Hunting, cooking, and eating the sandhill cranes of west Texas
Dusty Brown loves a good challenge, and getting sandhill cranes to come in to a decoy spread is sometimes as challenging as it gets.
“They see really well,” he says, “and it’s really satisfying learning how to trick them consistently. It’s more gratifying than decoying a duck or a goose. Decoying a crane is different. You have to give extra attention to hiding. They’re a little more methodical how they approach the decoys. They’re not looking for something happy. They’re looking for something wrong. They don’t just come bombard decoys with reckless abandon like ducks do.”
The west Texas crane guide started guiding Canada goose hunts but saw opportunity and appeal in outfitting crane hunts if only he could figure out how to get consistently successful results. It took a lot of learning, and a lot of trial and error to figure out the best approach. He’s found the most important aspect of his success to be blind placement. Unlike with a lot of birds, he says that with sandhills, placing brushed up blinds in the midst of a decoy spread is not a recipe for success.
“I’ve found you’ll be a lot more successful if you’re out of the decoys. Usually we try to hide off the head of a pivot, or we’ll build a tumbleweed blind off to the side. We struggled and struggled and struggled until we got out of the middle of the field and stopped hiding in the decoys.”
Getting the cranes to come in may be tough, but when they do, Brown says there is nothing more fun to watch.
“They’ll circle,” he says, “and when they finally give it up, you can tell. Their feet come down, they stop beating their wings, and their heads just kind of shift side to side. At that point, you know you’ve got them. You’ve tricked them.”
As for crane meat, Brown loves it. He finds the “ribeye in the sky” term amusing, though he says it’s not quite accurate.
“It’s more like a tenderloin,” he says. “It’s very lean, and it’s not dense, heavy meat like duck and goose. It tastes better, and it resembles tenderloin or backstrap from hoofed game animals.”
Because crane is so lean, Dusty says it’s vital to use olive oil to help conduct heat without drying out the meat during grilling. The grill should be very hot for a good sear.
2 full crane breasts
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or Sea Salt
Coarse Ground Black Pepper
Filet breast from crane and remove any of the thin grey membrane skin and remove any shot / pellets.
Rinse and soak in saltwater for 30 min. Remove rinse again. Chill immediately for 1 hour prior to grilling.
Pat dry and allow to reach room temp. Drizzle both sides well with extra virgin olive oil and massage steak.
Season generously with kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. Allow steak to absorb oil for 10 min while grill heats.
Place breast on hot 475° to 500°grill. Cook to rare / medium rare.
Slice cross grain and serve with fresh green salad and a Cabernet or ShinerBock beer if desired.
You want your grill hot, helping to ensure a good sear. If the breast is blood shot, soak in salt longer and trim as necessary.