NEBRASKA WHITETAIL DEER HUNTING
By Darrin Bradley
I still recall 2 years ago when the phone rang. A landowner from Nebraska with a substantial amount of ground was phoning in an effort to try and convince me to found a
Whitetail Deer Outfitting Service on his group of land tracts in Nebraska. At the time I was an established outdoor writer, on several pro staffs in the hunt industry, and was running outfitted hunts in the States of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Initially I wasn’t all that enthused about conducting whitetail hunts in the State of Nebraska, however the landowner was very persistent in trying to convince me into visiting with him and “walking out” his land tracts. He laid claim to the fact that his ground was some of the best whitetail hunting in the United States of America. Despite him pleading his case I still was somewhat hesitant about Nebraska Whitetail Hunting. When I think of big whitetail bucks I think of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, or other more reknown areas. I can honestly say I’ve never had a real urge to whitetail hunt in the State of Nebraska.
Despite my initial despondency I traveled to the State of Nebraska to view the ground, and as a result discovered some of the most amazing trophy whitetail country I’ve ever seen. In fact I am currently in control of over 50,000 acres of ground in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska, and get this, FOR THREE YEARS IN A ROW THE NEBRASKA HUNTING HAS LED ALL 5 STATES IN SUCCESS RATES OF PLACING HUNTERS WITHIN 30 YARDS OF A RECORD BOOK WHITETAIL BUCK. Nebraska is definitely one of the whitetail industries best kept secrets. Further during the 2006 season we conducted our Nebraska 1st Firearms camp with a total of 18 hunters. The first day of the season 14 of those 18 hunters harvested trophy whitetail bucks. I don’t mean just shot at them. I mean actually killed them. That is a 78% trophy buck harvest or kill rate the first day of a 4 day hunt. Many of the bucks exceeded 160 inches of antler.
During the following narrative we will discuss issues surrounding Nebraska Deerhunting relative to the pursuit of trophy whitetail bucks and their behavior of Nebraska hunt pressure, season dates, peak hunt times, prime locations in the State, Department of Natural Resources, tag obtainment, terrain descriptions, record book buck entries for the State of Nebraska, and hunt outfitters.
HISTORY OF WHITETAIL DEER IN THE STATE OF NEBRASKA
Upon composing this narrative I began cruising the internet and various other literary works to research the history of the whitetail deer in Nebraska. I was both fascinated and exhausted to discover that not much information exists surrounding the history of Nebraska deer herd. As an Outdoor Writer this is a situation wherein one just scratches his head and attempts to provide as much information as he can with very little data. “In the year 1981 Nebraska Legislature designated the white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as the state mammal, describing it as a herbivorous hoofed mammal found in farmlands, brushy areas and woods. If alarmed, this deer raises its tail, exhibiting a conspicuous flash of white that can communicate danger to other deer or help a fawn to follow its mother in flight. The feeding habits of white-tailed deer are flexible: they graze on green plants; eat acorns, nuts and corn in the fall; and browse on woody vegetation in winter. Whitetail deer hunting is a popular recreational activity in Nebraska.” As previously indicated that is really all we know regarding the herd in Nebraska outside the fact that the State displays the following harvest rates with firearms over the past 2 years:
Permits Issued 65,495 Deer Harvested 39,821 Harvest Success 56%
Permits Issued 63,000 Deer Harvested 36,522
Success Rate 57%
In comparison hunters in Illinois harvested a total of 115,192 deer during the seven-day firearm deer hunting season held Nov. 17-19 and Nov. 30-Dec 3.
Thus one may assume the State of Illinois has a firearms harvest that is almost double of what Nebraska produces. The punch line is the State of Illinois holds an estimated 800,000 whitetails while the State of Nebraska suggests their herd is an estimated 400,000. Thus one might assume the State of Nebraska is presenting the same harvest success rates as more populated reknowned areas like Pike County, Illinois.
NEBRASKA RANKINGS IN THE WHITETAIL RECORD BOOKS
After careful study of both the Boone and Crockett, and Pope and Young Record Books I have surmised that Nebraska is currently the #14th ranked state in the nation for number of entries, or quantity of entries in the record books. Really an amazing stat when this state holds only half the deer other states present in population totals. What does this mean? It means that while you won’t see as many deer in Nebraska, when you see one it will be a sure enough, “good un”. (That’s Missouri slang for record book whitetail buck.)
As an outfitter, my company keeps detailed statistical programs surrounding each and every state, county, township, land tract, and individual deerstand or ambush site we have in place. Each camp manager possess’s a ledger book wherein every time a hunter enters the field we record the hunters name, what treestand they are hunting from, (the treestands are numerically titled) what guide is transporting them to the farm, how many deer they view, how many trophy whitetail bucks they view, and how many opportunities the hunter gets to shoot deer over 130 inches from inside a 30 yard range. By doing so we are able to determine trends of deer movement, populations, buck to doe ratios, as well as a lot more valuable data needed to successfully place hunters within range of the buck of their dreams. During the 2006 season we collected the following data:
In the State of Nebraska our hunters averaged seeing 62 deer each over the course of a five day hunt. In the State of Iowa our hunters averaged seeing 62 deer each over the course of a five day hunt. In the State of Illinois our hunters averaged seeing 61 deer each over the course of a five day hunt. In the State of Missouri our hunters averaged seeing 61 deer each over the course of a five day hunt. The aforementioned stats are of vital importance. They suggest that although Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa have twice the deer population of Nebraska that on a hunt with IMB Outfitters no decline in regard to the quantity of deer is occurring. When one thinks about the aforementioned statistic it makes all the sense in the world. Nebraska is not a State which I would consider reknown for its whitetail hunting, however there are areas in Nebraska that are just as good as more famed locations such as Buffalo County, Wisconsin or Pike County, Illinois.
Seemingly what is occurring is that a small part of the State of Nebraska is solely responsible for the entire states whitetail success rates. Simply put, when one hunts the right location in Nebraska he or she is sitting on a “gold mine”. The bad news is a hunter cannot simply travel out to any area in Nebraska and be on trophy whitetail deer. You must thoroughly research the State or rely upon a very credible outfitter for deer location purposes.
In conclusion of our statistical survey over the past 3 years the State of Nebraska has produced the highest success rates of any of the states IMB Outfitters conducts hunts in. Our 2006 success rates were a whopping 193% on shot opportunities at record book whitetails in Nebraska. In a nutshell what this means is that we produces almost twice the number of opportunities to shoot at record book whitetails at less than 30 yards than the total number of hunters we had in our camps. Simply put…………”When deerhunting for trophy whitetails in Nebraska, your either “in them” or your not, but rest assured when your in the right area of Nebraska your success rates will be unmatched.
NEBRASKA GAMES AND PARKS COMMISSION
The Nebraska Games and Parks Commission can be located and contacted at 2200 N. 33rd St., Lincoln, NE 68503 • (402) 471-0641 • firstname.lastname@example.org
The State of Nebraska offers firearms, archery, and muzzleloader hunting for both resident and non resident hunters. Normally the firearms season begins the second Saturday of November and runs for 11 days in row. Archery season begins as early as September 15th, and ends around January 15. Muzzleloader hunting occurs between the dates of December 1st and December 31st. The state allows hunters to harvest two whitetail bucks.
The State of Nebraska allows rifle hunting with tag obtainment occurring in one of two manners:
1. Nebraska is divided up into various sections or areas which are named. For example IMB Outfitters operates in the “Republican Area”. In early June the State offers rifles tags for sale on the internet only for area specific locations. These tags sell first to residents and second to non residents. If the non resident hunter obtains the area specific tag then costs are minimal. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $85, however the area specific tags are limited and sell out fairly quickly.
2. The second manner in which one may obtain a rifle tag is in a second statewide
Procedure wherein one may purchase what is called a “Statewide” firearms tag. This tag is good for usage throughout the entire state but is sold at a higher cost of around $375. These tags are also limited and sold on a “first come, first serve” basis. This process begins the end of June. Tags are purchased at any District Office of Game and Parks Commission or online at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Website.
Archery Hunts: The archery season runs from September 15th to December 31st with tags available over the counter for $172. Tags are guaranteed.
Muzzleloader Hunts: Nebraska also offers a muzzleloader only hunt from 12-1 to 12-31. Hunters may choose any 3 days to pursue trophy whitetails with muzzleloader only, during these times. The tag is obtained over the counter at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Offices or online. Tags are guaranteed.
WHAT MAKES NEBRASKA A GREAT STATE TO HARVEST A TROPHY WHITETAIL?
A combination of things makes Nebraska a great state to harvest a trophy whitetail in. Terrain, low hunt pressure, easily obtained tagging system, ability to rifle hunt during the rut, etc. The real key to being successful with the harvest of a 150 inch or better deer in this state is location, location, location. We just discussed that a small portion of the state is responsible for the majority of its whitetail harvest numbers. Why?
The terrain in Nebraska is always one of two types. Type 1 is a terrain structure that is Texas looking in appearance. Open prairie full of tumbleweed, wild marijuana, and cactus with steep and abrupt inclines which can make a healthy man gag for a much needed breath during his morning outing. Type 1 terrain is what I refer to as “Muledeer Terrain”. The local residents call Type 1, Canyon Country. The Canyon Country offers some excellent Merriam turkey hunting but does the experienced whitetail deer hunter no favors. Whitetails tend to be very aggressive toward mulies and run them up into this so called Canyon Country. Then once the mulies have been run off by the whitetails then and only then the whitetail herd returns to the Type 2, or River Bottom Country, dressed in fertile river bottom ground which gives offering of an assortment of row crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, clover, alfalfa, and just about any other crop reared in the Midwestern United States. The River Bottom Ground is Nebraska’s Garden of Eden and mature whitetail bucks thrive there around the Republican River Bottom Basins.
Simply put, the majority of the whitetail herd in Nebraska has been shoved into the Republican River Bottom Basin in an effort to lay claim to its rich nutrient soils which in turn are producing crops very high in vitamins and minerals. One might assume these rich fertile crops are promoting maximum antler growth for the herd. Also a cool drink of water is always present for members of the herd that desire one.
Terrain is the chief reason why I have said for years that if you want to get “ripped off” on a outfitted whitetail hunt the easiest place to do so is in Nebraska and Kansas. The reason is because both of these states present both the “Canyon County” terrain and the “Riverbottom” terrain. Many unknowledgable outfitters who don’t do their homework soon find out the hard way that they may have ground leased and clients coming to hunt but “aught oh” they are located in the wrong terrain for trophy whitetail. Some of the outfitters even know it and book whitetail hunters anyway. Now that ought to be a “hangable” offense. IMB Outfitters see online at www.imbmonsterbucks.com is located in the heart of the Republican River Bottoms and in pursuit each year of deer exceeding 170 inches of minimum antler in an effort to qualify client harvests for the Boone and Crockett Record Books. Why? Because we are right in the middle of this goal mine and will be forever committed to it with long term leases.
Deerhunting in the State of Nebraska is a bit of a secret. This has caused the lowest amount of hunt pressure I personally have ever seen in any state we have ever conducted business in over the course of my entire hunt career. Only a mile from the Kansas line it is literally full of bucks in excess of age 6 that are sporting several pounds of antler atop their weary heads.
KEY LOCATIONS IN THE STATE OF NEBRASKA TROPHY WHITETAIL DEER
As aforementioned your success in Nebraska will be dictated by the terrain you elect to hunt. Canyon Country will kill your success rates, why calm serene spooky riverbottom country will provide you with the dream hunt of a lifetime, and higher success rates than you’ve ever imagined. The trophy whitetails are located in South Central Nebraska in the counties of Kearney, Franklin, Harlam, Webster, and Adams, with emphasis on Franklin. It is in these counties that the Republican River flows freely providing water and rich soil to area farmers and agricultural business’s. This may be the very reason why the world's largest known set of typical whitetail antlers was found in Nebraska in 1959.
Locations for lodging would be Kearney, Franklin, Bloomington, Naponee, Republican City and Rivertown, Nebraska. The oldest existing Cabelas store is located in Kearney and worth a tour while your in the area. The newest Cabelas is located in Grand Island, Nebraska.
NEBRASKA WHITETAIL HUNT OUTFITTERS
Throughout my entire hunt career I’ve always said the easiest place to be taken advantage of by an outfitter is in Nebraska and Kansas. In Nebraska the terrain is either great or horrible and most of the resident outfitters trying to run deerhunts for a living are clueless regarding the separation of two types of terrain and where the whitetail deer live versus the mulie. Because the outfitting industry hasn’t evolved “so to speak” in Nebraska it would be easy to book with the wrong outfitter and completely be taken advantage of. And I’m just being honest. In Kansas some outfitters will guarantee your gonna draw a tag and demand your money or a portion of your money in advance but come tag time there are no tags to be obtained. I’ve seen tags sell on ebay for over $2000 for Kansas. Its just plain ridiculous. A fore warning. No Kansas tags are guaranteed for non residents unless you own the ground. Stop giving some little ole country boy your money for a deertag every year so he can try to get you a deertag like a devote Cardinals fan standing amonst a mob of ticket scalpers outside a ballpark near East St. Louis hollering out to the highest bidder.
Nebraska is such a fragile situation that you MUST. I repeat you MUST. Do business with the most credible whitetail outfitting service in the State of Nebraska. That entity is IMB Outfitters. A quick systems check of our website can alert you to the fact that we have won multiple outdoor awards, possess 23 companies that sponsor our business, for example names you trust like Nikon, Husqvarna, Goodyear, Hunter Specialties, Mossy Oak, Ole Man Treestands, Mathews Bows, and many more. IMB will walk you through the entire tagging process and make dang sure your but is perched high atop a mighty whiteoak tree during the peak of the rut with the right deertag on an affordable and comfortable whitetail outing. IMB Outfitters may be contacted direct at 866-855-7063 or via email at email@example.com For website view one only need click off on www.imbmonsterbucks.com IMB Offers both archery, firearm, and muzzleloader hunting in the Republican Riverbottoms of SouthCentral Nebraska along the Kansas State Line.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words but what is a picture and a testimony from a group of 5 hunters worth. I now turn the narrative over to Kevin Farr who arrowed a 160 inch monster from that same old Republican River Bottom we have spoke of throughout the article. Here is Mr. Farrs, testimony as a quoted direct from him “
I came across IMB Outfitters last November. It all looked good and when I called and talked to them, it sounded just as good. So now I decided that it was time to actually do this thing. I started talking to some of my good friends and 6 of us booked our hunt for the opening of the Nebraska rifle season next year. Now it was time to wait and try to forget about it until next November.
Fast forward to November 10, 2006. We are all on our way in search of our monster bucks that hopefully we would all have a chance at. The Saturday morning opener was cold with a temp of 14 degrees before the wind chill. It was cold to most folks, and it was dang cold to us So. Ga boys. The excitement and anticipation helped us to endure the cold and we set out for our first morning’s hunt. That morning I passed an 8 point that was probably in the low 130’s and around mid-morning I saw a 10 pt chasing a doe across a field. I could see his muscles rolling down the sides of his body as he was intent on herding that doe and wooing her into being his girlfriend for the day. It was tempting for me to shoot as he probably was in the high 140’s to low 150’s, but his G-4’s were short and from our pep-talk with the guides the night before, I had learned that I wanted my deer to have longer G-4’s in order to score well. After all, it was just the first morning and I was prepared to wait even though I knew that I might be passing my chance on the biggest buck I would have a chance at. One of our group, Bobby Bradford, killed a strong 8-pt that first morning that scored in the mid 130’s. He said he saw 4 big bucks and that he probably shot the smallest of all. It was a tall-tined buck with matching “bladed” G-2’s. Another one of our group had saw a buck that he guessed was in the high 180’s, but the guide corrected him and said he knew about the deer and they guessed him to be closer to 200”. It was a great morning with everyone seeing deer and nice bucks. My good friend John David Moore went out that afternoon and saw a ton of deer. He saw little bucks, big bucks, does, bucks chasing does, and passed a real nice 10 pt that was a shooter before finally taking one of the biggest 8 pts. you can get. It was a tall, heavy racked buck that scored 145”. This sounded like a hot-spot and when we retrieved his deer, we noticed all of the “pig” trails along the river. That was too much deer sign for me to pass up, so the next morning I was warming up John’s stand. I saw some does early and then I passed an 8 pt that was in the high 130’s. After that it was pretty slow. I came in for a quick lunch and then got ready and headed back out. (By the way in case you didn’t know the “pig sign” he refers to in this article is actually deersign. Their was so much sign they just assumed it was made by pigs.)
I had just climbed up in the stand and was getting settled in. I had pulled my pack up and was getting situated when I looked up and saw a doe on the riverbank drinking water. I hurried to bolt a shell in my gun and when I looked back up, another doe was coming out. Then I saw him. There he was coming behind the does. I could see the 10 pts tall tines and that he was heavy. Then he turned his head and I could see that he was wide as well. That was all I needed. I had always heard that when you saw “the one” that you wouldn’t have to think about it and it was true. I took aim and fired. He stumbled and tried to turn around, taking only 3 stumbling steps before going down. I couldn’t believe it. I had finally done what I had always dreamed about. I picked up my cell phone and called John and Bobby. John said he was afraid something was wrong, because after all, they had just left me not even 45 minutes earlier. When he answered I said, “I need you. I got him.” So they rallied the troops and came back out with a couple of guides to claim my lucky prize. After I hung up the phone with John, I looked and there was my deer standing where he had fallen. I thought, “Oh crap! What’s going on here?” But upon looking through my scope, I realized that it was a different 10 pt standing over my deer. He was another fine buck, not quite as big as the one that I had just shot, but almost. If they had came out in reverse order, I would have shot this one instead. Like the old saying goes, “I would rather be lucky than good any day.” That second afternoon was my lucky day.
My deer was a typical 10 pt with a sticker off one base, making him an 11 pt. He had a 20 in spread, 22 4/8” main beams, and G-2’s and G-3’s measuring 9 4/8” and 10”. He scored in the low 160’s and I couldn’t have been happier. Everything had turned out just like we had all dreamed about. IMB outfitters and their guides were great. They are just friendly, down-to-earth folks just like all of us in our group and we had a blast. They have a ton of deer, and a lot of real big deer. However, it is still hunting and the deer don’t read instruction books every day to know where to show up so they can get shot. In other words, everyone in our group saw plenty of deer. Everyone even saw big deer. Most people killed a good buck, but a couple did not. They could have, but they chose to wait on the bigger bucks that they had always dreamed of. If you remember, I took that same chance on the first morning when I passed that 10 pointer, but my luck turned out good. Like I said, I would rather be lucky any time.
Thanks to IMB Outfitters for taking care of us. Thanks to my friends who went with me. Thanks to John David for pre-warming my lucky stand. And most of all, thanks to the Good Lord for making it possible and blessing us with a great hunt and a safe trip.