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Panhandle Passages: Check Station Miscellany

Here’s the deer I shot — with a camera on the way to the check station — during rifle season. Not the biggest buck I’ve encountered, but he’ll put pixels in the hard drive. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

This was my second year of being assigned to two days of deer check station duty at Rushville during the firearm season. The 12-hour shifts can seem long at times, but I really enjoy having conversations with the hunters and hearing from them what’s happening in the field. As was the case last year, I saw some nice mule deer and whitetails. The most prominent memories I carry away from the experience, however, have little to do with antler mass and points. The most unforgettable deer I saw this year was a less-than-attractive specimen brought in by Travis Zwetzig of Douglas, Wyoming.

Zwetzig shot a whitetail buck with non-typical antlers in the waning minutes of shooting light on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, an effort to track the animal that night came up unsuccessful so he and his party resumed the search Wednesday morning.

They were victorious in the search, but Zwetzig wasn’t too happy with the discovery. As they postponed the search that night, coyotes apparently resumed it. The opportunistic canines feasted on the deer leaving little behind but a mangled mess of antlers and bones. I thought about including a photo, but it’s not something that will make a page pretty.

If Zwetzig were less honest, he probably could have walked away from the animal and filled his tag with another one better suited for filling his freezer. But he didn’t. He brought it in, we canceled that tag and his hunt was over. He won’t be enjoying much jerky or sausage from that animal but he should sleep well knowing he acted appropriately after finding the deer.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Zwetzig said, with a look of disappointment on his face.

We agree, Travis. Our deer permit quotas have been set for a reason. Thanks for employing good ethics and doing your part as a conservationist.

Bunch of Bull

On the opposite end of the hunting ethics spectrum is the case of a bull elk that was shot out of season and abandoned at the Peterson Wildlife Management Area west of Crawford as firearm deer season was getting under way. Conservation officers are still working on that investigation, so any information is welcomed and may be eligible for a reward.

CSC Wildlife Club at Chadron Deer Check
Chadron State College students Thomas Linegar of Hemingford, Dylan Brant of Canon City, Colorado, and Brandon Schwenk of Omaha age a whitetail buck that was checked in at Chadron. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

Deer Check 101

One of the great partnerships in our region is that of the Chadron State College Wildlife Club with Game and Parks wildlife division staff.

Each year, college students assist at the Chadron check station. It’s one of the northwestern district’s busiest check stations, so the help is appreciated. In return, the students get some hands-on experience in determining deer ages and working with the public.

The students provide a lot of volunteer work for not only the check stations but other conservation projects in the Panhandle, such as bighorn sheep captures and swift fox surveys. The hands-on experience, along with the college’s curriculum, pays off. Several graduates of the program have gained either temporary or full-time employment with the agency. From my experience working with some of those graduates, I’ll say they know their stuff.

The More You Know …

I can’t tell you with great confidence where to find that 30-point buck next year, but I did walk away from the check station with a bit of advice for hunters: Study that permit you purchased carefully before pulling a trigger. At least a couple of hunters at the Rushville station, to their surprise, encountered trouble with a conservation officer for killing an animal that wasn’t allowed under their tag.

Seems our online system makes it convenient to purchase a permit, but Internet jockeys must be attentive while flying cyberspace. One wrong click of the mouse may cause you to end up with the right to only a certain deer subspecies, gender or unit that you hadn’t intended to hunt. Give that tag a good prehunt study to save a fine and an unpleasant conversation down the road.

Jada Pieper and deer
Jada Pieper shows off her first deer. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

One More for the Future

Again, I love seeing big bucks and even mature does checked in, but they aren’t my most prominent memories from two years at the check station.

Some of my favorite encounters are those I have with the kids, as was the case with Jada Pieper who lives on a ranch between Hay Springs and Chadron. The young lady is among the 7,181 hunters who have completed hunter education so far this year. She put that new-found knowledge to good use while in pursuit of venison with her dad, Brant. The pair came in Thursday morning to check in her first-ever deer, a trophy muley buck.

If the ear-to-ear smile she had on her face from the moment she arrived at the check station to the time she left can serve as an indicator, I’m betting we’ll be seeing Jada at check stations in Novembers to come.

Of course, such smiles were common across the state. Jada is just one of 11,559 hunters ages 10-15 in possession of a youth deer permit in Nebraska this year. Nebraska’s youth permits, available for a fraction of the cost of an adult permit, are playing a big role in developing the next generation of hunters and conservationists. Way to go, kids. And way to go, parents and mentors, for getting them out there.

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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