A century ago, un-managed hunting and the fur trade had nearly wiped out Nebraska’s big game. The 1900 Census of Wildlife in Nebraska showed the depth of the devastation of this once-plentiful land: just 50 deer and 100 pronghorn in the entire state. No more bison, elk, prairie wolf or bear, and even beavers and river otters all but gone.
Today, thanks to careful game management, huntable species are again plentiful across Nebraska. Deer and pheasants are found throughout the state, and the wild turkey population has grown substantially in the last decade. Nebraska is at the heart of the Central Flyway for ducks and geese, and the Missouri River flyway attracts large numbers of waterfowl as well.
Nebraska has one of America’s largest huntable populations of sharptail grouse and greater prairie chickens. A small but growing elk herd, and pronghorn in northwest Nebraska, provide unique opportunities for a smaller number of hunters.
The restoration of healthy wildlife populations in Nebraska and throughout North America has been one of the great wildlife conservation success stories. However, Nebraska wildlife face serious challenges.
Nebraska pheasant populations have dropped. Theories abound, but it appears that changes in farming practices that have reduced small grains like oats and wheat, reduced grassland borders and other edge habitat along fields, and pesticides that have reduced insect populations have had a substantial impact on pheasant numbers.
Native prairie is disappearing at an alarming rate, as high crop prices and federal farm programs drive the conversion of prairie to crop ground. Nebraska has lost about two-thirds of our historic wetlands. Wetland loss has been slowed but not stopped. River flows have dropped in many parts of the state.
Climate change is gradually reshaping Nebraska’s landscape. Bird migration patterns are changing. Reductions in snow melt from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming are likely to change the timing and amount of Platte River flows.
Nebraska Wildlife Federation is working to ensure strong wildlife populations for future generations.
For more information on some of Nebraska’s most popular huntable species, see our Huntable Wildlife Page.