The crisp, cool air in the mornings and evenings signals the start of fall in Nebraska. It’s the time of year when many Cornhuskers head outdoors to hunt and fish. Today, September 26th, Nebraska joins the nation in celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day. This important day has extra significance in Nebraska, where hunting and fishing are part of our cultural fabric. For generations, dads and moms have been taking their children to tree stands and creek banks to teach them how to hunt and fish.
For many, hunting or fishing is a relaxing way to spend a day with friends and family. These activities give Nebraskans the opportunity to unwind from the work week, explore the natural beauty of Nebraska, and spend quality time together. They also present the opportunity to pass along a love of the outdoors to the next generation. My son Roscoe and I go on an annual turkey hunt together, and we’ve made many fun memories on our trips together.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or beginner, Nebraska offers abundant opportunities to hunt deer, turkey, and upland game. There are deer in every county of Nebraska, and our state has been the site of some legendary trophy bucks. In 1962, Del Austin of Hastings took down a 39-point whitetail with his bow, setting a Pope & Young world record that would stand for nearly 40 years! The impressive buck, nicknamed “Old Mossy Horns,” has become part of Nebraska hunting lore and still ranks fifth all-time among whitetails. Ten years ago, Kevin Petrzilka of Brainard shot a huge, 17-point whitetail buck in Saunders County. With typical antlers measuring 198 2/8 inches, it was named one of the 20 Best Bucks of the Decade (2010s) by Field & Stream magazine.
Nebraska is also one of the nation’s top destinations for turkey hunting. Wild turkeys have become plentiful statewide since being reintroduced by the Commission in 1959. Currently, Nebraska has two turkey hunting seasons, and the birds can be found in every county of the state. Last October, I headed to Dawes County for the Governor’s Pine Ridge Wild Turkey Hunt near Chadron. The Turkey Hunt is a wonderful example of a creative initiative that invites tourism to our state. It showcases the scenic landscapes of northwest Nebraska, puts visitors in contact with wildlife, and allows tourists to enjoy one of Nebraska’s greatest attractions—its kind-hearted and hospitable people. While the hunt’s events are postponed this year, I look forward to other turkey hunting opportunities this fall.
In addition to having plentiful habitat for deer and turkeys, the grasslands of Nebraska host a diversity of upland game species. Ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite quail, sharp-tailed grouse, and prairie chickens all make their home here in the Cornhusker State. The late Lynn Berggren of Broken Bow, who served on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission from 2008 to 2016, was a champion of creating opportunities for pheasant hunting. In 2016, the Commission launched its Berggren Plan for Pheasants. Its ambitious goals were to improve pheasant hunting by increasing pheasants, increasing hunter access to land holding pheasants, and increasing the number of pheasant hunters. Since the plan’s inception, the State has completed 2,100 projects with private landowners, positively impacting more than 187,000 acres of habitat throughout the pheasant range.
If you want to pass along your love of the outdoors to young Nebraskans, there are several opportunities available for you. This fall, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is sponsoring its Take ‘em Hunting program for a second year. It encourages Nebraskans to pass on their passion for hunting by taking a friend, neighbor, or family member along for the experience. To participate, snap a photo during your hunting trip and submit it online at outdoornebraska.gov/takeemhunting. You’ll be eligible to win gift cards, hunting gear, and the grand prize—a camo John Deere crossover utility vehicle.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Mentored Youth Archery Program is another great opportunity for young hunters to gain skills under the guidance of a veteran hunter. The program is open to bowhunter education graduates who are 12 to 17 years old. Hunters are paired with qualified instructors for a full archery season. Mentors show participants how to scout, hang tree stands, interpret animal signs, and safely handle the animals they harvest. For more information, visit outdoornebraska.gov/mentoredhunts.
Nebraska also boasts nearly 450 lakes and streams that are open to public fishing. Anglers can fish for walleye, channel catfish, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and more. We stock more than 50 million fish each year. With fall trout stockings, great fishing opportunities await in the coming months. Our online 2020 Fishing Forecast will help you find out where the fish are biting (outdoornebraska.gov/fishingforecast).
Hunting and fishing are extremely important to our state’s economy. They have an annual economic impact of over one billion dollars and support nearly 12,000 jobs. Many of our rural communities, in particular, benefit from the tourism of hunters and anglers who visit our state for these outdoor pastimes.
Purchases of hunting and fishing permits help fund the stewardship of our state’s fish and wildlife, and increasing interest in these activities will help grow more opportunities for Nebraska’s sportsmen and women. If you’d like to learn more, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s website at outdoornebraska.gov. When you go to the blind or pond this fall, consider taking someone new with you. Sharing your passion helps other Nebraskans experience the joys of hunting and fishing, while providing fun and excitement for all.