also operating a paddlefish guide service called Spoonbill Wreckers,” Baker said.
Hunting cranes takes a lot of work. For one thing, you have to hunt where the cranes are feeding. This requires moving nearly every day, and when you’re assembling and disassembling a blind the size of a train car and placing a couple of hundred decoys in the field each day it’s a laborious task. Baker and Feck take the work in stride, knowing that if they want to consistently put their clients on cranes, then they have to give 100 percent as outfitters.
“I believe we are successful at what we do because we are true hunters and know how to show other hunters a good time in the field. We are not afraid of hard work and sometimes hunting can be just that. We spend hours tracking the birds and finding the fields where they want to be, and we don’t cut corners on equipment. Our decoys are taxidermy birds and we build our own multi-person blinds. Bryan and I are putting our blood, sweat, and tears in this business, and that’s what sets us apart from other outfitters.” Feck said.
I hunted with the Crane Wreckers for one morning just west of Medford, Oklahoma near the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge. At the time there were an estimated 40,000 sandhill cranes on the refuge. You hunt them when they come off the refuge in the morning to feed. Fourteen of us killed 24 cranes that morning. Each hunter is allowed to shoot three cranes, so we fell short of a limit. We also killed eight Canada geese. The Crane Wreckers stop hunting at noon. Bryan said it was a slow day. I, however, was thoroughly satisfied.
To learn more about sandhill crane hunting and to contact Bryan and Monte, visit their website www.cranewreckers.com.
See you down the trail…