Let me start off by saying, I love Nebraska. Though I moved to Kansas City for work a few years ago, I spent ages 5-30 in the Cornhusker state. That’s why when I started hunting deer five years ago, I did so in the Sandhills every chance I got.
Now that I’ve hopefully established I’m not some ungrateful out-of-towner, I have a bone to pick. This firearm deer season at the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest has been terrible. Between brainworm, EHD (blue tongue), and the wildfires this summer, the deer population seems to have been decimated. We had four guys at our deer camp, and my dad’s group numbered about ten. Despite having a number of experienced hunters in the group, none of us managed to bag a single deer.
This is the first season I’ve gone home empty-handed. It happens, I know, but I didn’t fire a single round. There was a very obvious difference in the number of deer out there this year, and with only four days to hunt, we were out of luck.
I understand that Nebraska is not responsible for the natural drop in numbers. What they are responsible for, however, is selling the same number of permits as they have the last two years, knowing the success rate for hunters would be down dramatically. They got my $230 non-resident fee, as well as my camping fees, and the money I spent at local businesses on gas, food, and supplies.
Here is a graph from Nebraska’s 2011 Big Game Guide, showing the number of permits issued for Calamus West, the deer management unit in which Bessey resides:
And this is the current (as of November 16th) permit sales numbers:
For the last three years, 2010-2012, Nebraska has issued 1,800 permits for Calamus West. They got their money, but hunters didn’t get their deer. The Bessey Ranger District is the overwhelming majority of the public land available for deer hunting in Calamus West.
There’s more. After I bought my permit (within an hour of becoming available) I saw the wording: “One Whitetail Deer of Either Sex or One Antlered Mule Deer, plus One Antlerless Whitetail Deer”. There are a couple of bombs here. First, mule does were off limits, which have been the most plentiful mules out there. Second, you have to visit the Big Game Guide to find out that the bonus tag is off limits in Bessey.
I feel a little betrayed that it’s so difficult to piece together what deer you are, and are not, allowed to hunt on public land in Calamus West. I’m also upset that I had to buy the permit to learn I couldn’t hunt mule does, which were okay in previous years. In retrospect, the guide did have this information in different places, but it wasn’t easy to follow.
So what Nebraska did was see a decline in deer population, and change the rules so they’d receive the same amount of permit revenue as in years past. They didn’t lower permit numbers, which would be disappointing but honest. Instead, they sold the same number of permits, at the same prices, with hidden restrictions. So there was frustration after buying the permit, and disappointment after not having a realistic chance at a deer on my big annual trip. Bad customer service.
Deer camp is a big deal for me. I work hard all year with deer season in mind. I save up for supplies, my wife takes on full responsibility of our kids while I’m away for almost a week, and I spend time and money at the range ensuring that if I only get a single shot at a deer, neither the rifle or myself waste that shot. The least Nebraska can do is be upfront and honest about the prospects. Looking back at pre-season news articles on various hunting web sites, the Nebraska Game and Parks department made light of what looks to be a very serious deer shortage.
But at least they got my money, right?