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Panhandle Passages: Hunting for Words

I figure it’s time to put words to some of my hunting experiences this fall. Time certainly does fly when the birds are flying.

Turkey Time

We’ll start off with an event in my “backyard.”

In early October, about three dozen hunters came to Chadron to be paired with landowners for the Pine Ridge Wild Turkey Hunt. The annual hunt, which began in the mid-1990s, has forged many relationships while celebrating turkey hunting in the region that led the state’s resurgence of the popular game bird.

Turkeys, similar to other game animals, were killed off in Nebraska in the early 1900s. Northwestern Nebraska’s Pine Ridge, with its favorable habitat, was the location of the state’s first reintroduction efforts in the late 1950s. The large turkey populations in the region, and now the rest of the state, are evidence of a conservation success story.

Deb Cottier of the Nebraska Northwest Development Corp., with help from former Chadron mayor Carl Larsen and a committee of volunteers, organize the invitation-only hunt to show off their region to business leaders and elected officials. Area landowners kindly serve as guides, and proceeds from hunters and sponsors fund the event. It helps northwestern Nebraskans maintain and improve relationships with those who participate, many of whom are from eastern Nebraska.

With camera in hand, I accompanied Dennis Hall and Roger Christianson, who first attended the event while serving as economic developers for utility companies in eastern Nebraska. They hunted land at the bottom of the White River valley and the top of the Pine Ridge, taking in some great scenery along the way. Now retired, the two gentlemen have participated in the hunt since its inception and have developed a fondness for the Pine Ridge and the people they’ve met.

Almost all of the hunters who wanted a turkey went home with one or two, along with some great stories and new friendships.

Turkey hunting
Roger Christianson and Dennis Hall look for turkeys along the White River.
Turkey Hunters
Dawes County landowner Randy Schommer, at right, looks for turkeys with hunter Roger Christianson.
Longest beard winner
Chadron State College student senate president Jacob Rissler, who was representing the college at the hunt, shows off his winning entry for the longest beard competition.
Turkey Hunters
Roger Christianson, at left, and Dennis Hall, show off their turkeys.

For the Elk of It

Another eastern Nebraskan who enjoyed his time out west this fall was Kevin Hennecke, who lives near the Lancaster County village of Panama. Hennecke came to the Hat Creek Unit north of Harrison to punch the tag for his once-in-a-lifetime Nebraska bull elk hunt, and allowed me to join him for some photos.

It was my first elk hunting experience, so hearing the bugling of the big bulls and taking in the sights of the Pine Ridge of Sioux County was a thrill in itself.

Three days into the hunt, Hennecke bagged a beautiful 6×7 bull that would serve as a prize for elk hunters anywhere. The teacher and longtime hunter education instructor has pursued elk in neighboring states, and is quick to point out that his Nebraska experience was more successful than those endeavors.

Hennecke’s bull was one of 88 taken by the end of Nebraska’s regular season this year, which ended Oct. 27. The total is down 17 bulls from last year, but is still pretty impressive considering that hunters in the Pine Ridge were immobilized by the heavy snowfall of Winter Storm Atlas during one weekend of the season.

Elk hunter
Kevin Hennecke pursues his once-in-a-lifetime Nebraska bull elk in the rugged land northeast of Harrison in Sioux County.
Elk hunter
Kevin Hennecke with the 6×7 bull he shot in the Hat Creek Unit north of Harrison. (Courtesy photo)

Best Hunt So Far

While it didn’t put as much meat on the table as the ventures of Hennecke, Christianson and Hall, an excursion with my go-to hunting buddy has proved to be my best excursion of the season, to date. (Sorry, fellas.)

My 10-year-old son, Sawyer, and I went to a nearby Wildlife Management Area to try our hand at the mourning doves a couple of times in early September. I did most of my shooting with a camera while coaching my partner in swinging his trusty 20 gauge youth shotgun on the fast flying birds.

The doves were plentiful on the Game and Parks Commission property and I’m extremely proud to say that Sawyer bagged two – the first birds he’s ever taken with his shotgun.

While we enjoyed every minute in the field, our shooting was similar to most dove hunters – somewhere below 100 percent, we’ll say. It didn’t take Sawyer long to get a handle on the sport. With shotgun in hand, an eye to the sky and “a few” spent shells in a pile nearby, he told me his newly discovered four steps to dove hunting: “Sit, wait, shoot and say, ‘Dang it.'”

Dove hunting
Sawyer waits for a dove to fly within range.
Dove hunter
Sawyer shows off his first dove.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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