Thursday opener to waterfowl season rankles some hunters

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — After the smoke cleared, Nebraska’s waterfowl hunting season this year is little changed from last year.

Not that some hunters on the Platte River near Columbus didn’t try to tweak the season dates in their zone to help young people and working-class sportsmen participate in a traditional opening-day Saturday hunt.

Nebraska Game and Parks commissioners approved the Lincoln staff’s recommendations for the 2017 season with one exception — the opening of teal season was moved to Sept. 2 from Sept. 9.

Randy Chinn of Columbus, who said he has hunted on the Platte for 55 years, stood after the vote during a commission meeting in Grand Island and said he was disappointed.

“Go home and look yourself in the mirror,’’ he said. “I guess that’s politics.’’

Chinn and Columbus hunters Larry Derochie and Chad Podolak earlier encouraged the commission to set a Zone 3 opening date earlier than the staff-recommended Oct. 26 and to make it a Saturday, instead of a Thursday.

Nebraska has four duck zones to accommodate the state’s diverse geography and waterfowl migration patterns. Zone 3 generally follows the Platte River west from Omaha and Plattsmouth and includes southwest Nebraska and the southern Panhandle. It also includes parts of the Cedar and Calamus Rivers, and slivers of far southeast Nebraska.

Zone 3 is further complicated by being split into Low Plains and High Plains units.

“We’re fighting for the kids,’’ Podolak said. “Opening day of a season is like no other day. Making opening day on a Thursday is in contrast to the goals of the commission to get young people outdoors.’’

He also said duck hunters assume opening day should be a Saturday, as it is for other game species.

“For the working class, opening day on Thursday is not fair,’’ Podolak said.

Derochie, who said he has hunted ducks along rivers for 43 years, said the late-October opening day means many river hunters can’t hunt far into December because the streams freeze and don’t attract mallards.

Commissioners Dick Bell of Omaha and Dan Kreitman of Wahoo supported an earlier Zone 3 opener to provide more opportunities for hunters to bag ducks.

Commissioner Mark Spurgin of Paxton said hunters in western Nebraska would oppose changing the Zone 3 dates because it would disrupt January hunting days there.

“That’s the high point of our season,’’ he said.

Spurgin said the desires of western hunters should be not be overlooked in favor of hunters from a few eastern counties.

“I guess the state stops at Grand Island anyway,’’ he said.

Despite a few temporarily successful motions and amendments to nudge the Zone 3 hunting dates, commissioners ultimately voted 7-2 to approve the staff recommendations, but to set the teal opener on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the same as the 2016 teal season. Bell and Kreitman voted no.

Karie Decker, a wildlife division administrator, said the recommendations were based on a statewide survey of duck hunters. The recommendations reflected a balance between hunter preferences and estimated duck harvest, she said.

Nebraska’s 2017-18 waterfowl season dates:

Early Teal: Low Plains: Sept. 2-17; High Plains: Sept. 2-10. Daily Bag Limit: Six; Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Duck and Coot: Zone 1: Oct. 14-Dec. 26; Zone 2: Oct. 7-Dec. 19 and Jan. 8-28 in High Plains; Zone 3: Oct. 26-Jan. 7 and Jan. 8-28 in High Plains; Zone 4: Oct. 7-Dec. 19; Daily Bag Limit: Six (with restrictions); Daily Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Youth: Zone 1: Oct. 7-8; Zone 2: Sept. 30-Oct. 1; Zone 3: Oct. 21-22; Zone 4: Sept. 30-Oct. 1. Daily Bag Limit: Six (with restrictions); Daily Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Dark Goose: East Unit: Oct. 30-Feb. 11; Niobrara: Oct. 30-Feb. 11; North Central: Oct. 7-Jan. 19; Panhandle Unit: Oct. 30-Feb. 11; Platte River Unit: Oct. 30-Feb. 11; Daily Bag Limit: Five; Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

White-fronted Goose: Statewide: Oct. 7-Dec. 10 and Feb. 3-11; Daily Bag Limit: Three; Possession Limit: Three times the daily bag.

Light Goose: Statewide: Oct. 7-Dec. 31 and Jan. 24-Feb. 11; Daily Bag Limit: 50; Possession Limit: no limit

Light Goose Conservation Order: Rainwater Basin Zone: Feb. 12-April 5; East Zone: Feb. 12-April 15; West Zone: Feb. 12-April 5; Daily Bag and Possession Limits: no limits

Crow: Statewide: Oct. 1-Nov. 15 and Jan. 20-April 6.

Falconry: Concurrent with teal, youth and duck season dates, as well as: Zone 1: Feb. 25-March 10; Zone 2: Feb. 25-March 10 in Low Plains and Oct. 7-Dec. 19 and Jan. 8-28 in High Plains; Zone 3: Feb. 25-March 10 in Low Plains and Oct. 26-Jan. 7 and Jan. 8-28 in High Plains; Zone 4: Feb. 25-March 10.

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