Hunting,Hunting & Heritage  |  11/16/2016

Rooster Road Trip Preview - Nebraska

This year’s Rooster Road Trip will close out with a three-day visit to Nebraska in search of pheasants, bobwhite quail and prairie grouse. On November 16 & 17, we’ll meet up with Andy Houser, Pheasants Forever’s Coordinating Wildlife Biologist for southwest Nebraska. Houser coordinates the Focus on Pheasants Initiative in southwest Nebraska, working to improve upland habitat and increase hunting access throughout the region.  
The state’s firearm deer season will be underway during our time in Nebraska. Consequently, we’ll be targeting the state’s wide open grasslands for roosters, rather than the wooded draws for quail while we’re in the southwest.
On Thursday afternoon, we’ll make our way to Valentine, Nebraska where will spend Friday hunting the state’s famed Sandhills – a vast expanse of unbroken prairie that represents one of the last remaining strongholds for prairie grouse in the Great Plains. While I love chasing prairie grouse, I’ve never before visited the Sandhills. This will be a true adventure and test of our hunting acumen.   
Robert Allen, a member of the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, will also be joining us with his Lab and Brittany on the 16th. Nebraska Game & Parks botanist Gerry Steinauer and Mick Jensen, a member of the Commission, will add their deadeyes and Jensen’s small Munsterlander duo to our motley crew during our Sandhill sojourn on Friday, the 18th.
Nebraska holds a special place in my heart for the memories it’s already created during past visits with my bird dogs. It’s a state of diverse landscapes and plentiful wildlife. Following are three reasons you should visit Nebraska this hunting season to create some memories of your own:
1)   Open Fields & Waters Program. As you may recall from previous Rooster Road Trip visits to Nebraska, I am a HUGE fan of the state’s Open Fields and Waters Program. In fact, I believe the program is the country’s best template for opening up private land to public access. The program represents over 225,000 acres of opportunity throughout Nebraska.   
Like all the best ideas, the genesis for Nebraska’s public hunting access concept occurred during a hunting trip in 1996 between Jim Douglas of the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and Pete Berthelsen of Pheasants Forever. The next year, the Conservation Reserve Program-Management Access Program (CRP-MAP) was created to open up private CRP acres for public access, but with a wrinkle unique from other states. CRP-MAP incentivized landowners to improve the habitat on those acres when qualifying for the access payment. The result was an economic carrot for landowners to create higher quality cover.

A few years ago, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission changed the name from CRP-MAP to the Open Fields & Waters Program for the purpose of creating access for other forms of public hunting or recreation, like deer/ turkey hunting and fishing. The program provides increased payments for higher quality habitat and also provides incentives to help landowners improve habitat on lands open to public access. ONLINE PUBLIC ACCESS ATLAS
2)   Berggren Plan for Pheasants. Earlier this year, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission launched a five-year plan focused on improving not only the state’s pheasant population, but also on increasing the number of acres open to hunting. The plan is named in honor of the late Lynn Berggren, a member of the Commission and a Nebraska conservation legend. During the Rooster Road Trip’s last visit in 2014, I was blessed to share a day afield with Mr. Berggren. He is truly missed, but his conservation ethic will live forward in the state’s ambitious plan.  
3)   Mixed Bag Adventures. The Nebraska Sandhills has been a destination on my bucket list for years. We’ll be in pursuit of sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens on the closing day of this year’s Rooster Road Trip. With a little luck, our three-day Nebraska visit will produce the state’s “Upland Slam” of pheasants, bobwhite quail, sharpies, and prairie chickens. There aren’t many states able to boast that variety for the traveling bird hunter.   

Nebraska’s Rules, Regs and Licensing
  • Pheasant & Quail Hunting Season: October 29, 2016 through January 31, 2017
  • Prairie Grouse Season: September 1, 2016 through January 31, 2017
  • Shooting Hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset
  • Daily Limits: 3 rooster pheasants per day, 6 bobwhite quail per day, and 3 prairie grouse (sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens in combination) per day
  • Permits: There is a special grouse permit (free) required to hunt prairie grouse in the state’s “East Zone”
  • Non-resident Licensing: $82 for the license and a $20 habitat stamp for a $102 total that covers the entire season.
Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Impact in Nebraska
  • Pheasants Forever Chapters: 60
  • Quail Forever Chapters: 4
  • Pheasants Forever Members: 9,035
  • Quail Forever Members: 494
  • Habitat projects completed in Nebraska: 110,350 projects
  • Total habitat acres improved in Nebraska: 3,225,778 acres
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Bob St.Pierre is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.