Text and photos by Eric Fowler
Deer hunting is not as difficult as some people make it out to be. Follow these tips and you may well fill your freezer with tasty venison this fall.
Anyone can shoot a deer with a rifle. Seriously. It's just not that difficult.
In fact, for someone who has never hunted, deer may just be the easiest game to harvest. If you hunt right, you will see a deer long before it sees you, and all you have to do is wait until the deer is standing still, aim your high-powered rifle, which even in the hands of a novice is capable of striking a target within inches of the exact spot at which it was aimed at a distance of 100 yards or more, and squeeze the trigger. To top it off, your target, the deer's heart and lungs, is as big as a dinner plate.
Contrast that with pheasant hunting, where a rooster can flush at your feet at any given moment while you're walking through a field, which can scare even the most seasoned hunter out of their boots. As the bird flies away at any given angle and at speeds of 30 to 60 mph, you have only seconds to set your feet, shoulder your shotgun, take aim and pull the trigger before the bird is out of range.
If you've thought of taking up deer hunting, but have been intimidated by the unknown, I hope that comparison helps put your mind at ease. When you boil it down to the basics, deer hunting is simple. There also has never been a better time to hunt deer in Nebraska, where deer populations, and hence hunting opportunities, have reached record highs. Keep reading and you'll learn just enough to get started. When you're done, go to www.NEBRASKAlandMagazine.com and you'll find an extended version of this story with information on getting a permit, hunter education requirements, field dressing deer, hunting public land and how wind can help or hinder your success. Then you can spend the rest of your life fine-tuning your craft. I'll see you in the woods this fall.Equipment
You can spend a truckload of money gearing up to hunt deer, picking up some clothes in the latest and greatest camouflage pattern, a tree stand, scents, optics, guns and ammunition. But there is no need to, especially when you're just getting started. Assuming you already have a pair of boots and warm clothes, you really only need a few things to hunt deer: a rifle, ammunition, knife and a blaze orange hat and vest. Optional but very valuable pieces of equipment include a rifle scope and binoculars. Most hunters are more than willing to help someone get started in the sport, and if it's your first hunt, you may be able to borrow one or more of these items. If you're certain your first hunt won't be your last and want to get your own gear, start with the basics and build from there.
Just as it does with most merchandise, you do get what you pay for when it comes to hunting equipment. That doesn't mean that cheap won't get the job done.
With rifles, accuracy can increase with price, but there are some very accurate rifles available for less than $400. Spend more and you may get better materials, workmanship and aesthetics, and an investment that can outlive you and your kids, but there's also nothing wrong with a good, used rifle.
Getting what you pay for may apply more to optics than firearms, where another rule of thumb applies: buy the best you can afford. High-priced optics typically use better glass, providing a clearer picture and making them more functional at first and last light, primetime for hunting. They are also more durable and handle the elements and a little abuse better than cheaper goods.
The cost of ammunition can also vary widely. You don't need premium ammunition for practice or even to harvest a deer, but considering one box of hunting ammo can last several years, the added cost can be justified. With knives, cost also relates to materials and workmanship. If you don't like to sharpen them, buy a good knife that will hold its edge.
Rifle: There are enough styles (bolt-action, semi-automatic, etc.), brands and calibers of rifles on the market to make your head spin. Adults can't go wrong with a bolt-action in one of two tried-and-true calibers: .270 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield. For youngsters and small-framed women who want less recoil, a .243 will suffice. Add a sling to make the walk to and from the woods easier.
Rifle scope: Iron sights are fine for deer hunting at short ranges, but beyond 50 yards, it's much easier to aim with a scope. A 3x9 variable-power scope can be used anywhere from heavy woodlands to open prairies. You'll also need rings and bases to mount it to your rifle.
Ammunition: Because of the popularity of these calibers, .243, .270 and .30-06 cartridges can be found in numerous loads, again making your head spin. Most manufacturers print recommendations on their packaging that will help you choose.
Blaze Orange: Nebraska law requires everyone who hunts deer with a firearm to wear blaze orange on their head, chest and back. The reason is simple - safety. Hunters wearing this color are much more visible to other hunters.
Lights: To find your stand in the pre-dawn darkness, you'll need a flashlight or headlamp. The latter is also invaluable for field dressing deer after sundown.
Binoculars: These are more of a necessity when hunting mule deer in open country, but can be equally valuable when sizing up a whitetail buck in the woods. A 10x42 roof prism is a good choice. Stay away from compact models, such as an 8x21 or 10x25, unless you plan on hunting only in the woods.
Knives and Saws: Once your deer hits the ground, the real work begins: field dressing. A knife with a 4-inch drop-point blade is the best choice for this task. A gut hook is a good option to add. A sturdy knife will open a deer's ribcage, but some hunters prefer to use a bone saw for this task.Sighting In
Even if your rifle has years of experience, you need to head to the rifle range before each deer season and make sure it still shoots where you aim. If your rifle is brand new, sighting in is a requirement.
Most gun dealers will bore-sight a rifle and scope you purchase from them with a specialized tool. If you are buying a package, the manufacturer usually takes care of this task. But bore-sighting only ensures that the first shot you fire will hit somewhere on a standard paper target - you must still make fine adjustments to the scope's windage and elevation to get the rifle to hit the bull's-eye. If you put a scope on a bolt-action rifle yourself, you can get it close without the tool. Place it in a steady rest, remove the bolt, look through the barrel at a target and adjust the scope until the crosshairs fall on the spot you see through the barrel.
Once you have the rifle bore-sighted, it's time to head to the range. Your first three shots at a target should be from 25 yards. If you're on the paper, adjust your scope to move the bullet grouping in the direction of the bull's-eye and then fire three more. Once you're hitting dead center, or very close to it, move back to 100 yards from the target.
From this range, you will repeat the process, but your goal here is two fold. First, you want to be able to put three shots in as small of an area as possible. Your rifle and cartridge can both limit your accuracy, but how steady you hold your rifle and how smoothly you pull the trigger are more important considerations. Three shots in a three-inch circle is acceptable for a novice. Three in a one-inch circle is incredible.
Your next goal is to adjust your scope so that while aiming at the bull's-eye, your bullets are striking the target about three-quarters of an inch above it. This is to compensate for the arced flight path of the bullet. At 150 yards, standard .243, .270 and .30-06 cartridges sighted in this way will all hit dead on. At 200 yards, they will hit about 2 inches low, still well within the kill zone.
Gun clubs across the state open their gates to deer hunters for one or more days each fall for a nominal fee. If you don't have a safe place to shoot, take advantage of these opportunities, which are listed on the Commission's web site. The more you shoot, the better you will shoot, and the more confident you will be when you lower your crosshairs on a deer.Deer Hunting Basics
Deer are creatures of habit. For the most part, their lives are spent doing three things: eating, sleeping and walking between the places they eat and sleep. With that in mind, there are three places you can hunt deer: their bedroom, their dining room or on trails linking the two.
It's not as easy as it sounds, however. Deer are crespuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. Thankfully, legal hunting hours run from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset, when deer usually are moving to or from feeding areas. So those hours are best spent hunting feeding areas or trails leading to or from them.
The area you hunt might not look as good as this mythical slice of whitetail heaven (right), but you can still use the same principles when deciding where to sit or hang your stand. Deer in this area are bedding both in the creekbottom forest and upland shelterbelt and feeding in crop fields. Pick your stand according to wind direction and plan your approach so the deer can't see or smell you coming.
1) Sit in the fence line where grass, trees or simply a fence post will break up your outline and where you can see deer coming out of the woods to feed. In a perfect world, you could find a spot offering a shot at both creekbottom and shelterbelt deer. Deer might also follow the draw or fence lines between the two habitats.
2) Pick a spot on the downwind side of the shelterbelt that provides a view of its entire length.
3) Hunt one of these spots to catch deer returning from the fields in the morning. If deer aren't feeding until after dark, sneak in here in the afternoon and you might get a shot as deer browse in a staging area. Set up on the edge to cover both the woods and field, but don't get too close to their bedding area.
4) Take a stand in a funnel - a narrow spot between two large woodlands - and you have a good chance of intercepting deer passing between them, especially deer pushed out of one area by other hunters.
Deer are browsers that like to nip leaves from trees and shrubs, and nibble on tender, green grass. But both white-tailed and mule deer will feed on domestic crops such as corn, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa if they are available. That is the case for nearly all whitetails in the state and most of the mule deer as well.
Deer have acute senses of sight, smell and hearing, which means that while you may know where deer eat and sleep, getting close enough during legal shooting hours can be a challenge. To combat this challenge, camouflage clothing helps us blend into whatever landscape we may be hunting simply by breaking up the human outline. It's much more important, however, to limit the amount of movement you make while on the stand or still hunting. More often than not, however, it's a deer's sense of smell that gives it the edge, primarily because deer often smell us before we can see them. Even though in most hunting situations the range of a high-powered provides a buffer against this sense, never hunt upwind of the spot where you expect to see deer.
Nebraska rifle hunters also have another advantage in that their season usually falls during the deer breeding season, also known as the rut. During this time, deer are more active during the day, especially bucks in search of does.
While these basics of deer behavior hold true for both mule deer and white-tailed deer, the habitats the species occupy are different, and so are the methods used to hunt them. Turn the page to find specific tips on hunting both species.Where to Hunt
If you've never hunted deer, finding a place to hunt should be one of your top priorities. Deer aren't everywhere, so finding a good place to hunt is key to success. You can start in one of two places: public or private land.
There are approximately 800,000 acres of state and federal land open to hunting in Nebraska. These areas sometimes receive considerable hunting pressure during the November firearm season, but they hold plenty of deer, and plenty of hunters are successful there. Details on these properties can be found on the Commission's web site, in the Nebraska Guide to Hunting and Public Lands and the CRP-MAP Atlas, which includes maps of public land as well as private land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program that also is open to walk-in hunting.
While there is good hunting on public land, 98 percent of Nebraska is privately owned. Some landowners do not allow hunting. Others have leased the hunting rights on their property or reserve their farms and ranches for friends and family during the November season. But many landowners welcome deer hunters, especially those who have trouble with deer eating their crops. All you have to do is find them.
Wise hunters will go for a drive in the country in the morning and evening and look for deer feeding in fields before they ever knock on a door and ask permission. When they spot deer, they open the plat map they bought at the local courthouse to find out who owns the land and where they live, knock on the door, introduce themselves and politely ask permission. Hunters willing to harvest does will increase their odds of gaining access, especially in areas where whitetail numbers are on the rise.
If you receive permission, let the landowner know what days you plan on hunting and what vehicle you will be driving. Ask if there will be other hunters on their land, and if they would like you to hunt in a certain area. Whether you harvest a deer on their land or not, thank them when the season is over. A gift and thank-you card is always in order.
It's never too early to start this process, but it can be too late. Start your search in early fall at the latest, not the week before deer season.
Below are some helpful links:Hunt Guide
Hunting Public Land
Deer are extremely wary, especially on heavily hunted land. If you don't mind going for a hike, however, you can use that to your advantage. This is particularly true on public land. If you see deer using a food plot on a public area, assume you aren't the only one who has seen them there and that you won't be the only hunter there opening morning. Also assume that when hunters arrive at the parking area, the noise they make slamming car doors and standing around talking before walking to their stands will scare the deer into the woods before legal shooting time. Most hunters don't venture far from their vehicles, so if you can figure out where the deer are going to go when they are spooked and get there first, your chances of success are high.
Aerial photos available online, including the Map Server http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/gisapps/default.asp on the Commission's web site, are invaluable tools for finding the remote patches of thick cover deer will head for when the shooting starts on opening morning. They will also show you the corridors of escape cover, such as a shelterbelt, deer might follow to get there. Scout these areas and pick one that you can walk to without spooking deer. Get there at least a half-hour before legal shooting time, and let the rest of the hunters push deer right to you.
Other things to look for online are bottlenecks - places where two large patches of timber are connected by a narrow patch. Chances are good that sooner or later an impatient hunter will take a hike through the woods in hopes of seeing a deer. Chances are better that when they do, they will push deer through the woods to that bottleneck, offering you a passing shot. When you're studying the maps, don't overlook the possibility that hunters may push deer your way from adjacent private land.
While deer move most often at dawn and dusk, hunters do not. Most head back to the truck by mid-morning, go to town for lunch, and return in the afternoon. These hunters will spook deer from their beds on their way in and out of the woods, often without even knowing it. Pack a lunch or plethora of jerky and trail mix and stay on your stand all day and you have a good chance of seeing one of these deer as it heads for another patch of cover.
A successful hunt on a large tract of public land can be bittersweet. No vehicles are allowed on Commission-controlled land, so be prepared to haul your deer out by hand, which is not an easy task if you're hunting alone a mile from the truck. Hunt these areas long enough, and you will easily justify the investment in a two-wheeled game cart. They're cheaper than a trip to the chiropractor or, worse yet, the undertaker.Whitetails
Most white-tailed deer live in heavy cover offered by woodlands, and hence, are most abundant along rivers and in forested areas of eastern Nebraska.
The easiest way to harvest a whitetail is to spend an evening waiting for one to arrive at its dining room: a crop field adjacent to heavy cover. Chances are you found one of these feeding areas while you were looking for a place to hunt. All you need to do now is find a spot to sit that is within rifle range of the location where deer most often walk out of the woods and into the field. Don't get any closer than you have to - the closer you are, the more likely it is that deer will see, hear or smell you and spook.
Deer start moving into crop fields an hour or more before sunset. The first to appear are usually does, fawns and immature bucks. Trophy bucks might not move into the fields until well after legal shooting time. That might be the case for all deer in a heavily hunted area during the season.
You can hunt crop fields in the morning, too, but you will have to approach quietly in total darkness, wait for shooting light and hope the deer are still feeding. Get to your stand at least 30 minutes before legal shooting time if you plan on hunting in the morning.
Another tactic for whitetail hunting is to hunt in the woods near the spot where deer are leaving the woods to feed. Deer will often mill around on the edge of cover before they walk into an open field. Walk the edges of fields, look for well-worn trails and follow them into the woods a short distance. From the trail, look for places where you could sit or hang a tree stand that provide a clear shot to that trail and possibly others. Don't wait until the eve of the opener to do this scouting, as you could easily spook deer out of the neighborhood.
Most whitetails bed in heavy cover, be it a woodland, tall grass or a cattail slough. Go into one of these areas during the day and chances are all you'll see is a deer waving its white tail at you as it runs away. That doesn't mean you can't hunt bedding areas, but doing so means getting there and on your stand well before first light, while the deer are still out feeding, and waiting for them to come back.
If you do decide to go for a hike in the woods during the day, walk softly and slowly, making as little sound as possible and stopping often to scan the cover for deer. Walk with the wind in your face or to your side so deer won't smell you coming. They might still see you before you see them, but if you're lucky, they will stand up and stare at you for a few seconds before bolting at breakneck speed. Be ready to shoot, and you might just get to.
If you aren't seeing deer in the area you are hunting, but have seen them there in the past, be patient or check other nearby fields. Deer have a home range in which they spend most of their lives. But two studies in Nebraska have found this annual home range can be as small as 170 acres and as large as 1,500 acres - more than two square miles. Most whitetails use the same core bedding area throughout the year and move from there to the best available food source during any particular season. If they aren't where you found them in July, keep looking, because they haven't gone far.Mulies
Mule deer prefer wide-open grasslands and are primarily found in the western half of Nebraska, especially the Sandhills, Panhandle and southwestern regions.
One study found that crops made up half of the diet for mule deer in the North Platte River Valley during the fall. So like whitetails, a good strategy is to look for deer in the morning and evening around fields that abut large grasslands. But mulies don't necessarily bed in the same area each day and hence don't always follow trails like whitetails do, which makes it difficult, but not impossible, to find a stand location near a field. Also, a western Nebraska study found the winter home range of mule deer does to be more than three times that of white-tailed does, although the home range of mule deer bucks was actually smaller than that of white-tailed bucks and much smaller than mule deer does.
The technique most often used to hunt mule deer, however, is commonly known as spot and stalk hunting. In theory, it's simple: spend a lot of time looking for deer through your binoculars while driving or walking through mule deer country and then try to figure out a way to sneak within rifle range of one when you spot it. In practice, it's not that simple.
Rather than using heavy cover to conceal themselves, mule deer often bed on an open hillside with the wind to their back, using their eyes and ears to detect danger approaching from downwind and their nose and ears to detect anything coming from behind them. All of a deer's senses are sharp, but if hunters can stay out of sight and prevent their scent from blowing to the deer, they can usually close to within the range of a high-powered rifle.
With practice, mule deer are easy to spot with good optics, especially when they are up and moving in the morning or evening, or during midday when they rise to browse and stretch. When hunting on foot, don't walk on hilltops where it's easiest for deer to spot you. Creep slowly over hills, scanning cover a slice at a time as it comes into view. If you get close enough and the deer is still bedded, a whistle will typically get it to its feet without sending it running. If you happen to spook a mule deer from its bed, you can often take advantage of a fatal flaw in the species behavior. Unlike a spooked whitetail, which will run long and hard until it is out of sight, a mulie will usually bound away for a short distance and then stop and look back at whatever spooked it. Be ready to pull the trigger when they do, and you'll be grilling tenderloins for dinner.Play The Wind
Thanks to their sharp senses, deer have an uncanny ability to see, hear or smell hunters. But the one that ruins things for a hunter as often as any is a deer's sense of smell.
Deer don't see in color as humans do, so don't worry about them seeing that blaze orange vest and hat you are required to wear. Deer are much more attuned to spotting movement. If you're hunting from a stand, sit still and you've overcome sense No. 1. If you're actively hunting, move slowly and carefully. If you can spot a deer before it sees you, you also win.
Deer have good hearing. But again, the amount of sound you make in the woods is something that is easy to control, as long as you're not trying to walk through a forest carpeted with dry leaves. Even then, the way you walk can eliminate much of the sound. And if there is any breeze blowing, take comfort in knowing that the ambient noise it causes affects a deer's hearing as much as it does yours.
But a deer's nose? Deer think we stink and are programmed to associate the smell of a human and anything else that's unnatural with danger. And that's even before we spill some of our morning coffee on our shirt, cover our chests with tiny drops of bacon grease while cooking breakfast or end up with gasoline on our hands, clothes or boots when we stop and fuel up on the way to the field.
Companies make millions selling charcoal-impregnated suits and sprays to hunters who want to block or mask their scent, but nothing eliminates all human odors, so don't think you have to have these products in your gear bag to be successful. In reality, they only help you get deer that are coming from downwind, and how much they actually help in those situations is debatable. It's much more important to pay attention to wind direction when selecting your stand location, or if you have more than one stand, choosing which one to hunt from on a given day. Set up downwind of a well-worn trail and you can smoke cigarettes all day and still get your deer.
Scent control is more of an issue for bowhunters and those who hunt from stands in thick woods, where visibility is limited and shots are close. The buffer provided by the range of a high-powered rifle gives the advantage to the hunter, but that doesn't mean you should hunt from a location where the wind will carry your scent straight to the spot you expect a deer to walk out of the woods.Opening Day
For died-in-the wool deer hunters, opening day is like Christmas morning. The anticipation makes getting to sleep the night before as difficult as it was when you were a kid wondering what Santa would bring. At least if you can't sleep, it's a lot easier to get out of bed and head for the woods at 0-dark-thirty.
Scouting is part of hunting, and if you have put in your time by opening day, you should have an excellent chance at being successful. If it's your first hunt, don't be picky. Any deer taken in an ethical manner is a trophy, so take the first deer that presents a good shot, buck or doe. Time in the woods and getting a taste of the sport and success are much more important than antler size. Harvesting a trophy is indeed a challenge, and one that many relish, but get a few years under your belt before you start holding out for a wallhanger.
When your chance comes, relax, take your time, take note of the exact spot where the deer is standing, aim carefully, squeeze the trigger and listen for the tell-tale thump a bullet makes when it strikes the deer's chest. The recoil of your rifle will likely cause you to momentarily lose sight of the deer through your scope, so use that as an opportunity to raise your head and watch how the deer reacts as you chamber another cartridge. Some deer drop in their tracks, some arch their backs and stand still, some kick their hind legs high in the air before bolting and some simply bolt as if they weren't hit at all. If the deer is still standing, take another shot. If it runs, watch closely and note where it runs out of sight. This is a lot to keep in mind for a beginner, so it's good to hunt with someone who can be your eyes and ears.
Do not assume you missed if your deer runs away. This is fairly common, even for a deer shot directly in the heart. Chances are it will run no more than 100 yards before it collapses. If the deer runs out of sight, go to where it was standing when you shot and look for drops of blood on the ground. Wait 15 to 30 minutes before you start your search, follow the blood trail slowly and quietly, and you should find your deer. In some cases, you may find your deer injured but alive, so be ready to take another shot.
Some hunters celebrate when they recover their deer. Others pay their respects to the animal and pause for a moment of prayer. Everyone should take time to have a photo taken with their deer, especially if it's their first. Take several photos from different angles. Don't wait until the deer is in the back of the pickup for a photo. Today's digital cameras are so small and light that every hunter should put one in their pack before heading into the field.
To view other hunter's photos and share your own, go to http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/nebland/articles/hunting/trophyphoto.asp.Shot Placement
When your chance comes, aim for the epicenter of a deer's vital organs - the veins and arteries at the top of its heart - and you will almost always collect your prize. A shot to this area cuts off all blood flow and deflates both lungs. It also gives room for error. Shoot a few inches low and you hit the heart directly. Shoot a few inches back and you hit the lungs and liver. Shoot forward or high and you still hit both lungs.
Never attempt to shoot a deer in the head or neck - those are simply not ethical or efficient shots. To make a clean kill in those areas, you must hit the brain or spine, which are much smaller than the heart and lung area. Miss by a few inches and you may only cripple a deer.Stands
Commercial tree stands and ground blinds can increase a hunter's chances for success, but they aren't a necessity, especially for someone just starting out.
The old adage is that deer don't look up and a hunter 15 feet up a tree is less likely to be spotted by a deer walking down a trail towards him. That's not entirely true - make one false move and a deer will see it, whether you're in a tree or on the ground.
A better reason to use a tree stand is it gets you above shrubs, saplings and other groundcover on the forest floor, allowing you to see and shoot farther, both good things when hunting with a rifle.
There are three basic types of tree stands to choose from. Ladder stands combine a ladder and a seat. They are heavy and can be difficult to carry into the woods, but are easy to set up and climb. Hang-on stands are lighter and easier to pack, but require steps be screwed into or strapped to the tree, a cumbersome process. Climbing stands have platform and seat sections with teeth that can be walked up a tree, negating the need for screw-in steps. They are comfortable, but only work on straight trees without lower limbs. Hunters have also been building stands for years, often wood platforms that can be reached by climbing a ladder or screw-in steps, but weather can deteriorate these stands, making them unsafe and they are not recommended.
Ground blinds do a better job of concealing a hunter's movements and can make hunting on a cold, wet or windy day bearable. But deer notice these changes to their environment, and a blind itself can be as visible to a deer as a hunter would be, if not more so, if it is simply plopped down in the woods on opening day.
Some blinds are extremely portable and can fit in a pack. Others have room for four people, but are large and bulky enough that you won't want to carry them far. If you are hunting private land and want to use a blind, set it up before hunting season and let deer get used to it. If you're hunting public land and would like to use your blind more than once, pile limbs where you plan on hunting and then put your blind behind them to be less obtrusive.
Both blinds and tree stands have disadvantages as well. Once they are set up, a hunter might have a hard time convincing himself that he's picked a poor stand location and needs to move. He might also decide to hunt a stand even if the wind is not blowing the right direction for that stand, a sure recipe for failure.
A hunter can do just as well finding a tree to sit against where he has a good view of a well-worn trail. If it turns out the deer are using a trail 50 yards away, and he can't get a shot from his current location, moving is easy. Some hunters pile limbs and brush around themselves to break up their outline and help conceal their movements.After the Shot
Once you recover your deer, the real work begins: field dressing.
This can be the most intimidating part of the hunt for novices, but it's a fairly simple process that you will soon become adept at.
The process simply involves opening the deer's abdominal and chest cavity and removing its entrails and organs. It is easily accomplished with a sharp knife and, if you wish, a bone saw. Most hunters dress the deer where it falls in order to lighten the load when hauling the deer to their vehicle. Some don't want to get dirt and debris inside the body cavity and wait until they reach their vehicle, but there is little meat inside the deer to dirty, and dirt is easily washed out with a hose at home. Whatever the case, it is important to dress the deer as quickly as possible so the meat begins to cool and does not spoil.T
he Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has several resources available to walk hunters through the entire process, including a brochure, "Wild Game Care - Field to Kitchen" and another tutorial, "Big Game Guide to Field Care & Home Processing," on its web site. For those who are a bit more visual, the Commission also offers a DVD, "Field Dressing and Processing for Deer Hunters." View our online catalog and click on Videos & DVDs. The field dressing chapter of the video, of course, should be watched before the hunt unless you want to rip it to your iPod and take that to the field.
Butchering deer is also not a difficult task. Simply put, you carve the meat from the bone and separate the muscle groups, cutting larger ones into steaks and saving the smaller ones for stew, jerky, burger or salami, and package everything in freezer paper or bags. The chore can be a bit time consuming, however, so watch the DVD and decide before your hunt if you will tackle the task yourself. If you won't, there are plenty of commercial meat lockers that process deer. Select one before your hunt and deliver the deer to them as soon as you are done at the check station.Permits and Hunter Education Requirements
When you decide where you'll hunt deer, you'll need to get a permit. And before you hunt, you'll need to make sure you meet Nebraska's Hunter Education requirements. Nebraska is divided into 18 management units for the November firearm season. With one exception, highways serve as the boundary for the units.
It wasn't long ago that getting a deer permit in some units was far from a guarantee. Demand far outstripped supply, and only those lucky enough to draw a permit could hunt. But as the state's deer herd, which numbered at about 50 in the early 1900s, has grown, so has opportunity. These days, with the deer population at about 350,000 in the fall, there is a drawing for permits in just one unit, and as of September 18, only three other units in which permits are sold out. In several units, there will be permits left when the season ends.
Even if you live within one of those sold-out units you can still hunt deer with a rifle this fall. Statewide Buck Only permits are unlimited and allow hunters to harvest a buck anywhere in the state during the November firearm season. There are also 20 Season Choice Areas, covering the entire state, for which permits allow hunters to harvest one antlerless deer, and in many cases, two, during the season of their choice: archery, November firearm, muzzleloader, and the January antlerless firearm season.
Some firearm permits carry additional restrictions, including allowing only the harvest of white-tailed deer or prohibiting the harvest of mule deer does.
Hunter Education Courses are required of people ages 12 through 29 who wish to hunt in Nebraska, and are recommended for anyone who hunts, regardless of age. While these courses have proven to produce a safer, more ethical hunter and reduce hunting accidents, in the past the requirement prevented some people who received a last minute invitation to hunt from participating. A new law that went into effect this year removes that hurdle by allowing folks who obtain an Apprentice Hunter Education Exemption Certificate to try hunting before taking the 10-hour course. The Exemption Certificate, available for $5 at Commission offices, online and at permit agents selling permits electronically, allows those individuals to hunt if accompanied by a licensed hunter age 19 or older.To learn more about permits, hunter education requirements, classes being offered, and to start planning your deer hunt, go to www.OutdoorNebraska.org or visit a Commission office or permit vendor to pick up a 2008 Nebraska Big Game Guide. You can also stop by one of the Commission's permitting offices, where the staff will be happy to walk you through the permitting process.