Like many other states, last year’s epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak killed thousands of whitetails in Nebraska, prompting wildlife officials to reduce the number of hunting permits available in 2013.
“The EHD outbreak likely killed 30 percent of our whitetails, so herd growth is our objective in most units,” said Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Big Game Program Manager Kit Hams. “About 70 percent of all bonus antlerless tags have been eliminated, so we expect lower hunting success as populations begin to rebuild.”
Hams believes that deaths caused by EHD explain why last year’s whitetail buck harvest was down 30 percent compared to 2011. The mule deer buck harvest was also down, but not due to EHD. Instead, officials blame brain worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis) for lower mule deer numbers in 2012, resulting in fewer animals being harvested by hunters. While most whitetails in the eastern part of the country carry brain worms, they rarely kill whitetails. For mule deer, it’s a different story. Once infected, symptoms of brain worm are readily detectable, including walking in circles, frequent stumbling and poor coordination and balance. Within a few days, the mule deer is dead.
Despite the population decline, in 2012 the number of older-age mule deer bucks harvested was the highest it’s been in the last three hunting seasons.
To help increase all deer numbers, 3,900 fewer November firearms permits and 6,700 fewer Season Choice antlerless permits were issued for this fall. In addition, 77,000 antlerless bonus tags were removed from the total number of buck permits issued for archery, muzzleloader, youth, and statewide hunting seasons.
The news isn’t all bad. The state added 600 antlerless-only permits with antlerless-only whitetail bonus tags to the Frenchman (400) Pine Ridge (100) and Sandhills (100) Units, and the River antlerless permit quota increased to 5,500.
This year non-residents will be limited to one buck during the statewide hunting season, and no antlerless mule deer may be harvested North of U.S. Highway 20 and West of Nebraska Highway 71.
Public land hunters will also find fewer hunting opportunities. The Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the harvest of antlerless mule deer. Hunters at the Medicine Creek, Red Willow, Enders and the Swanson State Recreation Areas/Wildlife Management Areas are also prohibited from using a Season Choice antlerless permit.