Tennessee's Sandhill Crane hunt on Travel Channel
Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer
Updated Jan 22, 2014 at 11:10 PM
A Sandhill Crane bagged during Tennessee's inaugural hunt will be prepared on an upcoming episode of "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman" on the Travel Channel.
Host Andrew Zimmerman killed the bird while hunting on a private farm in Meigs County, adjacent to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. Richard Simms has an account of the hunt on his Nooga Outdoors website.
Zimmerman was accompanied on his hunt by noted Tennessee guide Chris Nischan, along with C.J. Jaynes, a law enforcement supervisor with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Zimmerman's bird was one of 114 killed during the 35-day hunt that ended Jan. 1.
Four hundred hunters drew permits, with each permit-holder allowed to kill three cranes. Only a small number of those tags were filled.
Even if all 400 hunters had filled their three-bird limit, it wouldn't have made a dent in the flocks of Sandhills that migrate through Southeastern Tennessee every winter. Some estimates place the number of birds as high as 60,000. When they descend on farms they can decimate entire crops.
Nationally, the Sandhill population is estimated at over 600,000, and the birds have been hunted in several states since 1961.
Nischan described the Tennessee hunt as extremely difficult, especially with three camera crews accompanying the hunters every step of the way. A camera-equipped drone even flew overhead to capture cranes-eye-view shots from above.
Zimmerman, an experienced waterfowl hunter, eventually bagged a bird, and filmed its preparation for his cooking show.
The meat of the Sandhill Crane is described as "rib-eye in the sky." Zimmerman, who travels the world sampling rare and exotic dishes, said the Sandhill Crane is the most delicious meat he has ever tasted.
Tennessee's first Sandhill Crane season was three years in the making, and had to overcome opposition from the Tennessee Ornithological Society, PETA and other anti-hunting groups.
One group wanted to ban "the hunting of migratory birds in the state," apparently unaware that ducks, geese and doves are migratory birds and have been hunted in Tennessee for generations.
The crane hunt was endorsed by the TWRA and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which pointed out that Sandhills have been hunted for decades in several other states with no adverse impact on the overall population.
Some opponents of the hunt were concerned that the cranes would be frightened away from the Hiwassee Refuge, where every year hundreds of visitors converge to watch and photograph the birds from designated viewing areas. That didn't happen; the hunting had no impact on Refuge birds. (The Refuge is maintained by the TWRA, which is funded by hunting license fees and related revenue.)
The TWRA will compile and analyze data from the hunt to help chart the course for future hunts.