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Upland Hunting in Nebraska: Wild Quail, Prairie Chickens, and More 

Upland Hunting in Nebraska: Wild Quail, Prairie Chickens, and More 

A Bird hunter walks grasslands in Nebraska.

Experience Nebraska’s premiere upland bird hunting from grassland bobwhite quail to prairie grouse opportunities.

“To me, Nebraska is an under-appreciated upland paradise,” said Justin Bubenik, an avid upland bird hunter who has spent much time hunting in Nebraska. “It may not have the numbers of its neighbors to the north and south, but the relative lack of pressure, massive amount of publicly-accessible land, and variety of species and cover makes Nebraska worthy of a road trip.”

Nebraska’s diverse array of wildlife habitats offer premiere hunting opportunities for every hunter, upland bird hunters included. These lands total up to 1.2 million acres, and they consist of public lands and walk-in access on private lands. Whether you’re hunting eastern Nebraska’s rolling farmlands and prairies or western Nebraska’s rocky foothills and cottonwood bottoms, you’re bound to have an unforgettable experience in the Cornhusker State.

Justin continued, “With healthy populations of sharptail grouse and prairie chicken, the Sandhills of Nebraska are a favorite early season hunt for many folks in September, but the pheasant and bobwhite quail keep me coming back throughout the fall and winter. From the rolling grasslands, to the walk-in crop land opportunities, and the scattered riparian areas, there really is habitat for every hunter and the birds we love to pursue.”

Nebraska Upland Bird Season Dates and Bag Limits

Game SpeciesDatesDaily/PossessionNotes
PheasantOct. 28, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20243/12Only roosters may be harvested
Bobwhite QuailOct. 28, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20246/24Quail must be shot while in flight
Prairie Grouse (includes greater prairie-chicken and sharp-tailed grouse)Eastern Zone: Sept. 1, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20243/3East of U.S. Highway 81Special permits are required. 
Western Zone: Sept. 1, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20243/12West of U.S. Highway 81.No special permits required.
Partridge (includes Hungarian and chukar)Oct. 28, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20243/12
Youth Pheasant, Quail, and PartridgeOct. 21 – Oct. 22, 20232/4 roosters2/4 quail2/4 partridgeOnly for youth 15 years of age and younger
Dove (white-winged, morning, and Eurasian collared)Sept. 1 – Oct. 30, 202315/45Doves must be shot in flight.Eurasian collared doves count towards bag limits during the regular dove season
Eurasian Collared DoveOct. 31, 2023 – Aug. 31, 202415/45HIP is not required
SnipeSept. 1 – Dec. 16, 20238/24HIP required
Rail (Virginia and sora)Sept. 1 – Nov. 9, 202310/30HIP required
WoodcockOct. 7 – Nov. 20, 20233/9HIP required
Squirrel (eastern gray and fox)Aug. 1, 2023 – Jan. 31, 20247/28
Cottontail (eastern and desert)Sept. 1, 2023 – Feb. 29, 20247/28
Jackrabbit Sept. 1, 2023 – Feb. 29, 20244/16West of U.S. Highway 81

These season dates were last updated on August 24, 2023. Please see Nebraska Game and Park’s website for the most up-to-date information.

A successful bobwhite quail hunt in Nebraska

Bobwhite Quail

Nebraska offers huntable populations of wild bobwhite quail. Yes, you heard that right. Bobwhite quail hunting is the second most popular bird to hunt here besides ring-necked pheasants. 

Nebraska is on the northern edge of this bird’s range. Predominately found on the eastern and central sides of the state, bobwhite are very rare in western Nebraska unless you’re hunting along the Platte River Valley. Keep in mind that their numbers can vary greatly depending on habitat quality and annual winter weather conditions. According to Birds of Nebraska, flocking generally occurs by August 30. 

The quail season opens on October 28, 2023, and continues until January 31, 2024. The daily bag limit is 6, and the possession limit is 24.

A prairie chicken in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Prairie Grouse: Greater Prairie-Chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse

When one daydreams about hunting birds in Nebraska, excluding their prairie grouse species is impossible. Offering opportunities for both prairie chicken hunting and sharptail hunting, Nebraska’s wild grouse will undoubtedly be a remarkable experience.

Both prairie chickens and sharptails are predominately available in the Sandhills. They also prefer higher ratios of grassland to treed areas. Prairie chickens are generally found in southern and southwestern Nebraska. Comparatively, sharptails prefer the north-central section of the Sandhills and western Nebraska’s panhandle.

A successful prairie grouse hunt in Nebraska.

Nebraska’s grouse seasons are split into two zones: the eastern and western zones. Eastern zone hunts begin September 1, 2023, and run through January 31, 2024, with a bag and possession limits of 3. The western zone has the same season dates but has a bag limit of 3 and a possession limit of 12.

Special permits apply to hunters chasing Nebraska’s prairie grouse, including greater prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse, in the eastern zone. Permits are free of charge, limited to one per hunter, and limited to 400 permits total. They’re available on a first-come, first-served basis. Requests for special prairie grouse permits are accepted at the Game and Parks headquarters in Lincoln beginning July 15, 2023. Requests are also accepted by phone (402-471-5410), email (ngpc.eastzonegrouse@nebraska.gov), over the counter, and by mail. No special permits are required for hunting grouse in the western zone.

A successful pheasant hunt in Nebraska

Ring-necked Pheasant

Pheasants are arguably the most popular bird to hunt in Nebraska. Their distribution is statewide, but they are the most abundant in open landscapes with lots of grassy cover and small-grain crops. Check out southwestern Nebraska and Nebraska’s panhandle for premium pheasant hunting opportunities. Just remember that only roosters can be shot in this state. 

Pheasant season begins on October 28, 2023, and ends on January 31, 2024. The daily bag limit is 3 birds, and the possession limit is 12.

Hungarian or Gray Partridge and Chukar Partridge

While neither Huns nor chukar are native Nebraska birds, the state offers hunting opportunities for both. Nebraska is on the southern edge of the Hungarian partridge’s range, so few of them reside in the state. Unlike the Huns, Nebraska’s chukar are not wild. They are raised in captivity and released by Controlled Shooting Areas and Captive Wildlife Permittees. Escapees can be found near these areas in suitable habitat.

Partridge season opens October 28, 2023, and ends January 31, 2024. The daily bag limit is 3, and the possession limit is 12.

Nebraska Small Game Hunting License Fees and HIP Requirements

Nebraska offers affordable hunting license fees for resident and nonresident hunters. The state also provides extensive lifetime license packages; please check the Nebraska Game and Parks small game hunting brochure for more information about their lifetime license offerings.

LicenseResidentNon-resident
Hunt (small game)$18$109
Youth Hunt (ages 15 or younger)No license required$18
2-Day Small Game Hunt$76
Nebraska Habitat Stamp$25$25
Veteran Hunt/Fish/Fur Combo (age 64-plus)$5
Senior Hunt/Fish/Fur Combo (age 69-plus)$5
Deployed Military Hunt/Fish/Fur Combo$5

These Nebraska license fees were last updated on August 24, 2023. Please check the Nebraska Game and Parks website for the most up-to-date information.

Residents hunting small game in Nebraska must have a small game permit if they are over the age of 16 and are hunting small game, upland birds, or waterfowl. However, residents also have an exception to this rule. Farmers, ranchers, and their immediate family who live on the land and own or lease it are legally allowed to hunt jackrabbit (west of US 81), squirrel, cottontails, prairie grouse (special permit required east of US 81), partridge, pheasant, and quail without buying a small game license or habitat stamp. Keep in mind that hunting regulations and bag limits still apply. 

Nebraska requires all hunters to have a habitat stamp. The $25 fee is the same for both residents and nonresidents. Residents under the age of 16 are exempt from this rule and do not need a license, but nonresident youth hunters do need a license and habitat stamp. Residents trapping coyotes, prairie dogs, and other nongame animals are also not required to have a habitat stamp. 

Anyone planning to hunt migratory birds in Nebraska between September 1, 2023, and July 31, 2024, must register with the Harvest Information Program (HIP) before hunting. Hunters must also register their HIP number through their Nebraska Game and Parks customer profile at GoOutdoorsNE.com, a new 2023-2024 hunting season regulation.

Nebraska allows all small game hunters to keep their license and habitat stamp on their phones. If a warden asks to see their license, they can legally display them on a mobile device. 

A bird dog works prairie cover while hunting quail.

Blaze Orange, Dog Training, and Other Requirements

While Nebraska does not require upland hunters to wear blaze orange, Nebraska Game and Parks and Project Upland strongly encourage it. This is especially so during big game rifle seasons. 

Dog training sessions are limited to sunrise and sunset. When training a dog, up to 2 hen pheasants and 5 quail may be taken; partridge and mallards are unlimited. You may only release pen-raised birds for training purposes. Training dogs in state wildlife areas between May 1 and July 31 each year is unlawful unless the area is posted with an “Authorized Dog Training Area” sign. Read more about the state’s dog training and captive bird handling on page 28 of its small game brochure.

In Nebraska, having or carrying a loaded shotgun in or on any vehicle on any highway or roadway is illegal. The state considers a shotgun to be loaded if a shell or shells are in the chamber, receiver, or magazine.

Nebraska does not allow toxic shot to be used in waterfowl production areas, national wildlife refuges, some state wildlife areas (as posted), and other lands listed in their Public Access Atlas

Pheasants and Quail Forever

North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA)

The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information are subject to change. This article may not reflect recent changes. Please visit the Nebraska Game and Parks website for the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in Nebraska. 

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