Fall sports have been cancelled, postponed or will be highly regulated. Yes, there is no Husker football this season. Bars, restaurants and gatherings are being limited or restricted. Mask wearing mandates are in effect for various businesses and in the cities of Omaha and Lincoln.

These are certainly very strange times.

One of the oldest pastimes in our American history, however, remains valid and is not damaged or impaired in any way – hunting. The hunting seasons in Nebraska for fall and winter are all set and ready to go.

A hunter and his dog pursue doves in a sunflower field at the Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Seward County, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

If there ever was a time to learn to hunt, get back into hunting or continue to hunt – it is now.

With the lifestyle of hunting, social distancing was practiced before it ever become necessary. Mask wearing was not a problem, particularly on a cold day. Washing our hands repetitively, oh yeah that was never an issue either since there was always a creek or other water source nearby. In addition, most of us hunted locally, regionally or at least in the state, as we still do.

Hunters, more than any other group, have always understood and continue to understand the concept of self-reliance and where their food originates.

A mature white-tailed deer buck is harvested by your blogger from the woodlands of rural Sarpy County, NE during a recent firearm deer hunting season. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

But the pursuit of game during the pandemic is often only a search for your peace of mind. It is a quest for solace amid the noise and bombardment of constant news and information. Seclusion on a hunt is the primary objective. Camaraderie and coaching a new hunter are important parts of the hunt, as well. The added bonus of a hunting trip is acquiring local, lean, free-ranging meat for consumption.

These are one-pound packages of ground deer burger before being marked and placed in the freezer. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Pat Molini, Wildlife Division Assistant Administrator in charge of managing public hunting lands and wildlife depredation for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, had this to say about why he is hunting this fall in Nebraska: “The reasons I am going hunting are to get in touch with myself and experience the hunts that shaped me. I look forward to rekindling the bonds of family with hunts for dove and grouse in the openness of the Nebraska Sandhills.”

It’s a look at the Sandhills for early September sharp-tailed grouse hunting in rural Cherry County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Whether it is the wooded creek bottom on your friend’s farm or the grassy field of an Open Fields and Waters tract, the getting-away-from-it-all feeling not only can still be found, but is being encouraged during a period of elevated awareness regarding hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing.

A sign identifies a public access site enrolled in Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program. Photo courtesy of Colby Kerber/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Hunting can be an isolated thing where you do not need to have human-to-human contact. However, hunting can also be enjoyed safely with the individuals in your household or with others who have been self-isolating in their own “bubble.”

A hunting experience serves as a safe outdoor recreational activity that can offer a soothing respite for those of us tired of being cooped up. For me, a trip to the field during Nebraska’s archery deer hunting season is downright therapeutic, whether a white-tailed deer is shot or not.

The beautiful yellow-gold of a soybean field is experienced by your blogger during an October archery deer hunt in rural Sarpy County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

We are lucky to live here in Nebraska where varied game animals thrive. When it comes to hunting, the Cornhusker State is called the “Mixed Bag Capitol of the Nation.”

That’s because many different game species are available to the Nebraska hunter. Among them are dove, prairie grouse, pheasant, quail, partridge, turkey, waterfowl, woodcock, snipe, rail, crow, squirrel, cottontail rabbit, jackrabbit, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and bighorn sheep. Did you know in all 93 counties, hunters have harvested wild turkey and white-tailed deer?

A mixed bag of Nebraska wild turkeys, rooster pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse on the tailgate of a pick up truck from a hunt. Photo courtesy of Justin King via Daryl Bauer/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Combo (combination) hunts are possible, too, from deer and turkey to pronghorn and grouse.

Your blogger with his Nebraska woodland double — A big hen wild turkey and an adult white-tailed deer doe taken seconds apart in October from a ground blind with a crossbow in rural Sarpy County, NE. Photo by Rich Berggren/Conservation Officer/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
As you will see, a trip to western Nebraska in September last year was quite productive for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Southeast District Wildlife Manager, Dusty Schelbitzki. He arrowed, tagged and telechecked a healthy pronghorn antelope. Photo courtesy of Dusty Schelbitzki/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Dusty also bagged a couple prairie chickens on publicly accessible land on the same trip. Photo courtesy of Dusty Schelbitzki/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
His epic outdoor journey was topped off by completing the Nebraska Trout Slam. Congratulations, Dusty! Photo courtesy of Dusty Schelbitzki/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Nebraska is truly home to some of the best white-tailed deer, mule deer and pronghorn hunting around. Fall wild turkey hunters will find birds in every county of the state and the prized Merriam’s subspecies in the Pine Ridge. Dove hunters will also find their quarry across the state. Upland game bird hunters will find excellent prairie grouse hunting in the Sandhills and quality pheasant hunting in the southwest part of the state and southern panhandle. Quail hunters seeking elusive coveys of bobwhites will find the best hunting in southern Nebraska, specifically in the southeast. The wide variety of wetland habitat provides diverse waterfowl hunting opportunities statewide for duck and goose hunters. Small game hunters will find fox squirrels and cottontail rabbits in abundance not far from home.

Julie Geiser and her Labrador retriever, Berkley, after a great day of Canada goose hunting at Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area in rural Keith County, NE. Julie is a public information officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission based out of North Platte. Photo courtesy of Julie Geiser.

Some ask why is there such a high biodiversity or abundance of different game species in Nebraska. This biodiversity is due to the vast array of ecosystems found over the state’s 77,227 square miles – Tallgrass prairie, Shortgrass prairie, Mixed-grass prairie, Sandhills, wetlands, eastern deciduous forest, Pine Ridge forests, rivers and lakes. Additionally, Nebraska has farm, range and urban habitats.

Teal duck decoys float on a rural Saunders County, NE wetland during Nebraska’s early teal duck hunting season. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Beyond the mixed bag potential, the Husker State also offers hunters a number of other positive elements. Consider affordable permits and stamps, long seasons, liberal daily hunting hours, generous bag limits, more than 1.2 million acres of publicly accessible lands, state parks open for base camps, special $8.00 youth permits for deer and turkey, fun hunting challenges/slams to enter, hungry fish to catch, great scenery to observe and nice people to meet.

A photo is snapped of a Nebraska farmer near his sweet corn field. Some of the most hospitable folks you’ll get to know as a hunter are the farmers and ranchers in Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

When we look back someday, COVID-19 will probably be known for the hardships, disruptions and deaths it has caused, but it may be remembered for the quality time you were able to spend in the field hunting.

Time outdoors is time well spent!

To get hunting, fishing and parks information, view our Public Access Atlas and hunting guides, purchase permits/stamps, get involved in Take ‘Em Hunting or the hunting slam challenges, see camping opportunities available in state park areas and begin planning your memorable hunt, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov

Hunting During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  • If you choose to hunt during the pandemic, it is essential that you follow local, regional or state health restrictions and CDC health guidelines.
  • Purchase your hunting permits online at OutdoorNebraska.gov instead of in-person.
  • Hunt alone or with family members in your household or with those that are isolating.
  • Do not hunt if you feel sick or think you might be sick.
  • Stay at home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer even while afield or afloat.
  • Do not share equipment with anyone, and wash or properly disinfect your equipment when you are done.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other hunters you encounter. If access points or other places have many other hunters present, avoid them.
  • Carry an approved face mask or mask covering for possible use.
  • Try to hunt near home as much as possible and do not travel long distances.
  • For additional COVID-19 health information and updates, go online to OutdoorNebraska.gov 
Your camo clad, mask-wearing blogger. Photo by Irwin Bridgeford of Bennington, NE.

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