Fall is a time for harvest, the changing of the leaves, and another important season: hunting. Hunting is a popular sport in Nebraska, and in general is very safe. However, hunters need to make sure they are prepared and always follow safe practices to have the most successful hunting season that they can.
Finding success out in the field starts at home. “You need to go out and practice prior to the season. This is the time of season that people want to get on the range, and get good at shooting. You need to aim to kill not just injure, and practice will help you do that,” said Jeff Rawlinson, Assistant Administrator for Information Education, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Hunters should also make sure to pack emergency gear before they leave to go hunt. This includes extra food and water, a medical kit and extra clothing. These items may not be needed, but it is best to have them just in case.
“You should take enough creature comforts that if you need to spend the night in the woods, you can do it,” he said.
A hunting plan should also be drawn up, and distributed to family or friends. “Have a hunt plan, and let people know where you are going, who you are with, and when you will be back. You need to stick to it in case you don’t get back on time, then someone knows where to go look for you,” said Rawlinson.
This hunt plan should include entry points, so that those who are not familiar with the area know where to go. It is best to mark your starting point and the path you plan to follow as well.
“A lot of our hunters are hunting on private property on a farm or a ranch. We still have issues with a hunter getting lost or getting stuck, but it’s not a big issue. It’s best to be prepared though,” he said.
Scouting an area before a hunt is important to this plan. It allows the hunter to know the area, and know where the animals are. This will help the hunter to draw up a more accurate plan, as well as know where to hunt.
In the weeks leading up to the hunt, people should also work to get in shape. “We recommend people get in shape before, because it can be tough if you are doing a lot of walking. Get your dogs in shape as well if you use those. You don’t want to get fatigued,” said Rawlinson.
Hunters should also make sure to clear enough freezer space to put their game in before they leave to go on the hunt. “Be ready to bring game home. Make sure you have freezer space and the capacity to take it to the table,” he said.
The next step to preparing for a hunt is to get landowner permission. In Nebraska, the majority of the land is privately owned, and trespassing is one of the more common hunting violations.
“You need to get permission from the landowner first. That is one of our most common violations,” said Jeff Clauson, Assistant Administrator for Law Enforcement, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
After permission is granted, then the hunting permits need to be purchased. All big game hunters in Nebraska are required to have a species specific permit for deer, antelope, elk or mountain (bighorn) sheep, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
All hunters, except those younger than age and 16 and those who are older than age 69 or have a veteran permit, are also required to have a habitat state, which is $20 to purchase. The cost of the species permits vary by species.
A Nebraska hunt permit is not required for big game. A big game permit is valid only for the species-specific season, weapon and unit or area for which it is issued and may not be exchanged for another permit. Permits are not transferable or refundable, according to the Game and Parks Commission.
The minimum age to hunt deer is 10 years of age, and for antelope, elk and bighorn sheep that age is 12. Antelope youth archery hunters and deer archery, firearm and muzzleloader hunters younger than 16 years may purchase a youth permit.
For those hunters who are between the ages of 12 and 29 years of age, proof of hunter education is also a requirement. This is a requirement for both rifle and bow hunting. For those who have not completed hunter education, an apprentice hunter education exemption certificate will be required.
“We encourage every hunter to work with a younger hunter to get them out there. Take someone hunting for the first time. We want to pass it on and get more people involved in the heritage,” said Rawlinson.
On the actual day of the hunt, safety should always be a priority. “One of the key things you can do to stay safe is to wear blaze orange. It is required for big game in the rifle season, but you should wear it whenever possible. You should have it on your front and back, as well as on your head,” he said.
Hunters should also be aware of each and every shot they take. “Swinging on game is one of our number one issues. We don’t have very many hunting accidents in Nebraska, and in fact it’s one of the safer activities you can do here. However, when you are hunting and an animal flushes and runs, the hunter needs to be aware of where he is swinging his gun. They need to make sure they know where that shot is going to go no matter what,” Rawlinson stated.
Once an animal is brought down, it needs to be properly dressed and transported out of the field. It then needs to be fabricated and frozen. This process needs to be done as quickly as possible to prevent the meat from spoiling.
Overall, the forecasts for large game looks good. For antelope, harvest is at a 25-year high this year, and permits have increased to provide hunters with more opportunities and to help control the population.
The elk herd is expected to have more than 2,600 animals at the start of the season. In 2011, hunter success was 58 percent, with 90 percent of harvested bulls having six or more points on one antler and 42 percent of harvested bulls were age 6 or older. Permit draw odds average 25:1 for bull tags and 6:1 for cow tags, according to the Game and Park Commission.
For deer, the forecast is also good. In Eastern units whitetail populations have been reduced by higher antlerless harvests in the past five years. Mule deer populations are down 20-40 percent due to brain worm parasites.
Hunting is a popular sport in Nebraska, and one that the whole family can enjoy. “Be safe, get land owner permission and have fun!” said Rawlinson.❖