Enjoying Nebraska’s Great Outdoors
By Governor Pete Ricketts
September 27, 2022
Governor’s official photo here.
It’s been refreshing to feel the crisp air with the arrival of autumn. As the weather cools off and leaves begin to change color, it’s a great time to get outdoors. From hunting to hiking to hayrack rides, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of Nebraska this fall.
Hunting is part of our cultural heritage in Nebraska. It’s part of what makes this the Good Life. Hunting trips create opportunities for parents to bond with their kids and for friends to spend time together making memories.
We want to introduce the next generation to the joys of hunting. Participating in the Take ’em Hunting program, through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), is a great way to introduce a beginner to the pastime. To participate, simply invite a newcomer to go hunting, take a picture with them, and submit it on the Game and Parks website (outdoornebraska.gov). You’ll be entered into a raffle to win cool prizes like a John Deer gator from AKRS Equipment.
NGPC offers workshops to help Nebraskans learn and refine their outdoor skills. The Mentored Youth Archery Program is available to bowhunter education graduates who are 12 to 17 years old. It pairs deer hunting beginners with qualified instructors for a full archery season. Mentors teach participants how to scout, hang tree stands, interpret animal signs, and safely handle the animals they harvest. For more information, visit outdoornebraska.gov/mentored-hunts.
In 1996, NGPC and Pheasants Forever developed a program for youth ages 12 to 15 who have recently completed a Hunter Safety Education class to attend a mentored hunt. Participants learn dog training, hunter safety, blue rock shooting, and more. The highlight of the program is a pheasant or dove hunt with an instructor and dog handler. More information is available at nebraskapf.com/youth-mentor-hunt.
Young hunters have had big success in Nebraska. Hannah Helmer of Seward was 14 years old in 2016 when she took down the largest elk in state history during a hunt in Sioux County. It weighed nearly 1,000 pounds and its giant, non-typical rack officially scored 426 7/8 points. Hannah’s father, Joel, has written a book telling the story of Hannah’s elk and other great hunts in the Cornhusker State (Nebraska Bucks & Bulls).
On October 5-6, I’m headed to Chadron for the annual Governor’s Pine Ridge Wild Turkey Hunt. I look forward to enjoying the natural scenery of the Pine Ridge, connecting with friends, and experiencing the thrill of the hunt. One hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible. Turkeys had completely disappeared from Nebraska by 1915. Starting in the late 1950s, NGPC led a successful program to reintroduce them—starting in the Pine Ridge. Today, there are turkeys in every county of our state, and Nebraska has become the top turkey hunting destination in the country. Nebraska is also known for our upland game hunting with excellent populations of ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite quail, sharp-tailed grouse, and greater prairie-chickens.
Our state offers over 1.2 million acres of publicly accessible lands, with abundant walk-in hunting opportunities. Each year, NGPC publishes a Public Access Atlas displaying all of these lands. The atlas is available at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas. This year, Nebraska’s private landowners have made 374,000 acres accessible through the Open Fields and Waters program, opportunities for which we are grateful. Open Fields and Waters provides financial incentives to private landowners willing to allow walk-in, public access for hunting, trapping, and/or fishing. Thank you to the many families helping to grow hunting in Nebraska by opening lands to our sportsmen and sportswomen.
In addition to hunting, the Good Life has plenty of wide open spaces for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The Cowboy Trail, built along the old Chicago & Northwestern railroad, runs 196 miles from Norfolk to Valentine. Eventually, it will extend all the way to Chadron. Trail-goers can experience the sights and sounds of nature as they travel along the trail.
Nebraska’s state parks offer even more to explore. Fort Robinson State Park (Crawford) spans 22,000 acres. It’s home to buffalo and longhorn herds and brimming with history of the Old West. The hardwood forest at Indian Cave State Park (Shubert) offers a spectacular show of colors each fall. The park get its name from a large sandstone cave, which has Native American rock carvings. The plentiful wildlife and scenic vistas at Niobrara State Park make it a favorite spot for photographers. Nebraska’s first state park—Chadron State Park—is over 100 years old. It borders the Nebraska National Forest, and together the park and forest have more than 100 miles of trails and paths.
While fall is harvesttime in Nebraska, you don’t have to be a full-time farmer to take part. Orchards and pumpkin patches across the state offer visitors the opportunity to pick their own produce. Apple Acres Orchard (Kearney), DeGroot Orchards (Madison), Fanny’s Fruit Farm & Pumpkin Patch (Gurley), Kimmel Orchard (Nebraska City), and Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Orchard (Gretna) are just a few of the great places to go. Many offer old-fashioned hayrack rides as well!
No matter your interests, there are plenty of options to choose from right here in Nebraska as you plan your fall. If you’d like to learn more about outdoor recreation in Nebraska, visit the Game and Parks Commission’s website at outdoornebraska.gov. You can also contact me with any questions or concerns at email@example.com or 402-471-2244.