Free, early deer permits for certain landowners advanced

Qualifying landowners would receive up to four free firearm deer hunting permits under a bill advanced from general file Jan. 30.

Sen. Dan Hughes
Sen. Dan Hughes

LB126, as introduced last session by Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, would require the state Game and Parks Commission to issue up to four free firearm deer hunting permits to landowners and their designated immediate family members who have been issued a limited permit.

The free permits would be valid during the seven days immediately preceding the beginning date for the firearm deer hunting season.

A landowner would qualify if he or she consents to make 50 percent or more of his or her farm or ranch land available for public hunting during the firearm deer hunting season.

Hughes said wildlife, including deer, cause millions of dollars in crop damage every year. Landowners receive no compensation from the state other than a discounted hunting permit for those who own a certain amount of land, he said.

“This bill is intended to give the landowner some recognition for what they are contributing to the state’s wildlife population, and that’s feeding them 365 days a year,” Hughes said.

A Natural Resources Committee amendment would shorten the period during which the permits would be valid. It also would remove the requirement that a landowner open his or her land to public hunting to qualify for the free permits.

Hughes introduced an amendment to the committee amendment that would make the permits valid during the five days of Saturday through Wednesday immediately preceding the opening day of the firearm deer hunting season.

It also would limit the commission to issuing no more than four free permits per qualified landowner to the landowner or designated immediate family members.

The number of free permits issued to a Nebraska resident could not exceed the total acreage of their farm or ranch divided by 80. For a nonresident, the number of free permits issued could not exceed the total acreage of the farm or ranch divided by 320.

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard supported the proposal and said many landowners choose not to hunt deer because of the dangers posed by large numbers of other hunters. Allowing landowners to hunt first would be a reward for feeding Nebraska’s deer, he said.

Albion Sen. Tom Briese also supported the bill, saying it could encourage more landowners to open their property to public hunting.

“This is a small way that we can show our appreciation to these landowners, and it has no adverse impact on the viability of our wildlife populations,” Briese said. “Any impact on hunting opportunities is fairly negligible.”

Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton opposed the bill. He said he supports compensating landowners for damage caused by deer. However, if LB126 is meant to address that problem by reducing the deer population, he said, the proposed permits should be limited to antlerless deer, which would exclude trophy bucks.

Additionally, Gragert said, expanding the firearm deer hunting season would interfere with the bow hunting season.

“I believe the bow hunter should be given their time to hunt without additional pressure added from the rifle hunter,” he said.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene expressed doubts about the Hughes proposal. Groene said he supported the original requirement that landowners open their land to public hunting in exchange for free permits.

He said the Hughes amendment, however, appears to create an early trophy hunting season exclusive to landowners and their families.

“For the long run, it [could] discourage hunters because every hunter, like everybody who buys a lottery ticket, goes out there thinking they’re going to get that big buck,” Groene said.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard said he voted against the bill in committee partly because it would increase the commission’s administrative and enforcement costs while reducing the amount of revenue it collects.

Bostelman said the commission has not adequately addressed wildlife depredation in the past but is working to improve.

“This activity needs to belong to our biologists and our game folks who know how to handle this in a more appropriate way,” he said.

Hughes said his proposal is intended only to reward landowners, not manage the state’s deer population. He and Bostelman said they would work to reach a compromise on the bill between general and select file.

Senators voted 38-1 to adopt the Hughes amendment. They then voted 37-1 to adopt the committee amendment and 38-1 to advance the bill to select file.

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