Birds and pheasants can rest easy. Participation in hunting season is lower than usual this year

Nov. 1, 2022, 4 p.m. ·

Payne Ahrens and his friends go pheasant hunting to start the 2022 season.
Payne Ahrens and his friends hunting pheasants to start the 2022 season. (Photo courtesy Payne Ahrens)

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Pheasant season kicked off in Nebraska last Saturday, but hunters say this year's extreme drought and wildfires will stunt the season all together.

After 1982 when hunting hit its peak in popularity, participation has declined in Nebraska and across the nation, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Drought and wildfires this summer have damaged the birds’ habitats creating a drop in pheasant, quail and other land and water bird populations.

The potential absence of hunters this fall spells trouble for some businesses.

Bruce Way, the owner of Northside Motel in Imperial, said he depends on hunters for the bulk of his revenue. However, this year 10 groups of annual visitors have already canceled their hunting trips. He said he isn’t the only one suffering.

“The whole community because then people aren't coming in spending money in the communities, in the restaurants, gas stations and whatever,” he said. “It's not just my business, it's all the businesses in Imperial – in the area.”

Way also said fewer farmers offer their grassland for government conservation programs, cutting into the amount of habitats and hunting grounds for pheasants or quail. Most farmers would prefer turning that ground into cropland with corn prices hitting record highs.

Bird hunters, like Payne Ahrens of Superior, are worried about the bird flu and its future effect on the bird populations.

“I know it's hit the goose population and stuff, so I mean once the geese and stuff get around here, I'm a little concerned with where we'll be at come springtime,” Ahrens said.

Access to hunting land could also be a contributing barrier, according to Ahrens. Thanks to his 16 years of hunting, he's made connections with landowners who let him hunt there. But newer hunters may have a harder time finding ground, he said.