The Bird that Bites Back - Hunting the Sandhill Crane
In most circles, Eazy-E is best known as the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap” for his pioneering lyrics as leader of the popular 80’s hip-hop group N.W.A. In Lubbock, Texas, however, the name Eazy-E brings an entirely different scene to mind. Instead of a genre-defining artist in California, the Southern-bred Eazy is a four-year-old black lab who is creating his own (albeit less mainstream) legacy as a top hunting dog alongside his owner Hunter Pickett.
Eazy-E and 26-year-old Hunter work for Final Descent Guide Services leading bird hunts for their clients, and while they are well-seasoned with all kinds of waterfowl, like ducks and geese, their specialty is Sandhill Cranes. Cranes, known as “the ribeye of the sky” are a bucket-list bird for any serious hunter, sought after for the rarity of the hunt, the challenge in bringing one home, and their delicious meat, which Hunter claims is best cooked up like a fine beef filet, seared on the outside and medium-rare on the inside.
In most states, it’s illegal to hunt Sandhill Cranes, and in those that do allow the sport, almost all have an incredibly short season or highly-limited tags. Lubbock, though, is a consistent wintering ground for the cranes, so the birds are plentiful and legal to hunt, making it one of the few places in the United States where hunters can come to pursue them.
Along with the general lack of opportunity to hunt these birds, cranes are unique to hunt for two major reasons. First, they can be up to four times the size of other typical waterfowl -- typically weighing in at around eight pounds and standing up to four feet high -- making for a dramatic scene when a flock of the birds flies in. Secondly, they are known to be one of the only birds who will stand their ground and fight back when threatened, making the work for bird dogs that much more challenging.
Cranes are known for their dangers as hunters often believe them to be down and will approach the birds, only for the bird to jump to life and fight back—usually by digging in their massive claws or pecking with their razor sharp beaks.
In bird hunting, dogs like Eazy are used to retrieve the bird once the hunters have taken their shots, but it does happen that sometimes a bird will be injured rather than fully “taken,” and that’s when a dog can run into trouble with cranes in particular. When Eazy approaches an injured crane, the bird will start to make its escape, and if the dog doesn’t end its pursuit, the crane will turn and fight back, pecking and clawing at the dog’s eyes. That’s where Rex Specs come into play -- providing a protective shield for Eazy to do his work safely.
Even though crane hunting can be dangerous work for Eazy, he absolutely loves his job, and Hunter says that he’s out getting birds nearly every single day, retrieving a couple thousand a year. Hunter matches Eazy’s enthusiasm for the hunt. He grew up duck and goose hunting with his dad and grandfather, and once he got into high school and met a group of friends who were serious about the sport, he really fell in love with it.
After graduation, Hunter was working on cell towers and only getting to hunt on weekends. It was during that time that he got Eazy, and the new pup was crazy about hunting with him. Hunter felt guilty that during the week Eazy was locked in his kennel for long days while he was working, and those weekend days out hunting with his new pal were incredibly special. Finally, Hunter was given an opportunity to guide hunting trips in Kansas, and he jumped at the chance to really pursue his passion—spending his time working alongside Eazy-E every day, expanding Eazy’s experience base and honing his skills as a professional hunting dog.
Eventually, Hunter was able to move down to Texas and enter the wild world of Sandhill Crane guiding, which he enjoys with Eazy every year through the November-January season, but he doesn’t stay in one place for long. Outside of crane season, Hunter and Eazy can be found all over the continent -- from Canada to Arkansas -- leading all types of bird hunts and growing both their skillset and their incredible bond.
So while Eazy-E the labrador may never get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like his famous namesake, he and Hunter have certainly found their own niche and are no doubt making a name for themselves in the world of hunting.