Nebraska's Huntable Wildlife
Nebraska’s diverse landscape supports a diverse variety of huntable
wildlife. Here are few of Nebraska’s most popular game birds and animals:
annually harvest over 50,000 deer out of a statewide herd of 300,000 to
350,000 whitetail and mule deer in Nebraska. Whitetail deer (below
larger on average than mule deer (left), are more numerous and are now found in
every part of the state. Whitetails prefer wooded creeks and
shelterbelts, and are especially thick in the wooded river valleys of
eastern Nebraska. Mule deer are found mostly in western and central
Nebraska, roaming the open plains,
relying on rugged terrain and their long-range eyesight for protection.
The archery season starts in mid-September and runs through the end of
the year. Muzzleloader season is in December. While special seasons in
selected areas open in October, the main firearm season runs for 9 days
in mid-November. “Season choice” permits allow a hunter to harvest an
antlerless deer with a bow during bow season, a muzzleloader in
December, or a rifle during the regular November season or a special
late season the first two weeks of January. The Season Choice permit is
an excellent choice for the novice bow or muzzleloader hunter, or for
any hunter looking to put meat in the freezer.
Permits in deer units that typically fill quickly are awarded in a
drawing. In 2007, the Game & Parks Commission is using a new, simplified
application process. January 3 through April 13, residents and
non-residents will be able to apply for one statewide deer permit
(firearm buck-only, archery, muzzleloader, or youth). From April 16
through May 4, residents (only) will be able to apply for permits in
'draw units.' From June 11 through the close of the season, remaining permits
will be available first-come, first-served, to residents and
non-residents. Hunters can obtain only two buck-only or either-sex
permits, but can obtain additional antlerless-only permits, and in some
years double tags have been awarded to thin herds in specific areas.
Ducks & Geese
Nebraska is at the heart of the Central Flyway, and waterfowl from
eastern and central Canada, the northern Great Plains, and as far west
as Alaska, migrate through the state
on their way to summer homes in the
south and southwest. Although some 90 percent of the Rainwater Basin
wetlands in south-central
Nebraska have been drained or destroyed, the remaining wetlands still
attract huge numbers of ducks and geese in the spring and fall. The
Platte River attracts substantial numbers of ducks and geese, especially
when area wetlands are dry, and other Nebraska rivers also attract
Backwater areas and wetlands along the Missouri River host large numbers
of waterfowl, and the largely unspoiled wetlands throughout the
Sandhills provide both migratory and nesting habitat. Hunters can expect
to see a wide variety of ducks and geese throughout the year, including
mallards, mergansers, blue-winged and green-winged teal, pintail, wood
ducks, mottled ducks, canvasback, white-fronted geese, Canada geese,
snow geese, and Ross’ geese.
New: Beginning January 1,
2006, all Nebraska waterfowl hunters will be required to purchase a new
Nebraska Waterfowl Stamp, in addition to a regular Hunting Permit and
Habitat Stamp, and obtain a (free) Harvest Information Program registration.
The proceeds from the new Nebraska Waterfowl Stamp -- authorized in
legislation supported by the Nebraska Wildlife Federation -- will be used for
waterfowl habitat acquisition and management.
teal usually season leads off Nebraska waterfowl hunting in September, although an early
Canada goose season, designed to help reduce local "nuisance"
populations, has been scheduled in September in recent years . October 1 is the usual
kickoff for duck season, although seasons vary by region and species.
Waterfowl hunters can get in some spring action and help reduce the
light goose population that is tearing up nesting grounds in the Arctic
during a special conservation action season, February 1 – April 16,
2006. The arrival of large numbers of ducks and geese in Nebraska is
very dependent upon weather conditions up north. When they arrive, they
head for available open water, so local stream and wetland conditions
are extremely important for anyone looking to find waterfowl.
once roamed the prairies throughout Nebraska, but over-hunting eliminated
his majestic animal from
the state by the late 1800’s. Wandering in from Wyoming and South
Dakota, elk have established small but growing populations in several
areas of Nebraska. The largest is centered around the Pine Ridge area in
the northwest corner of Nebraska. Smaller herds are in Boyd County along
the South Dakota border in north-central Nebraska, along the North
Platte River in the Panhandle, and an area southeast of North Platte in
Lincoln County. Elk are slowly expanding their range in Nebraska.
Out of a total
elk herd of several hundred in Nebraska, hunters typically harvest less
than 100 elk per year. Only Nebraska residents can apply for a Nebraska elk
permit. Permit applications are typically taken in April, and a drawing
is held to award permits. Except for the Boyd Unit, the elk season
usually runs for about a month starting in late September.
Pheasants are native to China, but have become well-acclimated to
Nebraska and are now found throughout the state. Pheasants are popular
with Nebraska hunters. An ‘edge’ species, they like to hang out in
grassy areas, sneaking into nearby fields to eat. They are typically
most abundant in Southwest and Northeast Nebraska, with those region’s
mixture of cropped fields, pastures and CRP fields. A joint Game & Parks
and Pheasants Forever program, “Focus on Pheasants,” has demonstrated
success in improving Nebraska pheasant populations by renovating CRP
fields, inter-planting forbs and legumes into mature grass stands to
create better pheasant habitat.
Nebraska’s pheasant season typically starts in the last weekend in
October or first weekend in November, and runs through the end of
January. A special ‘youth season’ for pheasant, quail, and partridge is
held the weekend before the regular opener.
experiences go, hunting prairie grouse is about as addictive as it gets.
Nebraska is home to huntable populations of both sharp-tailed grouse and
greater prairie chickens, making it a hunting mecca for the truly
addicted. Sharp-tailed grouse range throughout much of the Sandhills,
and in the Panhandle. Greater prairie chickens (below) range through parts of
north central and southwest Nebraska, with populations concentrated in Sandhills prairies, and a smaller population ranges in southeast
Nebraska in the counties along the Kansas border where remnant native
Both birds are native to Nebraska, and live in the wide-open prairies
that once covered nearly all of Nebraska. The prairie grouse season runs
from mid-September through the end of the year, and hunters can often
combine a grouse hunt with a hunt for other wildlife in the later part
of the season. In April, wildlife watchers can see prairie chickens
‘booming’ at Burchard Lake wildlife management area in southeast
Nebraska, a mating ritual that is at least as addictive as the fall
– technically not an ‘antelope’, although often called by that name –
once roamed the open shortgrass prairies of western Nebraska in huge
numbers. Today, small herds of pronghorn can be found in the Sandhills
and throughout Nebraska’s Panhandle, but the largest concentration is in
northern Sioux County centered in the Ogallala National Grasslands. The
swift pronghorn can accelerate quickly to speeds of 60 miles per hour
and has keen eyesight, making it a special challenge for bowhunters and
The pronghorn population in the state appears to be stable or declining,
and the Game & Parks Commission has been undertaking research to better
understand pronghorn habitat needs and mortality. Hunters typically
harvest 500-600 pronghorn annually in Nebraska, out of a population
believed to be around 6,000. Only Nebraska residents are allowed to
apply for a permit, and permit applications are typically taken in
April. The archery season starts in August, the Muzzleloader season in
September, and the firearm season is in October.
turkeys were hunted out of Nebraska by the early 1900’s. Thanks to a
release program started in 1959, wild turkeys have made a remarkable
comeback in Nebraska, supporting both a spring and a fall turkey season.
In the last five years, the wild turkey population in Nebraska has
doubled, and wild turkeys can now be found along wooded rivers and
creeks throughout most of the state, and in the Pine Ridge area of the
state-wide fall permits are now available (limit two per person in 2006), and
the season starts in October, runs through the end of the year, and is closed during the deer firearm
season. In the spring, unlimited state-wide permits are available (new limit
of three per
person starting in 2007), with archery season starting in March and shotgun season in
Pheasant Taxidermy by:
J.D. Oenbring, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Photographs by: Duane