Bucket List Hunts

Nebraska is truly where north meets south and east meets west. It is home to grasslands, woodlands, and more miles of river than anywhere else in the nation. Nebraska’s diverse geographic features and habitats mean that our home to a wide array of wildlife – and an even wider array of hunting opportunities.

So where to start? Below, Nebraska Game and Parks staff members share some of their favorite hunts. Whether it’s big game or small, in the southeast, the northwest or anywhere in between, each of the hunts described below is a unique Nebraska experience well worth adding to your hunting bucket list.

Prairie Grouse Hunt in Nebraska’s Sandhills

Prairie grouse hunting in the Nebraska Sandhills is truly a unique experience and should be on every upland bird hunter’s bucket list. As the name implies, the Sandhills are a large expanse of grass-covered sand dunes that represent the largest contiguous block of native prairie remaining in North America – a true stronghold for both greater prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse.

A Sandhills sunrise is tough to beat while watching your dogs comb through an endless expanse of native prairie. To me, this is very unique because this is one of the only places in Nebraska where you can park the truck and walk for miles on public lands in pursuit of upland birds. Several large tracts of federally-owned lands provide great opportunities on thousands of acres – perfect for a DIY hunt. In the central Sandhills, you can often run into both prairie grouse species on a single walk.
–John Laux, upland habitat and access program manager

Grassland Archery Hunt for Pronghorn

The pronghorn is the second fastest land mammal on the planet, living on the open plains of Nebraska. Pronghorn use their eyes and speed to avoid predators. And you have to get within bow range in a landscape where sight is only limited by the curve of the horizon.

This is a western hunt in lands filled with history and geology that shaped our nation’s expansion and young dreams. This isn’t anything like hunting white-tailed deer in the east. An over-the-counter archery permit provides the easy excuse to roam Northwest Nebraska, which is home to some of the best September scenery in the state. Hit the grasslands in the mid to later part of that month to coincide with the rut and you will see plenty of pronghorn. Getting within bow range and making the shot with that much adrenaline flowing is up to you.
–Aaron Hershberger, outdoor education specialist

Southwest Nebraska Pheasant/Quail Hunt

Southwestern Nebraska has long had a reputation for its upland bird hunting, namely pheasants and quail. The terrain of rolling hills, draws and creek bottoms feature forage habitat in corn, milo and wheat stubble bordered by dense grasses and weeds for cover.

This hunt is special to me because it provides a way for me to reconnect with the same land I hunted in my youth and the people who live there — near the Beaver Creek southeast of McCook. While many of our family outdoor pursuits are equally enjoyable, I would be hard-pressed to find one as special as seeing my teenage son hunt the same country alongside the same friends who joined me in pheasant pursuits when I was his age.
–Justin Haag, public information officer and Nebraskaland regional editor

Nebraska Elk Hunt

“In Nebraska?” That’s what many people will say when I show them the photo of the bull elk I harvested in the Pine Ridge in 2007. Not only does Nebraska offer elk hunting, more than 80 percent of the hunters with bull tags harvest an elk, and most of the bulls can truly be considered trophy-class. Sure the odds of drawing a permit are long, but it’s like the lottery: Someone has to win.

As I recall, I was fairly calm as I lay on that hillside in northeastern Dawes County, waiting for a bull elk I’d just spotted to walk from behind a rise and present a clear shot. Considering I’d waited 12 years to draw that permit, and that I’d missed an opportunity from the same hillside five days earlier, I’m surprised I was. After the shot … now that was a different story. I was shaking and my heart was pounding. Days of scouting, walking, glassing, calling and watching elk, mostly on the wrong side of the fence, had paid off. My once-in-a-lifetime hunt was over, and I had a beautiful bull to show for it.
— Eric Fowler, Regional Editor, NEBRASKAland Magazine

Duck Hunt in Nebraska’s Hard Grass

Duck hunting is thought to be a river or cornfield hunt. I prefer the hard-grass country of Northwest Nebraska. It does takes some scouting to find the “X” within a complex of 95,000 acres of rolling hills within the Oglala National Grasslands. If you pair a flock of committed ducks landing with a western Nebraska sunrise, you have something to treasure for years to come.

This hunt is unique because there are 95,000 acres of walk-in hunting access provided by the U.S. Forest Service. There are hundreds of potholes throughout the Oglala National Grasslands that offer a unique hunting experience like no other in Nebraska. The early season duck hunt provides opportunity for multiple species such as pintail, gadwall, mallard, and teal.
–Rick Arnold, wildlife biologist II

Canada Goose Hunt

With abundant Canada goose populations coupled with a long hunting season, waterfowl hunters in Nebraska have many opportunities to get outside. Waterfowl hunting is done along rivers, ponds and lakes, and agricultural fields on private land and public areas alike. Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Lewellen is a waterfowlers’ hot-spot, along with Sacramento-Wilcox WMA south of Holdrege, and other public walk-in areas that can be found in the Public Access Atlas available at Game and Parks offices and sporting goods vendors and online.

Goose hunting is where you can see the sunrise and set across the landscape; it’s where young and old spend time together. It’s the art of setting out a decoy spread to lure geese in and mimicking their calls. If you’ve done everything right, it’s watching birds coming in, circling and dipping side to side as they lose altitude, and finally, with wings cupped and feet stretched toward the ground, they are close enough for the shot. You reward your dog for the retrieve and sometimes with a warm morsel of food cooked in the blind. Yes, goose hunting is about sharing and making memories over a lifetime.
–Julie Geiser, public information officer and Nebraskaland regional editor

Archery White-tailed Deer Hunt

The best way I can describe bow hunting is how it was described to me. When using a firearm, your hunt is just about over when you see a deer. When using a bow, your deer hunt is just starting.

After shooting a doe one morning during archery season, I was all smiles as I walked back to my ladder stand to grab my gear, including my bow. However, when I looked up, the largest 5 x 5 I had ever seen was standing in the field behind my hunting spot. I slowly made my way up the stand each time his head went down into the beans, miraculously making it to my platform without being detected. Then he did the unthinkable. He began to walk toward me, closing to 15 yards. A half-step more from behind a pile of brush, and I had a perfect shot with my arrow already drawn. Just as he went to take that step, a squirrel behind me leapt from one limb to the next, rattling the tree on that perfectly still morning. The buck leapt as well, turning a 180 in the air and moseying his way down the trail from where he came. I was unable to get a shot, and I never saw him again.
— Jeff Kurrus, Nebraskaland editor

Eastern Nebraska Youth Muzzleloader Deer Hunt

Muzzleloader hunting for the wary whitetail in the month of December can range from balmy and dry to snowy and cold I prefer the snow cold weather, which helps pattern the deer looking for thermal cover and nearby food. Topping it off with a youth looking to bag their first deer is truly an event for your bucket list. Many public areas in eastern Nebraska provide this opportunity, but many landowners will also be happy to grant you permission.

I have shot many deer during the muzzleloader season, and it remains my favorite choice of bagging a whitetail. I know one of my top memorable hunts will be this past muzzleloader season, when my granddaughter shot her first deer with a “smokepole.” I set out a blind in a picked cornfield next to a timber. It was a high of 7 degrees that day with 3 or 4 inches of snow on the ground. No heater in the blind — just layers of clothes a sleeping bag – and sitting for an hour was bitter! The last 5 minutes of shooting time, her doe got within range. It went down with a heart shot and then the whooping and hollering began.
–Brad Seitz, wildlife biologist II

Spring Turkey Hunt in the Pine Ridge

Description: 800,000 acres of public land offers a vast area to pursue turkeys that can be a bit more challenging and rewarding than their private land cousins. Cottonwood river and creek bottoms, pine covered ridges, hardwood hillsides, corn stubble and warm-season grasses provide abundant turkey habitat. The 68-day season offers much anticipation and reward with heart stopping sights and sounds: gobbles, strutting and putting. Brilliant displays of red, white, black and blue; long beards, sharp spurs and tail fans visible for miles provide lasting memories.

My most memorable hunt took place in 1972, when after 5 years of hiking and hunting the Pine Ridge National Forest for Spring turkeys, I was able to successfully roost a flock, find my way back to camp in the dark and return the next morning with my father, where we both took jakes. I love the Pine Ridge and have continued to add wonderful memories involving elk, pronghorn, bobcat and mountain lions.
–Kit Hams, retired big game program manager

Fall or spring wild turkey hunt in southwest Nebraska

Fall or spring wild turkey hunting in southwest Nebraska is unique because you are able to potentially harvest birds with the feather coloration of all sub-species and/or their hybrids found in Nebraska – Rio Grande, Eastern and Merriam. Turkey populations remain abundant in the region, and we have an array of public hunting lands available. According to our Game and Parks surveys and reports, some of the better ones include the upper portions (wildlife management areas) of our southwest reservoirs, and the Open Fields and Waters Program walk-in lands in southeastern Lincoln County. Although there are good opportunities on public areas to harvest turkeys, hunters should not be afraid to knock on doors to gain access to private land as well. There are lots of turkeys, and many landowners that don’t mind turkey hunters.

To me, as a longtime sportsman, this is a very special hunt due to the fact that in almost any given flock I have witnessed the widest variety of feather coloration ever on wild turkeys! It is so interesting to see! Where else in North America can this blend of wild turkey sub-species be experienced?
–Greg Wagner, public information officer

Southeast Nebraska Turkey Hunt

Nebraska has become the turkey hunting destination for North America. We have incredible opportunities to get out into the field and experience the sound of the wild turkey gobbling, to see the beautiful colors of the strutting tom as he comes into the blind and to feel the excitement as it all comes together in the turkey woods. Turkey hunting to me is all about friends and family sharing the outdoors for excitement and fun, and southeast Nebraska offers many opportunities to accomplish that.

My daughter started turkey hunting with me at a young age. Few hunts I have been a part of rival those crisp, cool mornings spent with her in the turkey blind laughing, calling, snoozing and just being outdoors with nothing but the wild turkey to answer to and the sunrise as my clock. We still hunt together and still laugh like a bunch of kids in the blind each year. Turkey hunting memories are hard to beat!
–Jeff Rawlinson, Communications Division assistant administrator