We asked the experts from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources what to expect from the upcoming hunting seasons. They shared their outlooks, their favorite thing about their season and a tip.
Kit Hams, big-game program manager
Seasons: Archery started Sept. 1, with muzzleloader Dec. 1, November firearm Nov. 11 and January antlerless, Jan. 1.
What’s to like: “Hunting is all about building new memories. I look forward to learning something new, seeing something different, making that perfect shot, and watching the birds, squirrels and coyotes do interesting things. I also enjoy small things, like taking someone hunting with you for the first time and letting the small deer walk on by. Hunting in Nebraska is definitely time well spent.”
Where to go: “Public lands and wildlife management areas provide good opportunities. Seek landowner permission to hunt private lands. Go where you have permission and where you have scouted and found recent signs of deer. More specifically, for mule deer I would look for private or public land in the western half of the state where country is more open, but with escape cover well away from roads. … For whitetails, look for land with thick cover, in the form of timber, brush, cattails, tall grass, weed patches and standing crops adjacent to creeks, streams and rivers.”
His tip: “Plan to stay all day in your stand location. The rut is on and bucks will be moving all day. If you’re in a high-pressure hunting area, sit in areas of heavier cover where deer can’t be seen at a distance.”
Mark Vrtiska, waterfowl program manager
Seasons: A number opened Saturday: Zone 2 and 4 for ducks, Canada (dark) geese in the North-Central unit, white-fronted goose and light goose. Duck season opens Oct. 14 for Zone 1 and Oct. 26 in Zone 3. The rest of the Canada goose units open Oct. 30.
What’s to like: “You can be optimistic about your chances in the field. Waterfowl populations are doing well and water conditions across the state are generally good. Folks can always look forward to breakfast in the blinds and lots of nice sunrises.”
Where to go: “The best hunters can do for a successful waterfowl hunt is put in time for scouting. There is no substitute for getting out and finding birds, public or private. After I find a hunting spot, I’ll try to find another one, just in case.”
His tip: “If possible, once you’ve got a hunting spot located and get set up, don’t be afraid to pick up and move your decoy spread to where the ducks want to land. It’s not fun to have to pick up your decoys and move, but you have more success if you’re willing to adjust your location.”
Dr. Jeffrey J. Lusk, upland-game program manager
Pheasant, quail expert
Seasons: The youth season is Oct. 21 and 22 and the regular season begins Oct. 28 and runs through Jan. 31. There are also special youth pheasant hunt events at 14 wildlife management areas in eastern Nebraska, where pheasants will be released ahead of the youth opener.
What’s to like: “Quail numbers are near all-time highs over much of their range in Nebraska, so this should be an excellent year for quail hunters and those interested in becoming quail hunters. Pheasants are doing well in regions of the state with lots of small grain agriculture. Pheasant hunters should expect similar opportunities to the 2016 season across most of Nebraska.”
Where to go: “For quail, the best places to hunt will be almost anywhere within the species’ range in the state, but opportunities will be best in southeast through south-central Nebraska. For pheasants, the Panhandle and southwest regions will offer the best opportunities, based on our annual survey results. Areas open to public hunting can be found in our public access atlas, available where permits are sold and at maps.outdoornebraska.gov/publicaccessatlas.”
His tip: “Bring plenty of water for you and your dog, particularly early in the season when temperatures have been warm.”
James Coffey, forest wildlife biologist
Seasons: Bow season runs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 and then again from Dec. 18 to Jan. 10. Shotgun seasons run Dec. 2 to 6 and Dec. 9 to 17.
What’s to like: “Deer hunters should look forward to plenty of opportunities. As the season progresses, deer biology will shift hunting patterns. Being a flexible hunter is always to your advantage. As crop harvest progresses and the rut begins, deer behavior can change overnight.”
Where to go: “Take advantage of smaller, less-hunted areas and break old habits. … Small areas are sometimes overlooked and can hold some of the larger unpressurred animals.”
His tip: “Early season spend time between bedding and feeding areas. Always watch does’ reactions and young bucks — they will often look over the shoulder when being pursued by a larger animal.”
Orrin Jones, state waterfowl biologist
Seasons: North Zone Oct. 14 to Dec. 3; South Zone Oct. 21 to Dec. 14; Missouri River Zone Oct. 21 to Dec. 17. Reporting waterfowl bands has changed. The phone system has been closed, the link is available at iowadnr.gov/hunting
What’s to like: There are opportunities for good seasons if birds and weather conditions come together. “It’s hard to predict what’s in store,” Jones said. Iowa’s Canada goose population is usually highest in December.
Where to go: There are pros and cons in drought years, Jones says. “Cons are there’s not as many wetlands with water and it could be more difficult to access certain areas. The pros are that the birds are more concentrated.’’
His tip: “Because of drought conditions, scouting has more significance than ever. Find a weekly migration survey on the DNR website, along with a wetlands conditions report.”
Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist
Pheasant, quail expert
Seasons: Open Oct. 28.
What’s to like: “Quail numbers are near 30-year highs, while pheasant numbers have improved significantly since the all-time low counts in 2011.”
Where to go: Visit iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey to find statewide distribution maps for pheasant and bobwhite quail. Hunters can visit the online hunting atlas for public lands and walk-in hunting areas at programs.iowadnr.gov/maps/huntingatlas/default.html.
His tip: “Best areas for success on the opener will be areas with good habitat where the crops have been harvested, thus concentrating the birds in the remaining cover.”
Training is key to getting the most out of your pup
There’s nothing better, Kris Hill said, than hunting with a versatile dog.
“You get up early and go duck hunting,” she said, “and then in the afternoon you go pheasant hunting.”
There’s all kinds, but Hill’s favorite is the small munsterlander, a breed she discovered thanks to a 1994 World-Herald article by Larry Porter. Hill investigated and fell in love. Now, she’s a fourth-generation breeder and a trainer.
With eight dogs, her days of chasing deer and turkey have been supplanted by bird hunting. But a small munsterlander can do it all.
They point, track and retrieve. Show them a blood trail, and they’ll recover the game, no matter the species.
“That’s what we want more than anything,” Hill said. “We don’t want to lose anything we shoot.”
But whether you have a munsterlander or the popular German shorthaired, training is the key. Hill, who operates Hunting Hills Kennel in Brainard, Nebraska, said you can’t park your pet in a kennel and then expect it to flourish when hunting season opens. Dogs get out of shape, too.
“If you work with your dog when it’s not hunting season, you are very much more successful,” she said. “The dog stays with you and stays within range. He can do his job pointing the bird, you can get close enough to hunt and shoot, and you can send your dog for the retrieve.”
As a trainer, Hill follows North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association standards. Puppies are introduced to birds, then water and then tracking.
Costs can add up, with birds for training ranging from $5 to $10, so Hill recommends joining a club and sharing training equipment with the other members. Retrievers do best working with dogs of their own breed because they use more drills in training.
Anyone who purchases a hunting dog, which range from $1,000 to $1,500, needs to know beforehand that the new member of the family needs a lot of physical and mental exercise.
“It’s really fun watching your dog work,” Hill said. “I like shooting the game, but the dogs are just unbelievable the way they can work to find game.”
With waterfowl and upland game seasons fast approaching, Hill offered these tips:
» If you haven’t been taking your dog on long walks, start now. Don’t injure their pads by suddenly doing extensive work on hard top or gravel roads, either.
» Make sure to carry water so your animals aren’t dehydrated. That helps your dog and you. “Their mouths get slimy when they’re panting,” Hill said, “and it hurts their ability to scent birds.”
» Carry a first-aid kit for your dog.
» Consider an electric collar. Some hunters use it for aversion training, to keep their dogs from chasing a deer or tackling a snake. “Don’t say anything,” Hill said. “They think the deer is shocking them. Same with snakes.” A mild shock also can keep your dog from running out on a road.
» Tracking collars can be vital in some parts of the state. Hill said she doesn’t use one because she likes to keep her dogs close and she hunts in a more confined area. But in the grasslands of western Nebraska, where it’s more open, a tracker can ensure you bring your dog home safely.
» Dogs love their people, so don’t stick them away in a kennel. Hill’s dogs are only put there at night. “The closer you are with the dog the more you can connect with them when you are hunting,” she said.