Deer is the primary target for big game hunting in southeast Nebraska, and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has set season dates starting Sept. 1.
Archery is Sept. 1 through Dec. 31; Firearm, Nov. 11-19; Muzzleloader, Dec. 1- 31; and Late firearm, (antlerless only), Jan. 1-15.
According to NGPC Big Game Program Manager Kit Hams, summer is the time deer reproduce. While both White-Tail Deer and Mule Deer roam through the state, southeast Nebraska only has White-Tail Deer. “The Mule Deer are in the Western part of the state,” Hams said. “Seeing one in southeast Nebraska would be rare.”
In 2010, deer experienced a peak herd. “The population is 70 percent of when we had high numbers. The peak herd was in 2010-2016. Disease and hunter harvest have cut down those numbers.”
The large floods in 2011 changed the number of deer in the area. “The floods killed trees and forced deer to move or drown,” he said. “The river changed a lot with the flood. Fortunately, they are a resilient species and are doing well now. We’ve not had many landowner complaints about damage. Hunters are satisfied.”
Many of the deer during the peak season acquired blue-tongue disease. It is a non-contagious, insect-borne, viral disease that affects ruminants such as deer, sheep, goats, buffalo and antelopes.
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“It’s spread by biting midges and causes internal hemorrhaging in lots of mammals. There are lots of blood vessels in mammal’s tongues. These start hemorrhaging and swell, causing their tongues to look blue. We get a little bit every year, but we had a severe outbreak tied in with the drought in 2012,” he said.
During a drought, the midges that spread the disease do very well reproductively. They lay eggs in mud flats. The midges feed on the mammals and spread it to the deer We had a bad year in 2012 and the deer population dropped. Before the drought, the hunters harvested 37,000 deer in Nebraska. After the blue-tongue event, 26,000 were harvested. That’s a one-third reduction just based on harvest numbers.”
Hams said the population is at a good level regarding what farmers will tolerate. It is also large enough to satisfy the area hunters.
“We will probably let the white-tail grow a bit,” he said. “The land will support more. It’s more about the social tolerance.”
Vehicle-deer collisions, crop damage and deer feeding on trees make people less tolerable of their presence.
“That’s why we’re at lower than the ability of the landscape to support the deer. The land could support twice as many, but if the population gets too high, it’s difficult to get control of the herd,” Hams said.