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Seek quality habitat for upland success this fall

Diverse hunting opportunities await Nebraska’s upland bird hunters again this fall, and those willing to adapt to the changing weather and habitat conditions should find success in many areas of the state.

“Surveys conducted earlier this summer looked more promising this year, but variable habitat conditions may pose challenges to hunters this fall due to the increasingly dry conditions that have prevailed throughout much of the state,” said John Laux, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Statewide, pheasant counts were up 26% during this year’s July rural mail carrier surveys and exceeded five-year averages in the northeast, southeast and Panhandle regions. Pheasant habitat is more isolated in eastern Nebraska but — where quality cover exists — hunters should find better bird numbers. Portions of the Panhandle region continue to support some of highest pheasant numbers in the state, but populations remain variable due to the effects of drought in recent years.

The recent mild winter benefited northern bobwhite populations across much of the state, and numbers increased in five of six management regions. The current nesting season holds promise and could boost numbers even more, though population levels are expected to remain below recent peak years. According to surveys, southeastern and south-central regions support some of the state’s highest quail densities and should provide some of the better hunting opportunities this fall.

The southeastern and extreme western portions of the Sandhills should offer the best hunting opportunities for greater prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse this fall. For a second year, dry conditions have reduced cover throughout much of the state’s prairie grouse range. According to field reports, production appears to be below average this year, yet highly variable. Locating suitable cover may be challenging, but it will be the key to successful hunting this season.

Upland hunters should be aware the U.S. Department of Agriculture has authorized emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands in 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Similar to last year, this likely will affect the remaining cover and associated hunting opportunities, on some CRP fields throughout the state this fall, including some open to public, walk-in hunting through Game and Parks’ Open Fields and Waters Program. For more information, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/crp-faqs.

Game and Parks recommends preseason scouting as habitat conditions continue to change across the state.

Hunters also should be aware that drought conditions have increased the risk of wildfires in many areas of the state, and Game and Parks urges them to take the following precautions while afield:

  • Restrict driving to established roads and trails
  • Avoid parking vehicles in tall vegetation
  • Restrict use of campfires
  • Dispose of cigarettes and other flammable objects appropriately

The Upland Outlook is based on field reports from biologists, surveys of game species abundance, regional habitat trends, and weather conditions that could affect populations.

To view the complete outlook, detailed summaries of upland bird survey results and other upland hunting information, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/Upland.

To find places to hunt, pick up the 2022-23 Nebraska Public Access Atlas at a Game and Parks office or with numerous vendors throughout the state. This publication displays all the publicly accessible lands in Nebraska and also is available in several online versions at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas.

The hunting season for pheasant, quail and partridge is Oct. 29 through Jan. 31, 2023. The prairie grouse season is Sept. 1 through Jan. 31, 2023.

About Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane is the news manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He can be contacted at jerry.kane@nebraska.gov or 402-471-5008.

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