Deer season is open in Nebraska in the fall and winter, from September 1st, until mid-January. There are 18 Deer Management units throughout the state, including a few with sub-units. All units generally follow the same seasons, with the main differences being deer types, bag limits, and permit requirements.
The three basic hunting methods in the state are Archery, Muzzleloader, and Firearm. There are a few other unique seasons that occur in different management units or apply to Landowners or age groups. In this article, we will discuss the various seasons, permits, and rules for hunting deer in Nebraska.
Each Deer management unit and permitting process has certain nuances. Therefore, be sure to check at the beginning of each year. Different requirements, maps, and licensing information can change without announcement.
Hunting Licenses and Permits
Everyone over the age of 10 that would like to hunt deer in the state of Nebraska must buy a Nebraska Deer Permit. The deer permits are only valid for the specific season, method, or area for which it is issued. If you do not live in Nebraska and want to travel to the state to deer hunt, you must purchase a Non-Resident Deer Permit. Any type of license or permit from another state is not valid in Nebraska.
In addition to the permit, most deer hunters are required to purchase a Nebraska Habitat Stamp. Hunters hunting on their land, younger than 16, and residents with a veteran or 69 or older senior permits do not have to purchase the Stamp. The permit must be printed and carried with you while you are hunting.
Some permits may be limited in number and selected through a drawing. You can apply for these permits in late June, with the drawing on July 1st. You can also purchase “points” for these drawings. Hunters with the most points are drawn first, so the more points you have, the better your chances are. Other permits may be “quota” permits; they only have a limited number sold and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
These permits usually can be purchased in July, first for residents for a few weeks and then for non-residents. Other permits may be sold in unlimited quantities and can be purchased all season. Some permits are only valid for Whitetail deer and/or Mule deer and may be for antlerless or antlered deer.
Many permits are “Season choice,” meaning that they are valid for the entire season and any legal method for the season that is open. As you can see, it is important to plan so that you can get the permit that you need.
Types of Permits
Statewide Deer Permit: This permit is split into five different permit types. The Statewide Archery and muzzleloader permit is sold unlimitedly to residents, while the non-resident permit is limited in quantity. This permit is good for any deer except an antlerless mule deer. The Statewide Whitetail buck permit is limited in quantity and is good for one whitetail buck, and is a season choice permitted.
There is a Statewide Buck permit that is very limited in quantity and a Restricted Statewide Buck permit that is not valid for Mule Deer in the Mule Deer Conservation Area. These two Buck permits are only valid during the firearm season.
Youth Deer Permit: This permit is valid only for hunters ages 10-15. There are three types of this permit. The Resident Youth permit is valid for any deer except an antlerless mule deer. The Nonresident Restricted Youth permit is also valid for any deer except an antlerless mule deer, but the units are restricted. A Youth Whitetail permit is also available that is valid for any whitetail deer. All of these permits are Season Choice.
November Firearm Permit: This permit is valid only during the November Firearm Season. There is a separate permit for each management unit, with a limited number sold each season. The quantity of permits sold is different for each management unit, and the species, number, and type of deer that can be taken is also different. In general, most permits are valid for whitetail deer, with the most not valid for mule deer bucks.
Antlerless Only Season Choice: This permit is a “Season Choice” permit, with a limited number sold each season. There is a separate permit for each management unit, with the species and number of antlerless deer that can be taken differently between units. Most permits are valid only for antlerless whitetail deer, and a few are for antlerless mule deer.
Mule Deer Conservation Area (MDCA): This permit is valid only for the MDCA during the November Firearm and Muzzleloader season. There is a permit for each unit in the MDCA, with some of the higher-demand permits issued with a drawing. There is a limited number of each permit, with different quantities and types of deer that can be taken in each unit.
River Antlerless Private Land Only Permit: This permit is a season choice permit and is valid during the Late River Antlerless season in January. This permit is unique in that it is not for certain management units but for areas around certain rivers in the state. This area is within 3 miles of the banks of the major rivers. See the Nebraska hunting guide for a map and description of these river areas. There are a limited number of these permits available, and they are valid for two antlerless whitetail deer.
Limited Landowner Permit: This permit is a season choice permit valid during the late Firearm Antlerless season. It is only for landowners to hunt on their land, and they are available to landowners that meet certain criteria for the amount of land they own and how much of the land is dedicated to agriculture. The number of permits for each landowner and family member depends on the amount of land owned. Each permit allows the hunter to take one antlerless deer and one other deer that is not an antlerless mule deer.
Special Landowner Permit: This permit is valid for hunting the three days before the November firearm deer season with any legal weapon. It is only for landowners who meet certain criteria to hunt on their land. As many as eight of these permits may be issued to the landowner and their immediate family. This permit allows the hunter to take one deer that is not an antlerless mule deer.
For some hunters, a hunter education course is required before deer hunting. For hunters ages 12 to 29 that are hunting with a firearm, proof of completing a firearm hunter education course must be carried while hunting.
Hunters in the same age range that are hunting with a bow or crossbow must similarly carry proof of completing a bow hunter education course while hunting. All youth hunters ages 15 or younger must be accompanied by a licensed adult 19 or older. Hunters between 12 to 29 that have not completed the course may also obtain an Apprentice Hunter Education Exemption certificate.
This certificate can be purchased from the Game and Parks Commission and expires on December 31st each year. It may only be renewed the following year and can only be purchased once in a lifetime. Hunters with this certificate must be accompanied by a licensed adult 19 or older. The adult may only accompany up to two hunters and must always be in unaided visual and verbal communication with the hunter.
Types of Deer Seasons
In Nebraska, there are ten different season types, but all follow the same three basic hunting methods: Archery, Muzzleloader, and Firearm. Archery season is open for the longest, from September 1st until December 31st.
November Firearm season opens on the second Saturday in November and closes eight days later. Muzzleloader season is open from December 1st to December 31st. The other season types depend on the permit described above and can include one or all three hunting methods.
Hunting Method Regulations
The various deer seasons include one of the three hunting methods, and hunters must use approved hunting devices for the season that is open. Below are details of each method type:
For the Archery season, hunters may hunt with Archery equipment such as longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, crossbows, and spears. Crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds, be shoulder-fired, and be non-electronic.
Spears must only be thrown by hand, and slings and air bows are not allowed. Arrows and spears must have a broadhead or sharpened hunting head with blades at least a 7/16-inch radius. Firearms of any type are not allowed during the Archery season.
For Muzzleloader season, hunters may hunt with Muzzleloading handguns, rifles, or muskets. These firearms can only be loaded from the muzzle end of the barrel and fired one shot at a time. Firearms that allow the powder or the bullet to be loaded from the breech end of the barrel are not allowed.
Muzzleloading handguns must deliver at least 400 foot-pounds of energy at 50 yards. See the manufacturer’s data and load recipe to achieve this requirement. Muzzleloading rifles must be .44 caliber or larger. Muzzleloading muskets must be .62 caliber or larger and fire a single slug. Modern firearms are not allowed to be used during this season.
For Firearm season, hunters may hunt with modern Rifles, Handguns, Shotguns, muzzleloaders, and Archery equipment as described above. Rifles must be at least .22 caliber and deliver at least 900 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards, or they can be .357 magnum or .45 colt. Handguns must deliver at least 400 foot-pounds of energy at 50 yards. Shotguns must be 20 gauge or larger and fire a single slug. Buckshot is not allowed.
Semi-automatic firearms may not hold more than six cartridges. Ammunition may not have full metal jackets or incendiary bullets, and fully automatic firearms are not allowed. Magnifying scopes may be used. However, scopes that amplify natural light or project a visible light beam to the target are not allowed.
Here is a list of some key rules to understand before deer hunting in Nebraska. This list is certainly not a full list of all the regulations, so be sure to read and understand the Nebraska hunting guide for the requirements as they may apply to you.
- A buck or antlered deer is defined as having at least one antler six inches or more in length. An antlerless deer has no antlers or antlers that are less than six inches in length.
- Hunters may have two permits that allow the harvest of a buck per year. There is no limit on the number of antlerless permits that a hunter may have other than unit limits.
- Legal hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
- Shooting from a bridge or public road is not allowed. This includes the right-of-way.
- Hunting within 200 yards of a bait site is not allowed; the hunter and the harvested deer must be outside this area. A bait site is an area where fruit, grain, vegetables, nuts, hay, minerals, or any other natural food materials or commercial feed is used to attract deer. The site is considered baited until ten days after the bait is removed.
- Carrying a firearm while archery hunting is not allowed unless it is legal for the hunter to carry a handgun. The handgun must have a barrel no longer than 5 inches. Using a handgun to take or assist in taking a deer is illegal.
- Red-dot or illuminated reticle sights and laser rangefinder scopes are permitted.
- Using remote-controlled drones to locate or find deer while hunting is not allowed. Using any aircraft and relaying information on the location of the game to others that are hunting is also illegal.
- Hunting deer with a firearm within 200 yards of an inhabited dwelling or livestock feedlot is illegal unless the hunter has permission from the occupant or owner. For hunters using archery equipment, a handgun, or a shotgun, the distance for this rule is 100 yards.
- When hunting deer during a firearm or muzzleloader season, the hunter must wear on their head, chest, or back at least 400 square inches of hunter orange material. This includes archery hunters that are hunting during a time when firearms or muzzleloaders are allowed.
- Hunting on private land without the landowner’s permission or entering private land to recover a deer without permission is not allowed.
When hunting, especially with a firearm, safety should be a top priority. Keep in mind the four basic rules of firearm safety: Treat every firearm as if it were loaded, always keep the muzzle of your firearm pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Make sure before you pull the trigger that your target is a deer that you can legally take. Since there are many restrictions on antlered and antlerless deer and differences in permits between whitetail and mule deer, you want to be sure of your target. Just as important, pay attention to what is beyond your target.
Is there another deer you could hit if you miss your target deer? Even more important, are there buildings or roads in the distance where people could be? Never forget that you are responsible for every shot you take and the damage you cause.
If you hunt from a tree stand or elevated position, prevent a fall injury. Most people believe that the majority of hunting accidents come from firearm injuries. It has been found that more hunting injuries result from falls from tree stands than any other accident. Understand how to use your tree stand properly, and always inspect it before you go hunting.
Replace any missing parts and tighten any screws or bolts. Always use a safety harness and connect to it before your feet leave the ground. Most falls occur while climbing up or down the tree. Also, do not climb with your gear; use a haul line to pull up and lower your bag and/or weapon. Always ensure your firearm is unloaded and the muzzle is pointed down.
CWD Concerns in Nebraska
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, contagious disease that affects deer and elk. It is caused by prions (mutated proteins) that affect the nervous system. CWD has been found in 29 states and has been detected in 54 Nebraska counties. Since 1997, 1.7% of the deer tested by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have been CWD positive.
In 2021, more focus was placed on testing bucks two years old or older. In some counties, the positive rate was over 17% in one year alone. To prevent further spread, it is important to understand how the disease spreads and what can be done to reduce it.
CWD can be spread by direct deer-to-deer contact or by contact with infected surfaces. The prions are shed by an infected animal in their saliva, urine, feces, and blood. The prions can survive in the soil for a prolonged period, and once they are in an area, there is no known method to remove them. The carcasses of deer, especially their brain and spinal cord, can contain the prions, and as they decay, they are absorbed into the ground.
To keep deer from congregating together, do not use bait that attracts deer. The longer deer stay in one area, it can become a hot spot for CWD from the feces and urine that are on the ground. When you have the carcass parts of a harvested deer to dispose of, do not leave them to decay outside and possibly contaminate the soil. Put them in a heavy plastic bag and dispose of them in a landfill.
Deer with CWD can appear to be thin, sick, and unaware of their surroundings. They may salivate excessively and appear to be confused and not afraid of humans. If you see a deer that may have CWD, report it to the nearest Nebraska Game and Parks Commission office.
While there is no strong evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, health officials recommend that hunters limit their exposure to CWD. Be cautious when you field dress or butcher a harvested deer; always wear gloves and wash your hand and tools when you are finished. Avoid contact with the brain or spinal cord. The CDC recommends avoiding consuming meat from a deer that looks sick or is positive for CWD.
Transporting and Tagging
Once you harvest a deer, you must immediately punch or notch your permit or tag to indicate the sex and date of the harvest. The permit or tag must be attached to the animal or can remain with you as long as you do not leave the carcass. The deer can then be field dressed and moved from the harvest location.
If you harvested your deer during the November firearm season, you must take the deer to a check station before 1 pm on the day following the season’s close. The deer carcass must be whole and cannot be quartered or processed before it is checked in. If you harvested your deer outside the November firearm season, it must be checked in via telecheck within 48 hours of the harvest.
This can be done via phone or online here. After you answer a few questions, you will be given a seal number and a security code. Write these on your permit for the deer, as this is proof of completion of the check-in process. The permit must remain with the deer carcass until it is processed and stored.
Potential Fines and Other Punishments
Taking a deer in Nebraska illegally can result in large fines, loss of hunting privileges, and even jail time. If you are convicted of stealing a deer, you can be fined for liquidated damages to the state of Nebraska. For a Mule deer with eight antler points or more with a 22-inch spread, the fine is $10,000.
You may have to pay a fine of $2,000 for other mule deer. For White-tailed deer, one with eight antler points or more with a 16-inch spread, the fine is $10,000; with other antlered bucks, the fine is $2,000.
For antlerless white-tailed deer, the fine is $500. These are in addition to any court costs or lawyer fees you may be responsible for. In 2020, a man with a hunting guide service was sentenced to 30 months in prison and $214,375 in restitution for stealing deer with his clients.
Over 30 people plead guilty to various charges that resulted in a total of $570,453 in fines and a total of 53 years of hunting privileges being revoked. Most of the charges were for hunting near a bait site, the largest conviction in Nebraska history.
Before you plan to hunt in Nebraska, be sure to read and understand the rules and regulations first. Even if you hire a guide, you may inadvertently break the law if you are misled by the guide. Take the time needed to understand the rules first. Simply not knowing is not an excuse, and it could be costly.
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- Nebraska Game and Parks, Available here: http://outdoornebraska.gov/guides/
- Nebraska Game and Parks, Available here: http://outdoornebraska.gov/deer/