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Waiting January 2003
Gerhard Schroeder  

It was about as politically incorrect as legal hunting outside of preserves can get. I applied for Sandhill Crane, and actually got drawn. No problem, then, after all, I had chased the tallest birds that can be legally hunted some 10 years ago, and I knew where to be before first light.

Except, when the Toyota halted in front of the fence at 11PM, beyond which the strategic country had hid me previously, this fence had grown up and proudly displayed all kinds of signs that basically told me that I was no longer welcome there. A little disgusted (but really what has gotten better with the years?), I set the alarm for thirty minutes earlier and tucked in.

The plan did not work. I squeezed into some questionable country the next morning, only to see flight after flight of cranes fly over where I wanted to be. My favorite old spot, by the way, was not just posted, it had been completely changed to some huge water retention facility.

Plans are made to be altered. It was time to find out where the birds flew to. You know, this is the problem in southern Arizona. Here near Wilcox they also lock out, fence off and post a ton of fine hunting real estate.

Eventually I did find the field the tall birds had breakfast in. Of course it was blocked from direct access from the west, my location. So off I went, trying the other corners. No luck on the south, or east where I really wanted to be once the ancient flyers would decide to return to their roost.

That left the north, and the same story there. Except by going way north, then west again, I detected a potential corridor of attack. It was at least a detour of over a mile, but my only chance.

I removed the extra layers of early morning clothes, and approached, circling way east. Eventually I was in the right position between the birds and their roost, but also very far away from them. My concern was that even if they would fly right overhead, they’d be too high. So, how to get closer in totally flat, open terrain with absolutely no cover? No, I’m not crawling on my belly for a thousand steps!

I remembered a lesson from my brother. We both had successfully approached wild pigeons within shotgunning distances. Slowly, with steps no longer than your own feet advance directly to them in full view. So, of I went, facing the cranes, slowly, very slowly, moving towards them.

You feel kinda silly doing this, but I had time on my hands, and it worked. After about an hour of this, the first birds took to the air, telling me that I needed to go further south. I did this even slower, because sideways movement is easier to detect than closing the distance. Eventually I reached a century plant, one of only a few in the general region. It provided just a little shade, and broke up my outline.

Then I waited for birds. It was uncomfortable kneeling or sitting, so I just stood up. I remained there for a long time. The one thing to help pass time were the binos. With all my movements at slow motion, I observed the cranes, still a world away in the field. Some would fly within the field. And finally, finally, a few birds became restless and flew off.

Not over me, of course. One group of about eight even flew to where I had been an hour ago. Suddenly, a chain reaction unleashed in the field. Seemingly all took to the air. I hunkered down, really close to the plant, shotgun clutched at the ready.

The gamble paid off. With a “V” of about a hundred yards wide, and plenty of crane-talk, some critters came directly at me, though quite high. It was my only chance. When the first bird was slightly in front of my position the lower barrel sent coarse and heavy metal skyward. The crane did indeed break from the formation, and with ever-increasing speed and hissing wings returned to earth with an ugly crash landing. Obviously encouraged, and seeing the cranes climbing rather than making distance, the upper barrel shoved the butt pad straight down onto my shoulder. Another sandhill changed its flight plan, heading down.

The rest of the bunch escaped in total confusion, and for as long as I could see them they carried on a lively discussion, probably about their two buddies’ sudden and unexplained departure and piss-poor landings. I collected my prizes, headed for shade under a railroad bridge, and plucked the beasts. Later I had them smoked, and they came out delicious!

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