Outdoor notes: Landowners reminded Free-earned Landowner Elk Permit Program available
Nebraska landowners are reminded of a new program beginning this fall that could provide them a free elk permit.
In the Free-earned Landowner Elk Permit Program, a person who owns or leases at least 80 acres of farm- or ranchland for agricultural purposes qualifies for an either-sex elk permit following the verification of 10 general antlerless elk harvests. A landowner’s immediate family members are eligible for the permit.
The free-earned landowner elk permit was created during the 2021 Legislative Session. The goal is to increase hunting access opportunities and antlerless elk harvest, and to benefit landowners who regularly have elk on their property but can’t always draw a landowner permit.
Immediate family includes spouse, child, stepchild, spouse of child or stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, spouse of grandchild or step grandchild, sibling sharing ownership or spouse of sibling.
The free-earned permit does not affect eligibility for general or landowner permits.
The antlerless elk season opened Aug. 1.
For more information, visit outdoornebraska.gov/landownerpermits.
Take ’em Hunting begins fourth year of mentorship challenge
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, along with AKRS Equipment Solutions, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Heartland DSC, is launching its fourth annual Take ’em Hunting challenge to hunters starting Sept. 1.
Participants are encouraged to introduce someone new to hunting during the 2022-2023 hunting seasons, and then upload a photo of their trip to the Game and Parks website. Those who do will be registered to win prizes, including the grand prize John Deere crossover utility vehicle from AKRS, as well as a youth lifetime hunt permit.
Since the program began, it has introduced hunting to an estimated 5,400 Nebraskans of all ages.
Hunting is critical to future conservation of our natural resources. Every time a hunter buys a hunting permit or habitat stamp, his or her purchase directly funds programs that support habitat conservation, hunting access, wildlife research and much more. Additionally, excise taxes that hunters pay on firearms, ammunition and other hunting equipment generate an additional $1 billion for conservation work each year.
Hunting is a great way to spend time outdoors, experience nature, unwind and make memories with friends and family. The Take ’em Hunting effort offers an extra incentive for hunters to take someone along for a hunt. Special youth seasons are an especially great time to take young hunters out.
Prizes will be given away throughout the challenge Sept. 1, 2022, to May 31, 2023, with the grand prize utility vehicle winner announced in June 2023.
Hunting on state recreation areas begins Sept. 6
Hunters are reminded Nebraska’s state recreation areas are closed to hunting until Sept. 6.
Several hunting seasons open in early September, including archery deer, dove, grouse and other small game and furbearer seasons on Sept. 1. Early teal opens Sept. 3 and fall turkey on Sept. 15.
Regulations state that portions of some SRAs are open to hunting from the first Tuesday following Labor Day – this year is Tuesday, Sept. 6 – through the end of the spring turkey hunting season, unless restricted.
Standard hunting regulations apply. A park entry permit is required for vehicles entering the SRAs. Parks with managed hunting have hunter check-ins and signs posted at designated hunting areas. Hunting is prohibited within 100 yards of any public use facility or activity area, including picnic areas, campgrounds, private cabins, concession areas, boat ramps and parking lots.
Additionally, limited hunting is allowed in specific areas of some state parks and state historical parks. Visit Outdoornebraska.gov/stateparkhunting for more information.
Wildlife management areas, Open Fields and Waters sites and other public lands are open to hunting. The Public Access Atlas lists more than 300 publicly owned areas open to hunting. Visit OutdoorNebraska.org/wheretohunt for public hunting access opportunities.
Park guests visiting areas where hunting is allowed are encouraged to use the following safety guidelines:
Know hunting season dates – Applicable hunting dates, species allowed and methods of take are specific to designated park areas.
Know which areas allow hunting – Only limited state park areas and state historical parks allow hunting at specific times. State recreation areas and wildlife management areas often are open to hunting for the full season but are subject to their own restrictions.
Pay attention to signage – Parks and wildlife management areas post signs indicating any additional safety measures parkgoers should be aware of.
Wear bright clothing – While hunter orange is best for visibility, any bright color will stand out. Avoid muted or earthy tones.
Stay on designated trails – Hunters typically avoid well-worn paths; sticking to trails increases one’s visibility. Use extra caution at dawn or dusk. Deer are most active during these times, and low light can make it more difficult for hunters to make out colors or shapes.
Make yourself known – If you hear shooting, use your voice to let hunters know you are in the area. Once he or she is aware of you, be courteous and don’t make additional unnecessary noise that disturbs wildlife.
Low water causes boating issues at Panhandle reservoirs
It’s been a hot, dry summer, and boaters visiting Lake Minatare and Box Butte state recreation areas may find launching and loading boats to be a challenge in coming weeks.
Because of low water levels, the docks have reached the end of their track systems, making them unusable until the water rises sometime after irrigation season.
Dan Thornton, Lake Minatare superintendent, said the dock there is expected to be completely out of the water before the coming weekend.
“There isn't much rock at that end of the ramp, so putting boats in will be difficult at best,” he said.
Robert Hughes, Box Butte superintendent, said the dock is not in the water there, but about 50 feet of ramp remains there and the lake should remain accessible to boat trailers.
Another Panhandle reservoir, Whitney Lake, has been unconducive for launching boats for several weeks as low water has left its ramp and dock high and dry.
Commissioners approve changes to wild turkey seasons for 2023
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved recommendations for 2023 wild turkey hunting seasons at its Aug. 31 meeting at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford.
The changes to orders for the 2023 turkey season are:
- Limit all hunters to two spring permits; during the meeting, commissioners amended the recommendation to allow nonresidents up to two permits.
- Limit the number of spring permits available to nonresidents to 10,000;
- Amend the daily bag limit to allow a hunter to harvest no more than one turkey per calendar day during the spring season;
- Shorten the fall season to Oct. 1-Nov. 30;
- Limit all hunters to one permit in the fall season;
- Lower the bag limit to one for all hunters in the fall season;
The commissioners also approved a 2023 bighorn sheep hunting season. The orders recommended authorizing one lottery and one auction permit. The season will be Nov. 28-Dec. 22.
Commissioners also drew the winner of the 2022 bighorn sheep lottery permit. The winner is Jerry Fischer of Denton, Nebraska.
In addition, commissioners:
- approved permitting of hunting in some state parks and state historical parks for 2022 seasons;
- approved budget requests for fiscal years 2024 and 2025;
- approved the gift of the Fort Kearny Shooting Sports property, consisting of land and equipment in Buffalo County, by the Fort Kearny Shooting Sports Association; and
- heard a staff update on the upland game outlook, which is based on field reports from biologists, surveys of game species abundance, regional habitat trends, and weather conditions that could affect populations. View the outlook at OutdoorNebraska.org/Upland. They also were briefed on the 2022-2023 Public Access Atlas. This publication displays all the publicly accessible lands in Nebraska and is available at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas.
Fishing improvements made to Sowbelly Creek
Thanks to a recently completed project by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, anglers are sure to enjoy better fishing on a half-mile section of trout stream in one of the Pine Ridge’s most scenic locations.
The renovation crew teamed up in August to improve Sowbelly Creek where it flows through the 160-acre G.H. Coffee Park 3½ miles northeast of Harrison. The project, estimated at about $40,000, was funded by a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Anglers familiar with the clear, babbling brook and its picturesque backdrop of sandstone buttes and pine forest will notice a difference.
Where before the stream flowed just a few inches deep, it now moves over rock riffles and into pools up to 5 feet deep. At bends in the stream, anglers now find logs, rocks and other structures that not only prevent erosion but also attract fish as overhead cover.
Al Hanson, Game and Parks’ northwest district fisheries supervisor, said the newly renovated section of stream will provide immediate improved fishing opportunity and should get even better with time.
“Before long, the vegetation will return and these holes will hold a lot of fish,” Hanson said.
The stream, about 5 feet wide, already harbors a healthy population of brown trout and brook trout, and Hanson said future releases of cutthroats or rainbows would capitalize on the expanded capacity.
Another highlight of the improvements involves fencing. Three new walk-through Y-gates make it so anglers can access the entire public portion of stream without crossing over barbed-wire fence. Signage has been added at the property boundaries to deter park visitors from trespassing on adjacent private land.
Hanson said the improvements were designed to withstand flooding but noted nobody can be sure how they will handle such an event until it happens. It is hoped the area can avoid an event similar to June 2015, when a 4- to 6-inch rain over saturated soil caused water to rush down the narrow canyon and create a massive logjam of up to 4,000 cubic yards of timber at the park. A clean-up effort using funds from emergency management agencies occurred that November.
Coffee Park is named for Guy H. “Chick” Coffee. His wife, Ila, donated the property to the village of Harrison in 1972, the year he died. The property was developed in the next four years with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and donations. The village owns and maintains the park, which features picnic shelters, playground equipment and vault toilets.
Sowbelly creek, canyon and road were named for an 1800s incident. Legend has it that Fort Robinson military scouts hid for days in the vicinity while being pursued by Native Americans. When united with a rescue party, the hungry scouts were provided salty bacon, often referred to then as “sowbelly.”
Seek quality habitat for upland success this fall
Diverse hunting opportunities await Nebraska’s upland bird hunters again this fall, and those willing to adapt to the changing weather and habitat conditions should find success in many areas of the state.
“Surveys conducted earlier this summer looked more promising this year, but variable habitat conditions may pose challenges to hunters this fall due to the increasingly dry conditions that have prevailed throughout much of the state,” said John Laux, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Statewide, pheasant counts were up 26% during this year’s July rural mail carrier surveys and exceeded five-year averages in the northeast, southeast and Panhandle regions. Pheasant habitat is more isolated in eastern Nebraska but — where quality cover exists — hunters should find better bird numbers. Portions of the Panhandle region continue to support some of highest pheasant numbers in the state, but populations remain variable due to the effects of drought in recent years.
The recent mild winter benefited northern bobwhite populations across much of the state, and numbers increased in five of six management regions. The current nesting season holds promise and could boost numbers even more, though population levels are expected to remain below recent peak years. According to surveys, southeastern and south-central regions support some of the state’s highest quail densities and should provide some of the better hunting opportunities this fall.
The southeastern and extreme western portions of the Sandhills should offer the best hunting opportunities for greater prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse this fall. For a second year, dry conditions have reduced cover throughout much of the state’s prairie grouse range. According to field reports, production appears to be below average this year, yet highly variable. Locating suitable cover may be challenging, but it will be the key to successful hunting this season.
Upland hunters should be aware the U.S. Department of Agriculture has authorized emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands in 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Similar to last year, this likely will affect the remaining cover and associated hunting opportunities, on some CRP fields throughout the state this fall, including some open to public, walk-in hunting through Game and Parks’ Open Fields and Waters Program. For more information, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/crp-faqs.
Game and Parks recommends preseason scouting as habitat conditions continue to change across the state.
Hunters also should be aware that drought conditions have increased the risk of wildfires in many areas of the state, and Game and Parks urges them to take the following precautions while afield:
- Restrict driving to established roads and trails
- Avoid parking vehicles in tall vegetation
- Restrict use of campfires
- Dispose of cigarettes and other flammable objects appropriately
The Upland Outlook is based on field reports from biologists, surveys of game species abundance, regional habitat trends, and weather conditions that could affect populations.
To view the complete outlook, detailed summaries of upland bird survey results and other upland hunting information, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/Upland.
To find places to hunt, pick up the 2022-23 Nebraska Public Access Atlas at a Game and Parks office or with numerous vendors throughout the state. This publication displays all the publicly accessible lands in Nebraska and also is available in several online versions at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas.
The hunting season for pheasant, quail and partridge is Oct. 29 through Jan. 31, 2023. The prairie grouse season is Sept. 1 through Jan. 31, 2023.
Ash Hollow State Historical Park Rendezvous
Ash Hollow State Historical Park will host its annual rendezvous Sept. 9-11. The rendezvous will allow park visitors to absorb themselves in pre-1840 history, unique culture and educate themselves of an era gone by.
Rendezvous were historically held in the fall between fur traders and local Native American tribes and were a time to gather, share trade goods such as skins, furs, beads, food items, weapons, and knowledge. It was a time to relax, make money, and have some fun.
There will be demonstrations of black powder shooting, tomahawk throwing, recurve bow and arrow shooting, open fire cooking, trap setting, canoeing, along with traders row where goods can be viewed and purchased. Cowboy poet and singer/songwriter John Horton will be preforming throughout the day and food vendors will be on location for the event.
A living history tent, emulating the spirit of American men and women of the era will host historical re-enactors speaking on subjects such as the newest kitchen utensils, fashion, political issues, current events, a card playing table and people that lived in 1876.
A mountain man run, or fur traders version of an iron man event, will consist of tomahawk throwing, canoeing, trap setting, black powder rifle shooting, and fire starting is open to the public. Pre-registration is required by calling Teaspoon Stots, the Rendezvous Booshway at 801-719-9330.
Ash Hollow opens at 9 a.m. MT and the events are free to attend. Vehicles require a valid park entry permit, which can be purchased at the park or online at OutdoorNebraska.gov. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.
For more information call the park office at 308-778-5651, or 308-778-7708. Ash Hollow is located three miles southeast of Lewellen on U.S. Hwy. 26.