Over the years, I’ve hunted geese and ducks many places, but some of my fondest memories have been made with family and friends at Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) west of Lake McConaughy. My son shot his first duck from a pit there, our family dogs have retrieved many a bird there, and the laughs and breakfasts in the blinds are icing on the cake. Best of all this area is open to the public.
Clear Creek WMA is run by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Work is done each year to improve habitat for pheasants, deer and waterfowl, which gives hunters the chance to hunt various species at the WMA.
Clear Creek is broken down into four different areas that may be used by the public: a traditional wildlife management area, two refuges and a special hunting area – each having specific regulations.
The eastern portion of Clear Creek is a traditional wildlife management area open to hunting, trapping and fishing within the appropriate seasons. This area encompasses more than 3,200 acres of riparian woodlands, wetlands, river channel, lake bed and upland grasslands, and offers excellent deer, turkey, pheasant and dove hunting. Those willing to put in the effort to hike to the river can be rewarded with excellent waterfowl hunting. This area borders the Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and is available for public access year-round.
Two refuges are included at Clear Creek. The seasonal refuge covers 2,500 acres on the west end of the property, including land on both the north and south sides of the North Platte River. It is open to most hunting, fishing, trapping and other outdoor activities from Feb. 15 until the Monday before Thanksgiving, when it becomes a waterfowl refuge. The exception is waterfowl hunting, which is only allowed on the wetlands along the east boundary of the refuge.
A portion of Clear Creek is included in the Garden County Refuge, established in 1925 to provide a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl, and is closed to all bird hunting. Extending 110 yards from the North Platte River banks and its side channels throughout Garden County, the area is open to deer hunting during all legal seasons until the refuge closes on the Monday before Thanksgiving, at which time it is closed to all access until Feb. 15.
Once the refuges close, they provide sanctuary to thousands of migrating Canada, white-fronted and snow geese, numerous duck species and trumpeter swans throughout the winter months.
Special Hunting Area
The Special Hunting Area (SHA) of Clear Creek consists of about 300 acres, which includes 10 four-person pit blinds, and is open to hunting for waterfowl and other game species until the Monday before Thanksgiving. At that point, the area is open only to those who are assigned a blind through a drawing held each morning at the Clear Creek check station.
The drawings, conducted by Commission staff at Clear Creek, determine the order of blind selection for each hunting party. Five of the blinds are located in the meadow along the refuge boundary, four on wetlands and one on the North Platte River.
Duck hunters prefer the blinds on the water, numbers six through 10, until it freezes. Hunters in all of the blinds stand a good chance of decoying geese coming and going to and from the refuge and Lake McConaughy. When winter weather pushes new geese down from the north is when hunters have the best success. Weekly updates are available online showing the bird harvests from each of the blinds.
Up to five blinds are available by reservation. Hunters may apply for dates during August and September, and a drawing is held the first Wednesday in October. Applications are available on the Commission’s website, the agency’s North Platte office and at the Clear Creek WMA check station. If any advance reservation dates remain open after the drawing, hunters may call the district office in North Platte to reserve one. No more than two advance reservations are allowed per individual per year.
Hunters with reservations have a separate drawing for blind selection; the remaining blinds are allocated by a second drawing. All drawings are conducted 45 minutes before legal shooting hours for that day, and hunters must check in at the station to be eligible for the drawing.
On weekends, the slots that can be reserved are typically filled, and there may be more hunting parties than there are blinds remaining. On weekdays, however, there is typically room for all who want to hunt. Blinds not filled in the drawing and those vacated during the day are assigned for use on a first-come, first-served basis. There is an 18-shot shell limit per hunter using the blinds, and only non-toxic shot is allowed at all areas of Clear Creek.
What to Expect
Part of the fun of hunting at Clear Creek is meeting the folks who come to join the hunt during the drawing. Many people have hunted Clear Creek longer than I have – 25 years – and make it a tradition to meet up with hunting partners there, whether they are locals or out-of-staters.
Seasoned hunters at Clear Creek will bring two-wheel carts to haul gear to the blinds or sleds when there is snow on the ground. Some of the blinds have a walk-through door, making it easy for hunters and dogs to get in and out. One blind is wheelchair accessible.
Each blind is equipped with two dozen goose decoys for hunters to use. Waders or hip boots should be on hand when hunting blinds six through 10, as there are wetland areas around them. Hunters are also encouraged to use hunting dogs to retrieve downed birds from wetland areas, the North Platte River and the refuge.
Downed birds may be retrieved from the seasonal refuge by hunters or a dog sent for a retrieve, but no firearms are allowed on the refuge, and no decoys may be placed past the refuge boundary signs. ■