Draper: Nebraska Deer Managers Optimistic

Rut Reporter David Draper grew up hunting deer and small game throughout this region and presently lives on a family farm in Nebraska. Draper, former communications specialist for Cabela's and an authority on the Great Plains, subsists on a diet of duck breast and venison. States covered: ND, SD, NE and KS.

For the past several years, deer numbers in the Cornhusker state have had hunters rejoicing, farmers cursing and deer biologists working to get the ever-growing herd under control. 2011 looks to be another record year in terms of whitetail population, but, according to Nebraska Game & Parks officials, hopefully the tide is turning.

"Nebraska's whitetail population is about at an all-time peak, but looks to be cresting," said NGPC big-game program manager Kit Hams. "I think we've finally turned the corner and gotten a handle on herd growth."

Hams estimates the numbers of whitetails in Nebraska to number in excess of 300,000, with another 80-100,000 mule deer throughout the western half of the state. Along with record numbers of deer, Nebraska enjoyed a record harvest in 2010. During last year's archery, rifle, muzzleloader and special antlerless seasons, hunters killed more than 88,000 thousand deer, 77,000 of which were whitetails. Breaking that number down, antlerless whitetail harvest was 39,198 compared to 37,967 bucks, marking the first time more antlerless deer were taken than antlered.

Last year also marked the first time Nebraska hunters were introduced to the Earn-A-Buck concept, where hunters in two units-- Elkhorn and Wahoo--were required to check in a doe before checking in an antlered deer. According to Hams, this increased the harvest in those two units by about 1,000 deer.

"Earn-a-buck accounted for about 20% of the antlerless harvest in those two units," said Hams. "The goal was to kill more antlerless deer and hunters did that, so we considered it a success and are expanding it to three more units this year--Blue NW, Blue SE and the Missouri unit."

Flooding along the Missouri river caused some concern among biologists, but Hams estimates fawn mortality from flooding at less than 1%. The greatest effect, he said, will be to hunters who might not be able to access some traditional hunting ground. Two special units on National Wildlife Refuges in the eastern part of the state-- Boyer Chute and DeSoto--are closed this year due to flooding, affecting a few hundred hunters.