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Tips for hunting Nebraska’s public lands

Tips for hunting Nebraska’s public lands

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Ashley Bales of Lincoln shoots at a flushing pheasant in a milo field on a hunt at Yankee Hill Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County.

Hunting public lands can be a real challenge. I know because I have hunted on public lands around the state for years.

In Nebraska, 97% of the total land acreage is privately owned, but the state’s array of public lands offers a variety of hunting opportunities. And there is more good news.

There are more than 375,000 acres of private land enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters program statewide. Within those acres are some 40,000 acres enrolled in the stubble access program in portions of western Nebraska. Collectively, Nebraska has just more than 1.2 million acres of publicly accessible lands throughout the state.

So how does one successfully hunt on publicly accessible lands? It doesn’t come easy. It takes time, effort and scouting, but the rewards are worth it. Here are some tips.

Do your homework: In advance, understand the species you plan to hunt, learn its seasonal habits and preferred habitats. Examine map apps, topographic maps, aerial land photos and public area maps. Devise a strategy and plan for site visits.

Put forth extra effort: Consider hiking deeper into an area. Get far away from roads, parking lots, signs and easily accessible areas or those frequented most often by hunters. Take to the back corners and the odd areas, the out-of-the-way patches of habitat. Hit the heavier cover and go the long distances.

Use technology: Identify and evaluate areas for the species of choice using satellite imagery or map apps to your advantage. Look for planted food plots, clear cuts and water sources. If you’re hunting deer, turkey or elk, note their travel corridors and bedding/roosting areas.

Know the regulations: Public areas have standard and specific regulations. Read the public lands atlas, hunting guides and regulatory signs on the areas for those details. Be able to recognize property boundary signs.

Outdoors calendar, 10/17

Scout, but don’t overdo it: Extensive and intense on-site scouting before your actual hunt is necessary on public lands and critical for success. Be mindful of over-scouting an area or going to an area too often before the hunt. Some species, such as elk, do not tolerate much disturbance and will leave an area if disturbed even a little.

When to hunt: Hunt weekdays, if possible. The middle of the week is the optimum time to go. Be aware of your exact legal shooting hours for your desired game, but hunt those hours other than first couple after sunrise and last couple before sunset to avoid hunting pressure. Late-season hunting on public lands offers much potential with little competition.

Bring excellent optics: Higher-end optics or spotting equipment greatly minimize foot travel and decrease the chances of spooking game, especially in western Nebraska, where there are larger expanses of public land. Study the behavior of the animals, observe where they are headed, and then plan your move.

Apply good hunter ethics and safety: Park vehicles in established parking lots; if there are none available, find a suitable spot along a county road and access the property by foot. Carts and sleds are recommended for removing big game animals. Retrieve arrows and bolts that have been shot and pick up spent shells, rifle cartridges and any litter seen. For safety in the field, always be aware of your surroundings and stay vigilant.


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