Outdoor notes: Commissioners approve nonresident big game permit fee increases
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved fee increases to several nonresident big game permits at its Oct. 13 meeting at Fort Robinson State Park.
The nonresident permit and their new fees, as of 2024, are: Deer, $332; Statewide Whitetail Buck, $747; Statewide Buck, $992; Restricted Statewide Buck, $792; Season Choice Antlerless Only, $92; Special Antlerless Only, $92; Landowner Deer, $166; Antelope, $232; Landowner Antelope, $116; Turkey, $140; and Landowner Turkey, $70.
The new fees will help offset the lost revenue from reducing the quota of nonresident deer, antelope and turkey permits. Money from the fees will be deposited into the Game Cash Fund, which supports the wildlife and fisheries divisions and their research, conservation and management efforts.
Commissioners also approved amendments to sportfishing orders regarding daily bag limits, possession limits, length limits and open areas. They include:
- changing the bag and length restriction to one channel catfish greater than 30 inches in length to statewide;
- amending bag and size limits on yellow perch and bluegill in several Sandhills lakes as follows:
- the daily bag limit for yellow perch shall include only five fish 10 inches or longer, of which only one fish may be 12 inches or longer, at Home Valley Lake, Rat and Beaver WMA, Blue Lake, Island Lake, Smith Lake (FWS), Frye Lake WMA, and Smith Lake WMA; and
- the daily bag limit for bluegill shall include only one fish 9 inches or longer at Duck Lake, Pelican Lake, Blue Lake, Island Lake, Smith Lake (FWS), Frye Lake WMA, and Smith Lake WMA.
- opening additional areas below Gavins Point Dam to archery fishing during archery paddlefish season; only the north wall of the spillway and immediately below the Gavins Point Dam powerhouse downstream to a line extending from the east end of the south cement wall of the discharge canal northwest to the east end of the north wall of the discharge canal would be closed; and
- adding Blue Lake, Crane Lake and Smith Lake to the lakes at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge that allow fishing during daylight hours from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.
Commissioners also approved:
- a mid-biennium budget adjustment for fiscal years 2024 and 2025 to accommodate programs in the budget;
- park fees for new cabins as follows: four-bedroom, two-bathroom, basement family room with foosball table and refrigerator at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park for $345; and four-bedroom, two-bathroom at Platte River State Park for $310;
- their 2024 meeting schedule as follows: Jan. 18-19, Lincoln; March 7-8, Hastings; April 25-26 (tentative), Ponca State Park; June 20-21, Ogallala; Aug. 15-16, Fort Robinson SP; Oct. 24-25, Broken, Bow; and
- a permanent easement request from Custer Public Power District for burying overhead power lines on Victoria Springs State Recreation Area in Custer County.
Luke Meduna, big game program manager, presented an update on a completed project that looked at the movements of collared antelope in the Panhandle.
Mike Morava, northwest regional park supervisor, gave an overview of Fort Robinson SP, including a look at visitation and construction projects.
Regional staff also gave an overview of happenings in the Northwest Region, including parks, fisheries, wildlife, and law enforcement.
Public urged to check boats, lifts, and docks for invasive species
As recreation boating season winds down and waterfowl hunting season ramps up, Nebraskans are urged to check boats, boat lifts and docks for invasive species when removing them from the water.
Waterfowl hunters are encouraged to take special care prior to launching their boats so as not to contribute to the spread of zebra mussels or aquatic invasive plants.
Aquatic hitchhikers like zebra mussels can live up to two weeks out of water, and several lakes across the Midwest are first noticed to be infested by people removing boats, lifts and docks for the winter.
Young zebra mussels – or veligers – are invisible to the naked eye and can be spread through drops of water left undrained. All boat lifts and docks should remain out of the water and dried for 21 days before placing them into another water body.
A zebra mussel is a highly invasive aquatic species that looks like a D-shaped clam, with alternating light and dark bands. Most zebra mussels are less than an inch long. They form dense colonies and filter large quantities of plankton from water, decreasing the food supply for native species. In addition, these mussels pollute swimming areas with sharp shells and clog water intake pipes needed for hydropower and irrigation.
This year, a private water body near Plattsmouth became the fourth water body in Nebraska to have an established zebra mussel population. The others are Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Yankton, Offutt Base Lake, and the Missouri River downstream of Gavins Point Dam. Neighboring states also have seen an increase in the number of water bodies that have become infested with zebra mussels.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission annually samples more than 40 public waters each month during the summer for early sign of zebra mussels. Game and Parks also employs seasonal inspectors throughout the state to check for invasive species on watercraft. In 2023, more than 4,000 watercraft were inspected statewide. If zebra mussels or other invasive species are found the boat is not allowed to launch.
“In Nebraska we are surrounded by states with increasing zebra mussel water bodies,” said Kristopher Stahr, Game and Parks’ aquatic invasive species program manager. “To keep Nebraska’s waters invasive-free, we really need the public’s help to always Clean, Drain, and Dry watercraft and to report when invasive species are found.”
Game and Parks regulations require anglers, hunters and boaters conduct clean, drain and dry procedures before leaving a water body and are not allowed to arrive at a water body with any water from another water body. Visit stopaquatichitchhikers.org for details and for more information on aquatic invasive species.
Report any suspected observation of zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species to Game and Parks at 402-471-7602 or at [email protected].
Hunters urged to be cautious of potential fire hazards
It takes just a single spark to ignite a wildfire. With the pheasant and rifle deer season openers approaching, hunters are reminded to act responsibly in the field and to do their part to prevent wildfires.
Though drought conditions have eased greatly in the past 12 months, 27% of the state still is experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln drought monitor.
Driving vehicles or parking on dry, tall grass is a primary threat. Grass can ignite within seconds of contacting a hot surface, such as a vehicle’s exhaust/catalytic converter systems.
With that in mind, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission urges hunters to take the following precautions to avoid the risk of wildfire:
- Restrict driving to established roads and trails.
- Avoid parking vehicles in tall vegetation.
- Restrict the use of campfires.
- Dispose of cigarettes and other flammable objects appropriately.
- Ensure your vehicle, trailers and other equipment are well-maintained.
- Make sure no chains are dragging from your vehicle.
- In the morning, before driving and while the exhaust/catalytic converter system is cool, inspect it to see no debris is clinging to it.
- Carry a fire extinguisher in the vehicle.
Nebraska’s pheasant, quail and partridge seasons open Oct. 28 and run through Jan. 31, 2024. The November firearm deer season runs from Nov. 11-19, 2023.
Motorists should use caution to avoid collisions with deer
This is the time of year when deer are more active. Crops are being harvested and deer breeding season is in full swing. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has tips to help drivers avoid deer-vehicle accidents and lessen the risk of injury or vehicle damage.
- During the breeding season, bucks become more active searching for does. Bucks are bolder, less wary and more susceptible to collisions with vehicles. Deer movement peaks near dawn and dusk.
- Anticipate the possibility of a deer on the road and plan how to avoid a collision. Prepare to stop suddenly but know braking too sharply or swerving may cause you to lose control and roll your vehicle.
- Wear your seat belt.
- When driving near shelterbelts, woodlots or creeks, especially during evening or early morning, slow down and watch for deer. Keep your headlights on bright if there is no approaching traffic.
- When you spot a deer, assume there will be others in the same area.
- Deer often seem to be disoriented or confused by headlights. Some react by freezing in the light, some dart into the path of the vehicle and others bolt away. Honk your horn and flash your headlights to frighten deer away. If there is other traffic on the road, activate your emergency flashers and tap your brakes to alert other drivers to the potential danger.
- Many places where deer-vehicle collisions occur are posted with deer crossing signs.
- If a deer is struck, the driver may take possession of the deer, then must contact the Game and Parks within 24 hours and have 48 hours to receive a salvage tag from a conservative officer or designee. To see a list of conservative officers, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov and search “Officers.”
Have a girls’ weekend at these 7 state parks
By Renae Blum
Whether you want an escape, an adventure, or simply the chance to relax, Nebraska’s state parks make an ideal getaway for you and your best girlfriends. Here are seven state parks that offer everything for a perfect weekend outdoors.
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park
History lovers will enjoy exploring this elegant estate in Nebraska City, once the home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. Tour the 52-room mansion, complete with authentic furnishings and displays about the Morton family, and see the past come alive with living history events in the fall. The park also includes an arboretum, Italian terraced garden, log cabin, walking trails and more than 200 varieties of lilacs. Enjoy a picnic on the beautiful park grounds and make sure to bring a camera.
For a place to stay and more activities to enjoy, cross the street to Arbor Day Farm. Sip tastings of Arbor Day Farm wines, explore the Tree Adventure and Treetop Village, attend seasonal events, and in the fall, enjoy apple and pumpkin picking. Lied Lodge, a fully renovated hotel, is located on the grounds, and offers a spa, indoor pool, fitness center and restaurant.
Nebraska City also offers several museums, local restaurants and antique stores to keep you busy.
Fort Robinson State Park
Fort Robinson State Park in northwest Nebraska offers exquisite Pine Ridge scenery, compelling Old West history, great lodging and plenty of space to play. Horseback riding and fishing are both popular here. Equestrians can enjoy 20 miles of trails and equestrian camping, while anglers can fish 10 ponds and several cold-water streams for species, such as rainbow and tiger trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill and more.
The park also offers 60 miles of hiking trails, 20 miles of mountain biking trails, golfing, and more. Stay overnight in the park’s historic lodging, once used as housing for soldiers and officers stationed at the fort; or pick from a variety of camping options.
For additional outdoor fun, drive 35 minutes east to Chadron State Park, which offers cabins, camping and many activities against the backdrop of the beautiful Pine Ridge. Other nearby options include Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, where you can hike and view fossils, and Toadstool Geologic Park, with hiking trails winding through unique, moon-like rock formations. History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Museum of the Fur Trade, located 3 miles east of Chadron.
Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area
With its white sand beaches and clear waters, Lake McConaughy in Keith County is a favorite for summer fun – but also provides opportunities in the fall. Head out with the girls to this 30,000-surface-acre reservoir for a weekend of hunting or fishing. Cast a line for walleye, channel catfish, northern pike, wiper, smallmouth and white bass, among others. Or hunt for small game, turkey, mule and white-tailed deer, waterfowl and upland species in designated areas with proper permits. Stay the night in one of Lake McConaughy’s many campgrounds.
To fill out your weekend, stop by Ash Hollow State Historical Park, an important stopping point on the Oregon/California Trail where wagon ruts still can be seen, and Lake Ogallala, a well-known fishing destination. Also make a trip to the city of Ogallala, home to several Western-themed places of interest and additional lodging options.
Platte River State Park
Halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, this park offers plenty to do for those seeking a weekend of variety. You can hike, bike, fish, explore a picturesque waterfall, canoe and kayak, or dine out at the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant. The park also has two observation towers to view the Platte River basin and has the Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, where you and your besties can practice your shooting skills.
For overnight accommodations, choose among charming vintage cabins; gorgeous glamping cabins offering a touch of luxury; or the state-of-the-art campground with 48 full-hookup sites.
Aside from opportunities in Lincoln and Omaha, you can find more fun nearby at several other state parks, including Eugene T. Mahoney State Park and Schramm Park and Louisville state recreation areas. Other nearby options include the Wildlife Safari Park, a 4-mile drive-through adventure where you can view elk, white-tailed deer, bison and waterfowl; and the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, which showcases an impressive array of historic aircraft.
Ponca State Park
This beautiful, forested park is in northeastern Nebraska, just 35 minutes from Sioux City. Enjoy exploring 22 miles of hike/bike trails, viewing wildlife such as deer, turkey and birds, fishing, and practicing archery or target shooting. Other activities include boating, canoeing and kayaking, and picnicking.
Ponca has many lodging options, including 15 mini-lodges perfect for a group. Mini-lodges have four bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a spacious kitchen, a living room, patio and more. Ponca also offers electric camping and ready-to-go Tentrr campsites.
If you and your friends enjoy golfing, you can find the Highland Oaks Public Golf Course on the park’s southern boundary. It offers a challenging nine-hole course with spectacular park vistas.
Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area
Want to get away from it all? Plan a weekend trip to Sherman Reservoir State Recreation Area, located about an hour northwest of Grand Island. If you and your friends love to fish, this is the park for you. Cast a line for walleye, crappie, catfish, white bass and northern pike on the 2,845-acre lake.
Sherman also offers plenty of space for a picnic – including 12 shelters and more than 100 picnic tables. Several trails are available for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Stay overnight at one of 10 Tentrr sites, which offer fully equipped, ready-to-go campsites complete with spacious canvas safari tents, a comfortable bed and Adirondack chairs for stargazing. Sherman Reservoir also offers more than 300 non-pad sites without electricity and about 60 electrical campsites.
Smith Falls State Park
Scenic Smith Falls State Park, in north-central Nebraska, is home to the state’s highest waterfall. Stand under the spray of the 70-foot Smith Falls and shoot a group photo. Then stay to enjoy hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and canoeing or kayaking the Niobrara River. Basic campsites are available for those looking to stay at the park; the campground has picnic tables, restrooms and pay showers.
To fill out your weekend or find alternate places to stay, make the 30-minute trip west to the town of Valentine. There, you can find a brewery, art gallery, museums, local restaurants and lodging.
Other nearby options to explore include Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, where you can view bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs along the 3.5-mile wildlife drive; and the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, a 195-mile trail from Valentine east to Norfolk that’s great for biking, hiking and horseback riding. Sections of the trail are closed. Visit OutdoorNebraska.gov for more information.
To learn more about these parks and purchase your required state park entry permit, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov.
Find fall color opportunities at these 9 Nebraska state parks
By Renae Blum
As fall color appears throughout the state, make plans to enjoy it in a different way – at a Nebraska state park.
Here are some options to explore this month, whether you’re looking for a leisurely drive, a scenic hike or a place to stay overnight.
To Drive Through
There’s nothing more relaxing on a fall day than taking a drive through splashes of autumn color, and several Nebraska state parks provide that opportunity.
Indian Cave State Park, located 10 miles south of Brownville, boasts views of a mature hardwood forest known for putting on a fall show. Many tree species can be found here, such as red oak, ash, black walnut, bur oak and maple, potentially creating panoramas of yellow, orange, red and purple. You may be enticed to park, enjoy a picnic lunch, and hike the 22 miles of scenic trails for a closer look.
Other sites perfect for a fall drive are Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska and Medicine Creek State Recreation Area in the southwestern part of the state. Here, you may find bursts of yellow in the parks’ groves of green ash and cottonwood trees.
Seeing fall color up close on a hiking trail is one of the best ways to experience this season. One state park with opportunities for this is Smith Falls State Park in north-central Nebraska. Several trails wind through this wooded park, where you may find bright red sumac and the yellows of quaking aspens, black walnut and paper birch. Make sure to bring your camera, as Smith Falls is also home to the state’s highest waterfall.
For a touch of history along with fall scenery, visit Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, about 9 miles east of Fairbury. The park has 6 miles of hiking and nature trails winding through beautiful grasses and wooded areas, from which you can view the park’s reconstructed buildings and wagon ruts left by travelers on the Oregon-California Trail. At its peak, fall color here can include the bright reds of smooth sumac and the shades of yellow found in green ash, American elm and cottonwood trees.
Niobrara State Park in northeastern Nebraska offers a variety of trees on its 14 miles of hiking trails. Enjoy taking in the yellows of cottonwood, green ash, black walnut and basswood, as well as bright red sumac.
To Stay Overnight
After a hike through an autumn wonderland, make a weekend of it and stay overnight to fully soak in your surroundings. Several Nebraska state parks offer great lodging accommodations as well as fall foliage.
Campers at Chadron State Park in western Nebraska may be surrounded by the vivid colors of maple trees at the campground. The park also has 22 cabins for rental, which have heating and air conditioning and are furnished with blankets, towels, stoves, refrigerators, silverware and cooking utensils. During your stay, make sure to spend some time enjoying more than 100 miles of beautiful trails, from which you may be able to view green ash and cottonwood trees displaying their yellow fall leaves.
If you’ve got a group, Ponca State Park is a great location, offering 15 mini-lodges with plenty of space and amenities. Other lodging options include cottages, rustic cabins and green cabins constructed from straw bales. Hike the park’s 22 miles of trails to discover the yellows and reds of smooth sumac, cottonwood, elms, black walnut and other species.
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, located in Nebraska City, offers another fun option for history lovers. Stay overnight at Arbor Day Farm’s Lied Lodge, then head up the street to this stately park, once the home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. Tour the 52-room mansion, then stroll the surrounding grounds, which are filled with 270 varieties of trees and shrubs, including at least 10 state champion trees, including red maple, American chestnut and black walnut.
As you visit various Nebraska state parks, be aware that you may be sharing the park with hunters, as limited managed hunting is offered at some locations. Pay attention to signage, wear bright clothing, and stick to trails, which hunters typically avoid. It’s also a good idea to call the park ahead of your visit and ask about color conditions.
To learn more about the parks listed here, and to purchase your required park entry permit, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov.
Know your safe zone of fire this upland bird season
Nebraska’s pheasant, quail and partridge seasons are quickly approaching. The youth season is Oct. 21-22, and the general season opens Oct. 28.
Historically, hunters swinging on game and firing outside of their safe zones of fire have been the primary cause of upland bird hunting incidents. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reminds hunters to make sure safety is at the forefront of every hunt:
- Communicate your game plan with your hunting party before and during your hunt and with other hunters in the area.
- Always establish and maintain a safe zone of fire away from people, structures, roadways, vehicles, bird dogs, and any direction that could cause injury or damage if fired.
- Wear hunter orange on your head, chest and back to increase your visibility to your hunting party and other hunters.
- Never cross a fence, ditch, waterway or obstacle with a loaded shotgun. Never lean a loaded shotgun on a fence or vehicle.
In addition, hunters always should follow the four basic rules of firearm safety:
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Always point the muzzle of your firearm in a safe direction.
- Be sure of your target, what’s in front of it, and what’s beyond it.
- Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
Hunting continues to be one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, thanks to hunter orange and hunter education classes that have been taught by volunteer instructors across Nebraska since the 1970s.
Hunters ages 12-29 are reminded that they must carry proof of successful completion of a hunter education course while hunting. Proof can be in the form of a valid Nebraska hunting permit or durable hard card containing the hunter’s hunter education number, or a hunter education card or certificate issued by another state. Display on a mobile phone is allowed.
Those ages 12-29 who have not completed a hunter education course may purchase a $5 Apprentice Hunter Education Exemption Certificate that provides novice hunters an opportunity to hunt while accompanied by a licensed adult hunter before completing a hunter education course.
For more information on hunter education requirements and exemptions, visit HuntSafeNebraska.org.
To learn more about hunting in Nebraska, or to purchase a permit, go to OutdoorNebraska.gov.