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Spring Forward With These Outdoor Activities

Spring.

It has arrived on the calendar. The amount daylight is increasing. The weather is warming.

In Nebraska, there are a multitude of activities that you can do in early spring. Here are several to encourage you to step outside.

View Early Spring Birds. A wide variety of opportunities await Nebraska bird watchers in early spring. The migration of wild fowl is truly something to behold! The spring spectacle of the sandhill crane migration along the Platte River in south-central Nebraska should be on everyone’s bucket list, combined with a trip to the Sandhills to see prairie grouse displaying on their short-grass prairie breeding grounds. Millions of ducks and geese also migrate through Nebraska in early spring and can be viewed not far from home, especially at state parks and recreation areas with adequate water available.

Sandhill cranes pit-stop along the Platte River near Kearney, NE on their spring migration in mid to late March. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

There’s hunting that can be done.  If you like to hunt, don’t put your away your equipment! Because there are a few early spring options for pursuing different game birds in the Nebraska countryside. There is targeting light geese (snow and Ross’s Geese) during the conservation order hunting period, depending on migration, into April (check specific dates). There is hunting upland game birds like pheasants on licensed Controlled Shooting Areas or hunting preserves for a fee through April 15. And, let’s not forget about the fun, challenging spring wild turkey hunting seasons. Archery begins on March 25, youth shotgun opens on April 9 and regular shotgun starts on April 16.

A tom turkey struts in a grassy field in rural Douglas County, NE on a warm spring day. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Go Fish! Get your open-water fishing gear in order as Nebraska offers several species to catch after ice-out in early spring such as channel catfish, northern pike, crappie, largemouth bass and pan-sized rainbow trout (where stocked). We early spring anglers would do well to concentrate our efforts with slowly-retrieved appropriate baits/lures along wind-swept shorelines, particularly from the more sun-exposed northern banks of a water body with darker bottoms on a warm spring day. Also the upper ends of reservoirs, where the shallow water warms quickly, should not be overlooked. The sides of docks most exposed to the afternoon sun can be good, too.

A March fishing trip to the Missouri River in Knox County, NE produced this walleye. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Lace Up the Hiking Boots. Put on your hiking boots, check conditions and head out in one of Nebraska’s many state park lands for a trek, whether it’s a backpacking trip or a day hike. In early spring, park areas aren’t packed with people, probably because the weather is fickle. There are many benefits to early spring hiking. Among them are being able to shake off the winter blues, check your physical conditioning, evaluate new gear, plus there are no bugs and great views with the leaves off the trees. A sturdy but comfortable pair of waterproof boots with adequate tread, along with wool socks, and trekking poles will give you the ability to cross most trail conditions you’ll encounter. Oh, and a reminder: Don’t forget that current state park permit for your motor vehicle.

This is a late March photograph of a suspension bridge on the backwoods portion of the nature trail network at scenic Schramm Park State Recreation Area south of Gretna, NE. Photo courtesy of Schramm Education Center Staff/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Look for Shed Antlers. Journey outdoors with the family for some fresh air and exercise and go searching for cast or shed deer antlers. Deer are shedding their antlers for re-growth purposes. Shed deer antler hunting is a wonderful way to get an idea of what bucks most likely survived the hunting seasons and are frequenting your hunting area. Shed antlers can also be used to make many crafts, such as knife handles, lamps or picture frames, or just be collected. Some folks utilize them as ‘dog chews.’ Any spot where the antlers of a deer can fall off, be jolted off or intentionally knocked off can be a location to start looking for shed antlers in Nebraska. A well-used deer trail that leads to a deer bedding area or where a buck has to jump things like fences, creeks and ditches are all good places to pick up “sheds”  If you’re wondering, shed antlers can be obtained from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission owned and controlled lands.

A shed white-tailed deer antler lies amid the leaf matter of a forest floor in early spring along the Elkhorn River in rural Sarpy County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Forage for Morel Mushrooms. To hunt for wild edibles in Nebraska is to hunt for morel mushrooms in the springtime. Emerging for a few weeks each spring from about mid-April to mid-May, these mushrooms are highly prized for their rich flavor. Look for morels on a warm, sunny days following spring rains. With their honeycombed, cone-shaped cap, they’re also relatively easy to find and identify in moist, mature woodlands near dead and decaying trees such as cottonwoods and elms. River bottom areas are popular locations to search for morels. For private lands, whether posted or not, morel mushroom hunters are reminded that they must have landowner permission to access any private property! Nebraska Game and Parks Commission lands are open to morel mushroom hunting but with safety considerations during the spring wild turkey hunting season and provided there is a state park permit on vehicles entering state park areas.

A close up of a morel mushroom in mature Platte River woodlands in rural Douglas County, NE in mid April. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Hunt for Animal Tracks. Spring is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the exciting happenings in nature with a trip to find and examine animal tracks. Do some research before you leave home about wild animals found in your area, then venture safely to a nearby park, forest or rural area and start tracking them with an app on your mobile phone. The best places to specifically find animal tracks are any environment with lots of mud or sand in early spring. These locations would include muddy trails through woods, along the edges of water (e.g. creeks) and agricultural fields and sometimes even in a backyard garden. Your kids might like it so much they will look at nature in a whole new light. And, guess what? They’ll start looking everywhere for animal tracks!

A coyote track is shown in the mud of a farm in rural Sarpy County, NE in early April. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Pitch a Tent or Park an RV. From tents to RVs, spring can be a great time for camping! Cool nights, milder daytime temperatures, low humidity and the absence of crowds offer some very nice conditions for camping in Nebraska park lands or other places during the springtime. Camping can easily be combined with hiking, fishing and wildlife watching ventures. Spring campers should purchase their state park vehicle permit in advance of their trip, bring along some cash for camping fees, pack drinking water and firewood plus throw in an extra warm blanket or two.

Primitive tent campsite on a foggy spring day in the Nebraska Sandhills. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Just being surrounded by bountiful nature, rejuvenates and inspires us.  – E.O. Wilson

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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