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Family Muzzleloader Deer Hunt in Northeast NE

On the weekend of December 6 -7, the Luther family from Omaha and the Netherton family from Fairbury traveled to Knox County to deer hunt for the first time. The muzzleloader doe hunt took place on the Jessen Ranch near Center. Leased by Chris Edwards of Big Red Outdoors, Edwards offered to open up his lease for this two-day hunt.

Husband and wife Todd and Stacy Luther brought their 11-year-old son Chase and 10-year-old son Brady, while Troy and Paula Netherton brought four children who would also hunt: 18-year-old Samuel, 16-year-old Christina, 14-year-old Joshua, and 12-year-old Luke.

Out of 10 participants, only two hunters had previously fired a gun or had any hunting experience before participating in Becoming an Outdoor Family (BOF) camps and the Outdoor Family Adventure Program. Made possible by an $8,000 grant from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the new Family Adventure Program was developed to engage families who want to advance their shooting and hunting skills after BOF.

The Nethertons and Luthers were trained in hunter education, which included information on the game being hunted, techniques, hunting preparation, what to expect on the actual hunt, game cleaning, processing and cooking information. Both families were offered a pheasant hunt at the Oak Creek Sporting Club near Brainard before trying big game.

Families arrived Friday night and lodged at Niobrara State Park before their deer hunt Saturday morning. Led by Commission Outdoor Education Specialist Christy Christiansen, alarms were set for 5 a.m. and hunters were onsite by 6:15 a.m. to meet mentors and to settle into blinds before sunrise.

In addition to Christiansen, mentors included Northeast District Manager Wildlife Division Tom Welstead, Wildlife Biologist Bekah Jessen, Conservation Officers Jeff Jones and Mitch Johnson, Chris Edwards of Big Red Outdoors, and Rick Wheatley of Food for Hunters.

“The weather was unseasonably warm for December,” said Christiansen, who has assisted numerous mentored deer hunts with the Commission in past years, especially during the colder muzzleloader season. “For the first time on a deer hunting trip, no one complained about the 50 degree weather.”

Christiansen was paired with Stacy Luther and her son Chase. With flashlights in hand, hunters and mentor made their way down a steep hill to get to their blind. At 8:15, Christiansen took out her doe bleat and within 10 minutes, a mature doe appeared to the left, within 30 yards of the blind.

“She spotted us almost immediately, bobbing her head up and down trying to figure us out.” Unfortunately, the doe never got comfortable and took off in the opposite direction. “One more step and she would have been in Stacy’s sights,” said Christiansen, who regretted the near opportunity. No other opportunities were offered to Stacy or the rest of the crew on Saturday.

But Sunday morning would be Stacy’s lucky day. After settling into their blind, Stacy and Chase spotted a buck in the dark at 7:20. Christiansen handed Chase her can call to see if another deer would come in, but nothing did. Most of the morning remained quiet and as boredom and hunger set in, Stacy suddenly whispered, “Christy—Christy—Christy— deer.” Stacy pointed to the left. A small doe quietly appeared just 20 yards south of where they sat.

As the doe continued to walk in front of the blind, Christiansen instructed Stacy to cock her gun and turn on her scope. Stacy took aim and a loud shot cracked through the silence of the morning. The doe jumped and trotted over a small hill. “Did I get her? Did I get her?” asked Stacy, who was shaking with excitement. Both Christiansen and Chase saw the bullet enter the doe. High fives, hugs and jumping exploded in the previously still blind. Chase was so proud of his mom.

After waiting 30 minutes, they found the doe laying 20 yards away. “Stacy started to shake even more than after the shot, and Chase couldn’t wait to touch the deer,” said Christiansen.” They were both amazed at how soft the hide was.” Husband Todd and son Brady were equally as excited and proud.

They brought the deer back to field dress as a group. Anxious to do the honors, Luke Netherton was outfitted with gloves and a knife. Guided by mentors, Luke successfully field dressed a deer for the first time. The heart and liver were saved for a future meal.

Although Troy Netherton and his family did not go home with a deer that weekend, he was grateful for the learning opportunity and the chance to spend time in the outdoors with his family. He and his wife Paula were especially proud of their 12-year-old son Luke for volunteering to field dress Stacy’s deer.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would like to thank the Jessen family, Big Red Outdoors, the Lions Club, the Nebraska Regional Program for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, mentors, Mark Rettig and Niobrara State Park staff for making this hunt possible.

To find out more about this program, please visit http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/Education/Programs/bow/outdoor-workshops.asp. BOF camps will be listed in the near future.

About Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

NEBRASKAland Associate Editor Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and moved to the United States with her parents in 1992. She graduated from Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, California, in 2008 and completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 2012. Wheatley was editor-in-chief for her high school newspaper and continued to write in college, freelancing for various publications, the Tiger Woods Foundation and writing for her blog FoodForHunters.com. After graduating college, she moved to Nebraska in early 2013 to join the Commission as Regional Editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine. She then became associate editor in 2015. Wheatley enjoys hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and wild game cooking.

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