Spring turkey youth shotgun season opens April 8 and Hunter Nikolai, Nebraska hunter education coordinator with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, reminds hunters to always practice the four basic rules of firearm safety.

Nebraska’s spring turkey archery season opened March 25, and the spring shotgun season opens April 15. All spring turkey seasons close at sunset on May 31.

“Turkey hunting brings excitement and anticipation for many, but never let your emotions get in the way of a safe hunt this spring,” Nikolai said.

The four basic rules of firearm safety are:

  • 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 is in front of it, and what is beyond it; and
  • Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready fire.

Spring turkey hunters should also practice these safety tips:

  • “Stalking” or “reaping” turkeys with a tail fan or strutting decoy is a popular hunting technique. Never shoot at movement, always positively identify your target, and check your surroundings for other hunters before picking up or moving your decoys.
  • If you encounter another turkey hunter, remain still and speak in a loud clear voice to announce your presence. Never make movements to signify your presence.
  • When hunting turkeys in the timber, sit against a tree or stump wider than your shoulders and taller than your head.
  • Do not wear white, blue or red while turkey hunting, as these colors are displayed by male turkeys in the spring.
  • Carry decoys and any harvested birds in a bag when moving or packing in or out of your hunting spot. Wear a blaze orange cap and vest when you’re on the move to increase your visibility to other hunters.
  • Check yourself for ticks after a hunt, especially along waistbands and in hair. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and other hunting gear to help reduce tick exposure.

“Hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, thanks in large part to the many volunteer hunter and bowhunter education instructors across Nebraska’s communities,” Nikolai said. “Be sure you’re reviewing these basic safety practices with your friends and family before you hit the field this spring.”

Several changes are in place for the turkey season. Read about them on page 5 in the Turkey Guide at digital.outdoornebraska.gov/i/1489064-turkey-guide-2023-web/0.

Bighorn sheep lottery applications begin April 17

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will accept applications for one 2023 bighorn sheep lottery permit beginning April 17.

A $29 nonrefundable application fee must accompany each application. Only Nebraska residents 12 years and older are eligible for the lottery. It is unlawful to submit more than one application in a calendar year. Residents may receive only one permit in a lifetime. The permit is not transferable.

The application period begins at 1 p.m. Central time April 17 and ends Aug. 4. Applications will be received at Game and Parks offices until 5 p.m. or, if applying at OutdoorNebraska.org, through 11:59 p.m. CT Aug. 4.

The permit will be drawn Aug. 31, and the successful applicant will be notified.

The 2023 bighorn sheep season is Nov. 28 - Dec. 22.

Nonresident Nebraska spring turkey permits sold out

No more 2023 Nebraska spring turkey permits are available to nonresidents. The quota of 10,000 permits has sold out.

Permits were available for purchase by nonresidents beginning Jan. 9, 2023. The last permit of the quota was purchased March 24.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 2022 made several changes to turkey hunting orders at the August 2022 meeting in response to a declining turkey population across the state. Those changes start with the 2023 spring season and include:

  • A quota of 10,000 permits available for nonresidents. Youth and landowner permits are not included in this limit.
  • All hunters now are required to report their turkey harvests via Telecheck.
  • All hunters are limited to two permits in the spring and one in the fall.
  • Fall season dates were changed to Oct. 1 to Nov. 30.
  • The fall bag limit for all hunters is one turkey.
  • All hunters are limited to harvesting no more than one bird per calendar day in the spring.

The fall turkey season permits will go on sale Aug. 14 at 1 p.m. Central time.

For more information on turkey hunting, read the Turkey Guide at digital.outdoornebraska.gov/i/1489064-turkey-guide-2023-web/0.

Nebraska Big Game Society to auction elk tag May 4

A bull elk tag will be auctioned off by the Nebraska Big Game Society on May 4 in Lincoln.

The 12th annual meeting and auction will be at Hillcrest Country Club, 9401 O St.

Residents and nonresidents are eligible for the bull elk tag. The high bidder will receive a bull elk tag valid in any elk management unit during a 2023 open bull elk season; legal weapons for that season must be used.

Additional items and outdoor experiences will be auctioned at the event. Proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for wildlife conservation, research and big game hunting opportunities in the state.

Tickets for the banquet are $100 each or $800 for a table of eight guests. Dinner is at 6:15 p.m., and the auction begins at 7:15 p.m.

Send requests for tickets or to register as a call-in bidder, including phone number, to [email protected].

For more information, visit nebiggame.org.

Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo is May 13

Spend a fun day outside learning a new skill at the Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo on May 13. Fort Kearny State Recreation Area will host the event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo is a full day of hands-on outdoor activities for all ages and experience levels. Volunteers and experts will provide instruction so participants can try activities new to them and possibly use newly learned skills to become more active in the outdoors.

Activities that will be available include archery, fishing, bowfishing, kayaking, target shooting, campground games, Kids Outdoor Discovery Zone, hot dog campfire roast, slingshots, and historical reenactments.

Food vendors will be available.

Volunteer opportunities are available by contacting the event’s coordinator, Julia Plugge, at [email protected] or at FortKearnyExpo.com.

The event is free, but a park entry permit is required of each vehicle entering Fort Kearny SRA.

Drone operators advised to know and abide by wildlife rules

Drone operators should be aware of wildlife laws pertaining to their use in Nebraska, including restrictions on Nebraska Game and Parks’ properties.

State law and the federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibit the use of aircraft, including drones – or recreational unmanned aircraft – to harass birds, fish, or any other animal. Drones never should be used to flush, chase or harass any wildlife, including large flocks of migrating birds, such as sandhill and whooping cranes, and Canada or snow geese.

State and federal endangered species laws also prohibit the harassment of listed species, including the whooping crane, least tern, piping plover, mountain plover and red knot in Nebraska.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act protects these species by prohibiting their disturbance. Drones should not be flown to observe eagles or near their nests. Eagles may attack drones, especially if flown near active nests or near large congregations of over-wintering or migrating eagles.

Game and Parks does not permit drones to be flown in state parks, state historical parks, state recreation areas or wildlife management areas, unless a special occasion permit has been approved. Contact the nearest Commission district office for an application.

Drone operators should check the Federal Aviation Administration regulations for recreation or commercial-use training requirements and aircraft registration; they should also be aware of other laws and city ordinances governing their use.

“We recognize the increasing availability and affordability of drones creates opportunities and challenges,” said Craig Stover, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Law Enforcement Division Administrator. “The rules Game and Parks has in place that limit drones use in certain settings are intended to protect people, maintain the family-friendly atmosphere of our recreational lands, and avoid unnecessary harm and harassment to sensitive wildlife.”

Low water affecting Nebraska boaters this spring

People planning to launch boats in Nebraska this spring should beware of low-water conditions across the state.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission advises boaters to be patient and cautious when launching and loading a boat.

“We are hoping not to have to close ramps,” said Zach Horstman, Game and Parks’ boating access coordinator. “While many of our ramps have been designed or extended to counter these low water conditions, the recent drought conditions still warrant users to be cautious while launching and loading.”

Horstman recommends boat operators have a spotter with them or check to see if the end of the ramp is visible from the shoreline or dock before launching, if water clarity allows.

He added that local staff are a great resource to get the most current ramp conditions as water levels and ramp conditions vary from one lake to the next.

When a lake’s water level falls, less of the boat ramp is underwater, reducing the length of the ramp for a successful launch, which can cause problems launching and loading a boat.

Once on the water, boat operators should be mindful of the increased possibility of underwater hazards during low-water conditions.

Prescribed burns set for WMAs, state park areas

Prescribed burns are taking place this spring on some Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife management areas, state parks and state recreation areas where weather conditions allow.

Burning allows habitat managers to positively impact more acres. Burns will be conducted this spring, and those not completed will be attempted this summer or fall as weather conditions allow.

Burned acres often become more attractive to wildlife species, and for some species, the effect is immediate. The long-term effects on wildlife habitat are much better if prescribed burning is used as a management tool than if habitat is not burned.

Historically, wildlife habitats were shaped by wildfires that occurred throughout the year. Burns help set back undesirable plants that invade native woodlands and prairies, as well as other grass and wooded areas. Eastern red cedar trees, honey locust, buckbrush, sumac, dogwood and other undesirable deciduous trees and shrubs can be managed with the help of burns.

Used in conjunction with grazing, prescribed burning also can set back smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass, increase diversity in grasslands and improve habitat for wildlife.

Participate in first Nebraska Birding Bowl

Join the fun and participate in the first Nebraska Birding Bowl. This free, statewide birding competition will take place throughout May, which is Nebraska Bird Month.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, along with partners Audubon Great Plains and the Wild Bird Habitat Store, are launching this event, which is an opportunity to get outside and contribute data toward bird conservation, for birders of all ages and experience levels.

Participation – as an individual or team – is easy. Read the event details and register online through May 31. Birders will choose one of the following categories in which to participate:

  • Fledgling Flock — for youth groups, introducing them to birding
  • Backyard Birder — for households that enjoy watching birds from their home
  • Dabbling Birder — for beginner-to-casual birders
  • Competitive Birder — for those who like to observe the most bird species

There are endless opportunities to observe birds in Nebraska during May, from viewing songbirds in parks, shorebirds in wetlands, observing common backyard birds, to attending one of the many guided Nebraska Bird Month Programs.

For this competition, eBird, a web-based, community science platform, will be used. It is designed for tracking bird observations while also contributing data for bird conservation. The Birding Bowl website features an eBird guide and tutorial webinar opportunities.

Participants have a chance to win prizes that include bird feeders, a pair of Vortex binoculars, or up to a $1,000 cash prize.

Register and learn more about the Nebraska Birding Bowl at birdtrail.outdoornebraska.gov/birdingbowl.