Enjoying Nebraska’s Great Outdoors | Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Enjoy the great outdoors of Nebraska

From Governor Pete Ricketts

September 27, 2022

Official photo of the governor here.

It was refreshing to feel the fresh air with the arrival of autumn. When the weather cools and the leaves start changing color, it’s a great time to get outside. From hunting to hiking to hayrack rides, there are many ways to enjoy Nebraska’s natural beauty this fall.

Hunting is part of our Nebraska heritage. It’s part of what makes this the good life. Hunting trips create opportunities for parents to bond with their children and for friends to spend time together and make memories.

We want to introduce the next generation to the joys of hunting. Participation 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 hunt, take a picture with them, and submit it to the Game and Parks website (outdoornebraska.gov). You’ll be entered into a raffle where you can win cool prizes like a John Deer Alligator from AKRS Equipment.

NGPC offers workshops to help Nebrascans learn and hone their outdoor skills. The Mentored Youth Archery Program is available to archery graduates ages 12-17. It brings together novice deer hunts with qualified instructors for a complete archery season. Mentors teach attendees how to scout, hang tree stands, interpret animal signs, and safely handle the animals they harvest. Visit outdoornebraska.gov/mentored-hunts for more information.

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In 1996, NGPC and Pheasants Forever developed a program for youth ages 12 to 15 who had recently completed a Hunter Safety Education course to participate in a supervised hunt. Participants will learn dog training, hunter safety, blue rock shooting and more. The highlight of the program is a pheasant or pigeon hunt with an instructor and handler. Visit nebraskapf.com/youth-mentor-hunt for more information.

Young hunters have found great success in Nebraska. Hannah Helmer of Seward was 14 years old in 2016 when she shot the largest moose in Sioux County history in Sioux County. It weighed nearly 1,000 pounds and its huge, atypical frame officially scored 426 7/8s. Hannah’s father Joel wrote a book telling the story of Hannah’s moose hunt and other great hunts in the state of Cornhusker (Nebraska Bucks & Bulls).

I’m going to Chadron on October 5-6 for the annual Governor’s Pine Ridge Wild Turkey Hunt. I look forward to enjoying the natural scenery of Pine Ridge, meeting friends and experiencing the thrill of the hunt. A hundred years ago that would not have been possible. Turkeys had completely disappeared from Nebraska by 1915. Beginning in the late 1950s, NGPC ran a successful reintroduction program beginning at Pine Ridge. Today, there are turkeys in every county in 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 pheasant, quail, reindeer and prairie chicken.

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Our state offers over 1.2 million acres of public land with numerous walk-through hunting opportunities. Every year NGPC publishes a publicly available atlas showing all these countries. The atlas is available at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas. This year, Nebraska’s private landowners opened up 374,000 acres through the Open Fields and Waters program, opportunities for which we are grateful. Open Fields and Waters offers financial incentives to private landowners willing to provide walkable, public access for hunting, trapping and/or fishing. Thank you to the many families who help promote hunting in Nebraska by opening lands to our athletes.

In addition to hunting, the Good Life offers many wide open spaces for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. The Cowboy Trail, built along the old Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, runs 196 miles from Norfolk to Valentine. Eventually it will extend to Chadron. Trail-goers can experience the sights and sounds of nature while traveling along the trail.

Nebraska’s state parks offer even more to explore. Fort Robinson State Park (Crawford) covers 22,000 acres. It is home to buffalo and longhorn herds and is steeped in Wild West history. The hardwood forest at Indian Cave State Park (Shubert) offers a spectacular display of color each fall. The park takes its name from a large sandstone cave containing Native American petroglyphs. The abundant wildlife and scenic views at Niobrara State Park make it a popular 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 trails.

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While fall is harvest time 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 some of the great places to visit. Many also offer old-fashioned hay rides!

Regardless of your interests, there are many options here in Nebraska to choose from when planning your fall. To learn more about outdoor recreation in Nebraska, visit the Game and Parks Commission website at outdoornebraska.gov. You can also contact me at [email protected] or 402-471-2244 with any questions or concerns.