Whether you are seeking pheasants, quail, or prairie grouse, Nebraska offers excellent opportunities, not to mention long seasons, affordable permits, great mixed bag potential and abundant public access. This page provides tools and tips to help you plan your next upland hunting adventure.
What I Need
Grouse: Sept. 1, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021
Pheasant & Quail: Oct. 31, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021
– Hunt (small game) Permit*
– Habitat stamp
More on permit and stamp requirements
*(including requirements to hunt prairie grouse east of U.S. 81)
Permits can be purchased online, at any district office, state park or permit vendor.
Get an overview of bag/possession limits, shooting hours and much more:
Request this or other popular materials (like the Public Access Atlas or Stubble Access Guide) be mailed to you for free.
Where to Go
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” pages.
So where should you go to find upland game birds in Nebraska? The below descriptions provide general information on habitat types and areas of the state that offer good opportunities. For more information, visit our Small Game Species or Upland Game Species pages, or contact your nearest Game & Parks office and asking to speak to a biologist.
Pheasants have a statewide distribution but certain areas of the state offer more suitable habitat and thus support higher numbers of pheasants than others. As general rule of thumb, pheasant populations tend to increase as one moves west across the state (with some notable exceptions). In recent years, densities have been highest in Southwest Nebraska and portions of the Panhandle, in regions where there is an abundance of small grain crops (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 amongst vast acres of corn and soybeans. The better opportunities here exist where larger blocks of CRP or wetlands are present on open landscapes such as in the rainwater basins or across portions of Northeast 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 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 the NGPC’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) Program.
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 most of Southeast Nebraska and west along the southern border with 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 (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 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 Southwest 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 right 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 act as important food sources throughout the year. Later in the season, birds may flush from further 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.
What to Expect
The Upland Game Bird Hunting Outlook is based on spring and summer upland-game population surveys, including the July Rural Mail Carrier Surveys (RMCS) 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.
- April 2020 RMCS Report
- July 2020 RMCS Report
- 2020 Northern Bobwhite Whistle Count Survey
- 2019 – 2020 Hunter Success Survey
You may view past survey results at the links below:
- July 2020 RMCS Report
- 2019 Northern Bobwhite Whistle Count Survey
- July 2019 RMCS Report
- 2017 – 2018 Hunter Success Survey
- April 2018 RMCS Report
- 2017 Upland Game Forecast
- 2017 Northern Bobwhite Whistle Count Survey
- October 2017 RMCS
- July 2017 RMCS
- April 2017 RMCS
- 2016 – 2017 Hunter Success Survey
- 2016 Upland Game Forecast
- July 2016 RMCS
- April 2016 RMCS
- 2016 Norther Bobwhite Whistle Count
- 2015 Hunter Success Survey
CRP Emergency Haying & Grazing
Upland hunters should be aware that emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands has been authorized in portions of western, northeastern, and south-central Nebraska. 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 (OFW) 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 the statewide youth pheasant, quail and partridge season on Oct. 24-25, 2020. Youth may hunt pheasants, quail, or partridge during this statewide season. Only youth are allowed to hunt, EXCEPT adults accompanying youths may hunt pheasants, on the areas where a “Special Youth Hunt” is declared and posted.
Special Youth Hunts
Rooster pheasants are scheduled to be released at 19 locations before the 2020-2021 youth season. These Special Youth Hunts are open to the public and no registration or special permit is required. Special regulations posted at each of the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) will apply to all portions of the designated areas normally open to hunting. All other current youth and regular hunting regulations will be in effect on these designated areas.
WMAs offering Special Youth Hunts in 2020
Arrowhead (Gage County), Kirkpatrick Basin North (York County), Cornhusker (Hall County), George Syas (Nance County), Wilkinson (Platte County), Oak Valley (Madison County), Powder Creek, (Dixon County), Schilling (Cass County), Rakes Creek (Cass County), Peru Bottoms (Nemaha County), Twin Oaks (Johnson County), Hickory Ridge (Johnson County), Yankee Hill (Lancaster County), Branched Oak (Lancaster County), Sherman Reservoir (Sherman County), Pressey (Custer County), Arnold Trupp (Morrill County), Bordeaux (Dawes County), and N-CORPE east tract (Lincoln County).
Special Youth Hunt Rules
- Hunt dates: Oct. 24-25, 2020; no registration or special permit required
- Youths must be age 15 or younger; accompanying adults must be licensed hunters age 19 or older.
- Accompanying adults are allowed to hunt pheasants only, on these Special Youth Hunt WMAs. Only one accompanying adult per youth will be allowed to hunt (additional mentors may observe). All other current youth and regular hunting regulations apply.
- Daily bag limit: Youth – 2 rooster pheasants; Accompanying Adult – 1 rooster pheasant
- Only nontoxic shot may be used at Kirkpatrick Basin North, Wilkinson, Schilling, and Peru Bottoms WMAs.
For more information on regulations, view our Small Game & Waterfowl Guide.
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 Ed. 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 only– 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
In an effort to recruit youth hunters, rooster pheasants are released on 19 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) prior to the youth pheasant, quail, and partridge season. These areas are posted as Special Youth Hunt areas, and accompanying adults may harvest 1 rooster pheasant on these areas as well. For more information on the youth season and the Special Youth Hunts click on the “Youth Hunts” banner above.
In an effort to encourage families and friends to go afield this fall, rooster pheasants are also released on 16 WMAs in central and eastern Nebraska prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.
The Nebraska Upland Slam challenges hunters to harvest all four primary 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 with the grand prize for finishers to be awarded at the Nebraska State Habitat Meeting.
Learn more about the Upland Slam.
Nebraska Game and Parks has put together trip planners for several especially 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:
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. For a full list of the species available to hunt, visit the small game page.
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.
- Nebraska’s state parks and recreation areas make for great places for hunters to stay or camp. You can find a cabin or camping spot through our park amenities search.
- The Nebraska Department of Agriculture maintains a statewide list of outfitters, hunting lodges and other resources for hunters. View the list on the Department of Agriculture website.
- The Nebraska State Tourism Commission website can help you find hotels, restaurants and interesting attractions throughout the state.