Special Elk season gets mixed reaction

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by Becky Uehling

Grant Tribune-Sentinel

A special elk depredation season set by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for July 1-31 on private land in specific parts of Perkins, Lincoln, Keith, Deuel and Garden counties, is getting a lot of attention. While some farmers, hunters and elected representatives believe the details of the season were not well thought out, the season is going forward with more than 60 permits sold the first day, according to the Game and Parks Commission.

According to the Game and Parks, the goal of the season is to help landowners deal with small herds of elk that started showing up in summer 2018 and stayed until crops were harvested, causing excessive damage.

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, according to the Game and Parks. The damage can occur at any time during the growing season, but becomes much worse when the crops start to dry out before harvest.

According to Wildlife Division Administrator Alicia Hardin, in the past, 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, Hardin said.

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, six bulls and 11 cows in the area designated. Since 2020, we have issued eight damage-control permits to the landowners and we have sent hunters their way; two elk were killed on these permits,” Hardin said.

“A special depredation season opens the opportunity to get more hunters into a specific area and reduce the population,” she added.

Hardin said it is imperative to get the hunters into the crops to hunt the elk before the crops become tall. Once they do, the animals are almost impossible to find, she said.

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Although many local farmers and hunters are sympathetic to the farmers whose crops are being destroyed by the elk, many agree that the details of the special season were not well thought out.

An Unlimited Amountof Issues

The depredation order allows hunters to kill as many animals as possible in the designated area. (See map)

However, because the parameters of the hunt allows residents and nonresidents an unlimited quantity of permits for a fee of just $20 for general resident, $40 for nonresident, area landowners have been bombarded with phone calls from hunters near and far since the announcement of the season last week. All of it is just too much for some.

“I’ve had phone calls left on my answering machine from people wanting to come in to hunt,” said Perkins County farmer Bruce Young,” and right now I am leaning towards the position of not letting anyone come and hunt.”

Young said he sympathies with the farmers, but said the season was not set up the best

“After the animal is shot, the hunter will have to go out and get it and that gets to be a mess going across your field,” Young said. “I’m not in favor of having someone just drive across fields.”

Perkins County farmer Dave Jantzen has also had calls. Jantzen said he hasn’t seen many elk on his property the past few years, and believes that most of the elk problem is located within a 4-5 miles stretch north and south of the South Platte River.

Jantzen said he has been involved with several elk hunts, and said that this special hunt is “the wildest one” he has ever seen.

“Unlimited tags and bag limits with no restrictions. For as protected as the elk are in Nebraska, where a resident can only draw a once-in-a-lifetime tag and then they open it up like this, it is a pretty drastic measure,” he said.

Jantzen sympathizes with the landowners who are affected, but said the way this hunt was set up probably was n’t the way to do it.

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“How will hunters get access to the animals in growing corn fields; how will they care for the harvested meat in 100 plus degree weather; and the aspect of hunters shooting at elk while wheat harvest is underway or farmers working on pivots in the middle of a cornfield are all things that weren’t well thought through,” he said. “Hunters better really think about what you are doing before they come out.”

Jantzen also feels that the hunt is simply a band aid on a bigger issue, and that there will always be elk in the area.

“Once the elk get established, they will stay. You are still going to have herds here,” he said.

Jantzen feels it would have been better to have issued more permits during the regular season in the fall instead of having a special season during the heat of the summer.

Avid hunter and Perkins County farmer Dennis Dahlkoetter is also frustrated with how the Game and Parks set up the season, saying they went overboard, especially now that mother elk have small calves.

“If you kill the cow, then you will have calves that are going to be orphaned. How humane is that?” he said.

Dahlkoetter also brought up the challenge of hunters being able to get the meat into cold storage quickly and out of the heat of the summer.

Dahlkoetter said he has talked with landowners in the designated area who have also been bombarded by phone calls from hunters everywhere wanting to come onto their property to hunt.

“There are better ways to do it, like increasing tags in the fall. I don’t think this special season will be successful at all,” he said.

Dahlkoetter also pointed out that the elk won’t come into the corn until it is tall enough for them to hide.

“The elk aren’t going to be there yet because the corn isn’t tall enough. There will be some, but they (the landowners and Game and Parks) aren’t going to get what they want, which to get them all, in my opinion,” Dahlkoetter said.

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Dahlkoetter said if Game and Parks were to open up the elk permits in the fall, thinning the herd would be more successful.

For District 42 Senator Mike Jacobson of North Platte, whose district includes Perkins and Lincoln counties, taking closer look at the season got him questioning the logistics behind it and wondering if it could have been handled any differently.

“Although I am supportive of the efforts by the Game and Parks to control the damage caused for over population of elk, I am concerned about the process used to address the permitting,” Jacobson said. “I am concerned that they are suggesting that there will be ‘unlimited’ permits. This could be very problematic for land owners in the area to deal with.”

Jacobson said that it is his understanding that July was chosen because it is the time of year when much of the damage is occurring, but it is also a time of year when many farmers may not want hunters entering their property.

“I have concerns regarding safety as farmers are irrigating their fields and harvesting,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said he would have preferred to see more permits offered in the fall, and not allowing the cow to be harvested at this time of year.

“I believe that allowing the landowner to hunt their own land during the special season makes sense, but I can only imagine the nightmare that landowners are having with the unlimited number of low cost permits,” he said.

Jacobson said on Tuesday that he has a meeting set up with the Game and Parks Commission to discuss the logistics and follow-through of the special season.

Permits for the season went on sale June 27 and were available for purchase at the Game and Parks office in North Platte. More information can be obtained at outdoornebraska.gov/depredation.

The Game and Parks exercised its authority granted under Nebraska Revised Statue 37-448 to designate a special elk depredation season. In June 2021, Game and Parks adopted regulations for the special depredation season that was passed during the 2021 Legislative session.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>