Bill would let Nebraska farmers allow earlier deer hunting

Farmers who are tired of deer destroying their crops could get a new incentive to let hunters onto their land under a bill in the Nebraska Legislature, but some outdoors groups and state officials aren’t thrilled with the idea.
    The proposal would create special permits for landowners to hunt deer up to a week before the official firearm hunting season starts, if they open at least half of their land to hunters during the regular season.
    The idea arose from two related trends: a rising deer population in some areas of the state and a decline in land that’s available to hunters. Farmers who allow hunting on their property are increasingly selling exclusive access to wealthy hunters who pay thousands of dollars so they can bag a trophy buck.
    “To me, it’s a win-win,’’ said Sen. Dan Hughes, a farmer from Venango. “It gives a little something to landowners who are suffering the damage (to their crops). And if they’ve already gotten their deer, they’ll be more willing to open the land to other hunters.’’
    Nebraska’s statewide deer population dwindled during a major disease outbreak in 2012, but their numbers are on the rise again. In southwest Nebraska, the disease had a much smaller impact and the local deer population has surged. Hughes said farmers in his district frequently complain to him that deer are eating and trampling on their crops.
    “This bill would give the landowner a reason not to hate the deer so much,’’ he said. “They could take their grandson out hunting a week ahead of time.’’
    The bill would provide up to four free permits per landowner.
    The surge in deer aggravates farmers like 70-year-old Robert Forch, who grows corn, milo and wheat in southwest Nebraska’s Hitchcock County. Forch said deer destroyed about 20 percent of the crops in one of his fields in 2017 — a $9,600 loss — and caused substantial damage in others.

 

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