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COVID-19 alters Panhandle turkey hunting scene

A pair of toms search for hens in the Pine Ridge of Sheridan County last week. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

This time of year, with Nebraska’s popular firearm turkey season getting underway, the Panhandle and its public lands are usually bustling with people from near and far in pursuit of a gobbler. This spring, though, people are being asked to keep their outdoor recreational pursuits close to home and there are not nearly as many hunters coming from out-of-state.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is taking the coronavirus crisis seriously, and is asking hunters to do so, too.

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Nebraska officials have recommended a 14-day self-quarantine for all visitors prior to entering the state, and the sale of nonresident turkey permits was stopped by Game and Parks in late March. The agency contacted all non-residents who had bought a permit to relay travel advisory information and an option for a full refund.

For those who do hunt, social distancing and other guidelines are designed to limit spread of the virus – yes, even when people are in the woods. To reduce unnecessary social encounters, hunters should buy permits online and bring needed supplies from home. They also should arrange hunting private property over the phone or Internet and not subject landowners to the unnecessary dangers of a face-to-face interaction.

Hunter Baillie, a wildlife manager for Game and Parks’ northwestern district, said staff reports indicate Panhandle residents who hunt close to home should have ample opportunity to punch their tags.

The Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills are reporting solid populations of turkeys, and hunters will capitalize on decreased pressure resulting from the non-resident restrictions, he said.

Keep in mind, the more responsible people are in their outdoor pursuits, the less likely further restrictions will be needed.

For other considerations and Game and Parks’ latest updates about the coronavirus issue, visit the site dedicated to the issue at outdoornebraska.org.

Stay healthy, friends.

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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