Prairie chicken ritual is a must see

Prairie-chicken viewing blinds give the public great opportunities to see the magnificent mating displays of the prairie chicken.

If you have never seen or heard of prairie chicken viewing and how these fascinating birds come to the same areas year after year to mate, you are in for a treat. I cannot express enough how exciting the mating displays are on prairie-chicken leks right now. If you get the chance and don’t mind getting up early in the morning, going to see this sight is one that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The public is invited to view the spectacular mating rituals of the male prairie-chickens and will be able to interact in the bird’s environment and see the importance for conservation of habitat for these birds.

Prairie-chickens are an overlooked native species that put on a great mating show. Males will drum their feet and strut in their territory while keeping other males away in their attempts to attract a female. The males have brightly colored air sacs on the sides of their necks that they inflate and “ear-like” pinnae feathers that they raise and lower during their dances.

The free viewing blind is available at the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) property southwest of North Platte starting Monday. Those wishing to view prairie chickens from this blind need to contact Bill Sellers at 308-534-6752 or email bsellers@urnrd.org for information and reservations. This is a great opportunity to view these unique mating displays of the prairie chicken.

There are many other locations in Nebraska that offer opportunities for the public to view the annual rituals. The Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Ellsworth, 308-762-4893; Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, 308-533-2257; Valentine National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, 402-376-3789 or 402-376-1889; Prairie Chicken Dance Tours near McCook, 308-345-1200; The Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental near Mullen, 308-546-2206 or 888-278-6167.

The blinds at Bessey Ranger District are first-come, first-served, but visitors should call the district office for maps and information first; all others are available by reservation.

Visitors to all areas are encouraged to arrive at blinds set up on display grounds an hour and a half before sunrise; visitors should stay until the displays are finished, usually two-to-three hours after sunrise to lessen the disturbance of the birds. Lights and flashes on mobile devices or cameras should not be used and all sounds should be muted.

Spring turkey season

The Nebraska archery turkey season for youth and adults begins March 25. Shotgun season for youth begins April 7, followed by the general shotgun season starting April 14. All turkey seasons close May 31 giving turkey hunters ample time in the field.

During the spring season, a person may have three permits. Permits are valid statewide and allow for the taking of one male or bearded female per permit. A small game permit is not required to turkey hunt. A turkey permit and habitat stamp are required for hunters 16 and older, except for resident veterans and seniors 69-and-older who do not need a habitat stamp.

Hunters age 12 to 29 must complete a firearm hunter education course when hunting with a firearm or air gun. Those hunting with archery equipment do not need hunter education.

Turkey permits may be purchased at Nebraska Game and Parks permitting offices or online at outdoornebraska.org.

Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. It is unlawful to take or attempt to take any turkey perched in a tree before sunrise.

Hunters are encouraged to read all the rules and regulations in the 2018 Turkey Hunting Guide. Get a copy of the Public Access Atlas, which is available at local vendors and online at outdoornebraska.org. The atlas shows all the public areas available to hunt turkeys.

When in the field keep safety in mind

» When on the move wear blaze orange for safety.

» Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.

» Always know where the muzzle is pointed. Archers: know where your arrow is pointed.

» Never knock an arrow until you are set up in your hunting spot.

» Select a large stump or tree trunk that is wider than your shoulders and higher than your head to place your back against when calling. A hunter is more likely to spot another hunter when moving to the front or side than from behind.

» Eliminate the colors white, red, black and blue from your hunting attire. The head of a gobbler can change to these colors in a moment’s notice.

» Select your calling spot in open timber rather than thick brush. Don’t conceal yourself completely to other hunters.

» Never wave or make turkey sounds to alert another hunter of your presence. Remain still and speak in a loud, clear voice to announce your presence.

» Positively identify the target as a turkey and always know for sure what is behind the target before you shoot.

» When in doubt don’t shoot.

Make your spring turkey hunt enjoyable and keep safety first.

Boater safety class

Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1985 is required to successfully complete a boating safety course and possess a course certificate while operating a boat or personal watercraft. You must be at least 14 years of age to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft in Nebraska. Those that will turn 14 this year can take the class.

Boating safety courses teach students how to safely operate a motorized boat while following all rules and regulations. Topics include navigation and safe operation, Nebraska laws and emergency preparedness.

Option B is a self-taught home study course. Students can download and review the course study materials. After studying, students will need to register for an Option B test-out session to take a proctored exam. A home study option course will be offered on March 26 at Mid-Plains Community College north campus. Students can study for free with the online course material at outdoornebraska.org. There is a $10 fee for this class and pre-registration is required. For more information, call Becky Ford at 308-289-1029.

More classes will be offered throughout the summer, so check the Game and Parks web page to find a hunt education or boating safety class near you.

NGPC to host mountain lions meeting

The public is encouraged to attend an informational meeting about mountain lions in Nebraska. The meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 22 at the Holiday Inn Express, 300 Holiday Frontage Road, in North Platte. The meeting is hosted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The meeting will include an overview of what the Commission knows about mountain lions in the state. Topics will include an update on research and details of the new mountain lion management plan. Staff then will receive feedback and answer questions.

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