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Upland hunting

Whether you are seeking pheasants, quail, prairie grouse or partridge, Nebraska offers excellent opportunities, not to mention long seasons, affordable permits and great mixed-bag potential.

Get Ready

Hunting for upland game in Nebraska promises to be a good time for the those seeking adventure.

Get an overview of season dates, bag/possession limits, shooting hours and much more in the Small Game & Waterfowl Guide.

Where to hunt

With over 1.2 million acres of publicly accessible lands, Nebraska offers an abundance of public, walk-in hunting opportunities for upland game birds. The Public Access Atlas displays these state, federal and conservation partner lands as well as private lands enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters (OFW) program. After the printing of the atlas, an additional >40,000 acres upland habitat is enrolled in portions of western Nebraska and these are displayed in the Stubble Access Guide. The interactive atlas map displays all these lands and is updated regularly. More information about these and other opportunities can be found by visiting our Public Access Atlas or Where to Hunt page.

So, where should you go upland hunting in Nebraska? The descriptions below provide general information on habitat types and areas of the state that offer good opportunities. For more information, visit our Upland Species or Upland Slam Species pages, or contact your nearest Game & Parks office and ask to speak to a biologist.

Pheasants have a statewide distribution. However, certain areas offer more suitable habitat and thus, support higher numbers of pheasants than others. As a general rule, pheasant populations tend to increase as you move west across the state, with a few notable exceptions. In recent years, densities have been highest in southwestern Nebraska and portions of the Panhandle, in regions where there is an abundance of small grain crops, such as wheat and milo, as well as CRP on the landscape.

Further east, pheasants are heavily reliant on CRP fields, but these can often be isolated among vast acres of corn and soybeans. Better opportunities exist where larger blocks of CRP or wetlands are present on open landscapes, such as in the rainwater basins or across portions of northeastern Nebraska.

The map below shows areas across Nebraska where the landscape is generally most suitable to support higher pheasant numbers. Good opportunities, however, can be found in multiple other areas across the state where habitat and access opportunities overlap. Visit the Public Access Atlas to view detailed maps of public hunting areas across Nebraska and to plan your hunt.

In 2016, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission implemented the Berggren Plan for Pheasants, a five-year initiative aimed at growing Nebraska’s pheasant population and increasing land open to hunting in areas with abundant pheasants. Efforts have been concentrated in the eight priority areas shown below on the map, and good public access opportunities exist within these areas – primarily on private lands enrolled in Game and Parks’ Open Fields and Waters Program.

Pheasant heat map.

Northern bobwhite quail are native to Nebraska and can be found across much of the state. The bobwhite’s core range has traditionally been throughout southeastern Nebraska and west along the southern border near Kansas. In year’s following mild winters, however, quail populations tend to expand north and west across the state where suitable habitat exists.

The majority of public hunting opportunities within Nebraska’s quail range occur on state wildlife management areas as well as on private lands enrolled in Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters program. These areas are open to public, walk-in hunting and offer a variety of habitat types.

Bobwhite quail are considered an “edge species,” meaning they often occur where two or more different habitat types come together. Edges occur where grasslands converge with other cover types, such as cropland or woodlands. Weedy areas within grasslands can also create the edge habitat preferred by bobwhites. Dense stands of grass, such as CRP fields, are often avoided by quail because they are too thick. Instead, focus on the edges of CRP fields that border other cover types mentioned above or seek out weedy patches with ample amounts of bare ground.

Another key habitat element used extensively by bobwhites is woody cover, but it has to be the right kind. Unlike stands of mature trees, native shrub thickets, such as American plum, chokecherry — among others — and downed trees provide ideal loafing and escape cover for bobwhites. These habitat components serve as “covey headquarters” and are often found along field borders, fence lines or within grasslands. Those habitats adjacent to a high-quality food source, such as corn or milo, are ideal locations to find bobwhite quail.

Nebraska is home to two species of prairie grouse: the greater prairie-chicken and the sharp-tailed grouse. Greater prairie-chickens have a core range in the eastern Sandhills of Nebraska, but are also found where suitable habitat exists in portions of northeastern Nebraska, as well as south-central and southwestern Nebraska. There is a smaller population of greater prairie-chickens in southeastern Nebraska. Sharp-tailed grouse primarily occupy grasslands in the Sandhills of Nebraska, as well as west into the Panhandle. The range of both species overlaps in the Sandhills, and hunters may rarely encounter hybrid grouse in this area.

The Public Access Atlas displays some larger tracts of federal lands in the Sandhills which offer excellent prairie grouse hunting opportunities. Some CRP or grasslands enrolled in the OFW program can also hold good opportunities to the east, south or west of the Sandhills where the landscape is suitable for grouse.

As a rule of thumb, prairie grouse are found in highest numbers across large and open landscapes with few trees and an abundance of CRP or grassland. When pursuing prairie grouse along the mixed-grass, prairie dunes of the Sandhills, summer deferred pastures often provide thicker cover to hold birds. Within larger pastures, low-lying shrub thickets or forb patches can provide important food sources throughout the year.

Later in the season, birds may flush from farther distances, but prairie chickens, more so than sharp-tailed grouse, often frequent pivot corners or grasslands adjacent to corn or alfalfa fields. In other areas of the state, larger grasslands or pastures with weedy areas offering insects and seeds as food sources are often selected, but if the cover is too dense, grouse will avoid these areas.

Hunting outlook

The Upland Game Bird Hunting Outlook is based on spring and summer upland-game population surveys, including the July Rural Mail Carrier Surveys and the Northern Bobwhite Whistle Count Survey. In addition, biologists located throughout the state provided input on regional weather events that could have affected populations and general habitat conditions.

Survey reports

Spring and summer upland game population surveys help inform what we know about the upland game population and what we can expect for upland game hunting seasons. Our posted surveys go back to 2015.

CRP emergency haying & grazing

Upland hunters should be aware that emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands has been authorized in 89 of Nebraska’s 93 counties in 2022. This will likely impact cover on some (not all) CRP fields within these counties this fall, including some CRP tracts open to public hunting access through the Open Fields and Waters Program.

For more information on CRP emergency haying and grazing, check out our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page.

Other upland opportunities

Youth Pheasant, Quail, and Partridge Season

Youth ages 15 and younger are encouraged to participate in Nebraska’s youth pheasant, quail and partridge season on Oct. 21-22, 2023. Only youth are allowed to hunt during the statewide season.

Special Youth Hunts

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is planning to release pen-reared pheasants before the youth pheasant season and Thanksgiving Holiday in 2023. The statewide youth season will take place on October 21-22, but only youth ages 15 and younger will be allowed to hunt.

People interested in hunting pen-raised birds in a more controlled environment are encouraged to visit one of the state’s 48 Controlled Shooting Areas. CSAs are privately-owned areas for hunting upland game birds during an extended season. Other options for youth hunters include attending a free Youth Mentor Hunt event (ages 12-15) or participating in the Next Steps Hunt Program, both sponsored by Pheasants Forever chapters throughout the state. For more information, visit The commission is planning to release pheasants next year (2023) to facilitate “Special Youth Hunt” events.

Passing Along the Heritage Program (PATH)

The PATH program allows mentors to reserve sites for special youth (under 18) hunting access on a first-come, first-served basis.

Reminder of permit & hunter education requirements for upland hunters

  • Accompanying adult (19 or older): Hunt Permit & Habitat Stamp; Hunter Education if under 30.
  • Resident youth (12-15): Hunter Education or Apprentice Certificate
  • Resident youth (11 or younger): Accompaniment – in presence of an “accompanying adult”
  • Nonresident youth (12-15): Hunt Permit & Habitat Stamp; Hunter Education or Apprentice Certificate
  • Nonresident youth (11 or younger): Hunt Permit & Habitat Stamp; Accompaniment

For more information visit or Permit Requirements.

In recent years, the Commission has released approximately 16,500 pheasants on 19 public areas across the state.  The commission is planning to release pheasants next year (2023) on select public lands to enhance hunting opportunities.

People interested in hunting pen-raised birds in a more controlled environment are encouraged to visit one of state’s 48 Controlled Shooting Areas. CSAs are privately-owned areas for hunting upland gamebirds during an extended season. For more information, visit

The Nebraska Upland Slam challenges hunters to harvest all four upland game bird species in Nebraska during a single season: a ring-necked pheasant, northern bobwhite quail, greater prairie-chicken and sharp-tailed grouse. Participants and finishers are entered into drawings for prizes sponsored by Pheasants Forever of Nebraska.

Learn more about the Upland Slam.

Plan a trip

Those hunting in Nebraska will encounter the state’s famous Midwestern hospitality. Across the state, hunters will find great places to stay, eat and be entertained. The resources below will help you plan your trip.

Trip planners

Nebraska Game and Parks has put together trip planners for several popular game species. The trip planners highlight areas with particularly good access and game populations, and also offer suggestions on lodging and other activities and attractions in the area. Trip planners may be downloaded free of charge. The pheasant, quail, prairie grouse and mixed-bag trip planners are found below:

Other small game species

Nebraska truly is a small game hunter’s paradise, offering options to pursue a varied mixed bag. Hunters can find good opportunities for dove, snipe, cottontail, jackrabbit, squirrel and more.

Hunting Permits

Purchase hunting, big game and turkey permits, as well as supertags and combo lotteries.

Season dates

With a broad diversity of species and seasons, hunters in Nebraska can have a busy year. Find our comprehensive list of season dates by species.

Rules, orders & regulations

Find the current orders, rules and regulations for Nebraska's fish, game and park spaces.