Like many Nebraskans, I enjoy hunting and fishing, and these activities have instilled in me an enduring love for the outdoors.  There’s no better way to take in the beauty of Nebraska, whether it’s on a turkey hunt in the Pine Ridge or spending a quiet evening fishing at a community pond.  Hunting and fishing are relaxing ways to unplug from the work week, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with friends and family.  While hunting and fishing, I have met Nebraskans from throughout the state, all bound together by appreciation of our state’s natural resources.

This month, on September 28th, Nebraska will join the nation in celebrating National Hunting and Fishing Day.  This is an important day across the United States, but it has special significance in Nebraska.  Hunting and fishing are important elements of our rich outdoor heritage.  Families have hunted and fished together for generations.  For numerous Nebraskans, hunting and fishing remain ways to put food on the table, while creating treasured memories in the process.

Outdoorsmen and women are drawn to our state because of its plentiful wildlife, picturesque open spaces, and well-kept parks.  We have mule deer and whitetails, along with such an abundance of upland game that Nebraska has been called the mixed-bag capital of the Great Plains.  We have turkeys in every county of the state and the popular Merriam’s bird in the Pine Ridge.  The thriving turkey population in Nebraska has led to our state being known as the best turkey hunting destination in the country.  Our lakes have outstanding stocks of fish: walleye in Lake McConaughy, Harlan Reservoir, and the Sandhills lakes; trout in the cool-water streams in the north; channel catfish at Branched Oak; and muskies at Merritt Reservoir.  These opportunities draw hunters and anglers annually from every single state in the nation.

Hunting and fishing are a significant economic force in our state.  Each year, they contribute more than $1 billion to our state’s economy, or about one percent of our state’s economic output.  Hunters and anglers from all across Nebraska, and throughout the nation, travel throughout our beautiful state in pursuit of a wide variety of game, fish, and outdoor recreation opportunities.  They purchase fuel, enjoy meals, hire guides, stay at hotels and motels, and shop at other local businesses.

Proceeds from the purchases of hunting and fishing permits and stamps in our state are reinvested in growing the population of wildlife in Nebraska.  Hunting and fishing permit and stamp sales are used to research game species in our state.  The funds also go to conserve and restore habitat for these species, which in turn benefits songbirds, pollinators, and many other plant and wildlife species as well.

Nebraska’s traditional commitment to hunting and fishing flows from our agricultural heritage.  To a large extent, Nebraska’s generous landowners are responsible for our state’s desirability as a destination for sportsmen and women.  Hundreds of landowners across the state have opened more than 325,000 acres of their own property to walk-in access for hunting, fishing, and trapping through the Open Fields and Waters program.  Many other landowners and ag producers have implemented programs on their land to improve habitat for wildlife.  Still others open their land to family, friends, friends-of-friends, and to strangers who knock on their doors each year when deer or turkey season rolls around.  If you’re invited to hunt on private land, make sure you thank the landowner who hosted you.

I’m doing my best to pass the tradition down to my son, Roscoe.  We’ve hunted turkey and pheasants together, and we’ve enjoyed seeing our state’s natural beauty on these trips.  For his part, Roscoe has introduced his friends to fishing.  Inviting family and friends on a hunting or fishing expedition is the best way to pass on these treasured Nebraska traditions to future generations.  You should also check out the Youth Lifetime Half Price Permit Program through Nebraska Game and Parks at http://outdoornebraska.gov/yltp.  Over the years, generous donors have supported 6,400 lifetime hunting and fishing permits for young Nebraskans.

This fall, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has developed a program to thank hunters who take the time to introduce hunting to a new or novice hunter.  The Take ‘Em Hunting program encourages hunters to introduce–or reintroduce–someone to hunting, take a photo of their experience, and upload that photo to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website (www.OutdoorNebraska.org/TakeEmHunting).  Anyone who submits a photo will be entered to win great prizes, including the grand prize, a camo John Deere crossover utility vehicle from Plains Equipment Group.

There has never been a better time to pass down the tradition of hunting or fishing and to celebrate the benefits of these time-honored activities.  If you’d like to share your favorite hunting or fishing tradition, I invite you to email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.  I hope to see you on the lake or in the field this fall!

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