HomeOutdoorsNewsTennessee Hunter Downs One of the Oldest Waterfowl Ever Recorded

Tennessee Hunter Downs One of the Oldest Waterfowl Ever Recorded

by Amy Myers
Photo by: Jon G. Fuller / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While catching up on sandhill crane hunting, a Tennessee man managed to bag one of the oldest waterfowl ever recorded.

Austin Davis of Lebanon, Tennessee decided to head to the public hunting lands with his best friend and hunting buddy, Bradley Buchanan, in search of the large waterfowl. Hiwassee Refuge on Lake Chickamauga is home to more than 14,000 sandhill cranes during the winter, making it a popular choice for Tennessee hunters to fill their tags.

“Outfitters have all the crop fields leased up around the lake, but we thought we could get into the public area between the refuge and the crop fields and decoy some cranes ourselves,” Davis told Field and Stream.

After collecting the bird from Hiwassee Refuge, Davis noticed a metal band just above the waterfowl’s talons. It turned out to be a tracking tag biologists placed back in 1989. It turned out that the Tennessee native just bagged one of the oldest recorded waterfowl in the country.

“When I looked at the band, it didn’t have a phone number or website on it, I knew it was an old one,” the 28-year-old Davis recalled. “I reported it and found out the bird was older than I am. I freaked out. Who knows what this bird saw in its life and how many hunters and predators it had to avoid before I shot it?”

According to wildlife officials, biologists originally tagged the sandhill crane in Germfask, Michigan in August 1989. Since then, the 33-year-old waterfowl found its way to the Tennessee Refuge where it came into Davis’ crosshairs.

 “We decided to take turns shooting, so we played rock-paper-scissors to see who got the first shot,” Davis said. Luckily for the 28-year-old, he won the game. 

Crane Was Just a Few Years Younger Than Oldest Known Waterfowl

The once-in-a-lifetime bag wasn’t all just luck, though. Davis reported that he and Buchanan had been prepping all summer for waterfowl season, collecting four dozen crane silhouettes and staking out the perfect blind spot. Perched behind a row of cattails, they patiently waited until the crowd of sandhill cranes flew by.

“We could have shot birds passing overhead all morning, but we wanted to only shoot birds in the decoys,” Davis explained.

According to Ducks Unlimited waterfowl scientist Dr. Mike Brasher, sandhill cranes’ large size are testament to how long they live in the wild. So, it’s no surprise that one of the oldest living waterfowl was a member of this species.

“Typically, a bird’s average lifespan correlates strongly with its body size,” Brasher shared with F&S. “For example, geese and swans live longer on average than do smaller ducks. But even within the duck families, you find that the average lifespan of smaller species, such as teal, is shorter than that of larger ducks, such as mallards and canvasbacks.”

Davis’ bird was just four years younger than the oldest known waterfowl, another sandhill crane that biologists banded in 1973 in Wyoming. He plans to keep the bird’s band so that it will always be “a part of my hunts.”