A special elk depredation season has been ordered for July in a portion of southwest Nebraska because of excessive crop damage caused by elk. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Director Tim McCoy signed a Special Depredation Order for a season July 1-31 in specific parts of Lincoln, Perkins, Keith, Deuel and Garden counties.
Permits will be available for purchase starting June 27. Applications will be available at OutdoorNebraska.gov or in the North Platte office, 301 E. State Farm Road, North Platte NE 69101-0430.
Why did the Commission order this season?
The Commission manages wildlife populations in a way that provides recreational opportunities for our hunters while keeping populations at a manageable level for our landowners. In our mostly privately owned state, we must balance landowner tolerance and hunter opportunity. This balance is critical to ensuring future seasons. We use depredation seasons as a last resort when other methods have not been effective enough. It allows a targeted harvest in an area without having to further reduce elk across an entire unit.
Nebraska hunters specifically ask to be a part of the solution when landowners experience depredation problems. Special Depredation Season legislation recently passed allowing hunters to do that in specific locations where depredation is occurring.
Why doesn’t this season include guaranteed access?
The Commission cannot legally require access, but a special depredation season will not be ordered unless land access is reasonable: meaning hunters are allowed on the property, though not everyone is permitted. The landowners that requested this season are allowing free access to their properties, but are not able to host every hunter who calls them. Other landowners in the designated area may choose to require a fee.
Permission for access should be obtained prior to purchasing a permit. Though we cannot post a list of landowner names, we are working closely with the landowners to provide them hunters and assistance managing the hunters as needed.
Remember: It is important to build relationships with landowners with mutual trust and respect in order to gain access to private lands.
What is the history behind needing a season in this specific area?
The geographic area designated in this season is mostly cropland with many center pivot irrigation systems and a few interspersed pastures. When elk are present near center pivot systems, they can cause extensive damage by trampling, wallowing and eating crops. The damage can occur at any time during the growing season, but becomes much worse when the crops start to dry out before harvest.
In 2018, several landowners in the area started to see small herds of elk show up during summer and stay until crops were harvested, causing excessive damage. The landowners agreed to have hunters come during the regular seasons free of charge; hunters with permits were contacted by the Commission and asked to come and hunt these areas. Some hunters harvested elk, but not enough prior to damage occurring. Others chose not to hunt these properties, preferring not to use their once-in-a-lifetime bull permit or cow permit to hunt a less populated area with center pivots.
In the past three years, hunters have taken 17 elk, 6 bulls and 11 cows in the area designated. Since 2020, we have issued 8 damage-control permits to the landowners and we have sent hunters their way; 2 elk were killed on these permits.
A special depredation season opens the opportunity to get more hunters into a specific area and reduce the population while enjoying the harvest.
Why such an early season?
The elk move out of the area after the crops are harvested, making late-season cow hunting ineffective. The Commission also is trying to prevent the elk from taking up residency in the fields during the growing season, so the damage never occurs.
The height of crops in late July to early August is another reason this season will begin early as corn in mid to late summer is taller than most cow elk. The early season allows pressure on these fields prior to the elk finding the escape cover of a fully grown field.
Isn’t it too hot to hunt elk in July?
Yes, it is hot, but is very similar to our August season and proper management of harvested meat is possible during this time of year. A hunter must be prepared to quickly cool down the meat by boning out the elk and getting the meat into a cooler or field dressing it and putting pre-frozen blocks of ice in the cavity immediately. The animal can be telechecked.
What about the early season impact on calves?
A few elk calves could be affected by the special season, but the number is likely to remain low given the size of the herds in the area at this time. Calves also will be eligible to be harvested by hunters during the season. As during regular season, it is unlawful for a hunter to waste meat that they harvest.
Aren’t the antlers of the bulls are still in velvet?
This hunt is not meant to be a trophy hunt; it is a management hunt with the purpose of reducing the elk population in a very specific area as quickly as possible. The meat of the animal, if properly handled, will still be an appetizing, nutritious protein source.
What about the hunters that have been applying for a permit in this unit?
For the past two years, the Commission has increased permits in this unit to allow for hunters to harvest elk during the regular season to help manage the populations, but most hunters choose to hunt in the areas where there are more elk. In this unit, the core elk area in is not a part of this special depredation season. The idea of this season was to concentrate hunters in this area without affecting the core area or a hunters’ ability to use their regular season permits. Hunters who would like to hunt both this season and a regular season are allowed to do so without affecting their ability to qualify for a regular season permit.