Weather, running hot and cold, played a role in slowing the pace of harvests across the state on the opening day of the Nebraska deer firearms season.
But Ben Kreifels' first deer hunt lasted only a few minutes.
Kreifels, a 10-year-old student at Springfield Elementary School, wanted a bowl of cereal before heading to a friend's farm with his parents, Joe and Jenny Kreifels.
Arriving at their hunting spot a little late, just before sunrise, a 7x5 whitetail buck immediately offered Ben a broadside shot at 75 yards.
“We only sat for about 45 seconds,” Jenny Kreifels said.
The fifth grader aimed and squeezed off a perfect shot before his mother, an experienced hunter, got a chance to take the deer.
Jenny Kreifels, a math teacher at Papillion Junior High, was happy to see her son harvest his first buck. She was looking forward to turning it into a teaching moment when they returned home from checking in his deer at Schramm Park State Recreation Area.
“We're going to do some fractions work tonight when we measure the antlers,” Kreifels said.
Joe Kreifels was all smiles.
“It's a beautiful deer. I couldn't be more proud as a father,” he said.
Ben's buck had several small kicker points — additional nontypical points, adding character to the rack.
While the Kreifels' hunt went fast, the pace of hunters checking in deer at the park was slow in the morning, according to park employees.
“Last year we had a line waiting for us to open,” said A.J. Mende, a park tour guide.
High temperatures resulted in slow action as deer opted to lay low instead of heading to the fields.
Omahan Phil Thomas wasn't surprised by the slow hunt.
“My trail cams aren't picking up any movement until after dark,” Thomas said. “I only heard six shots all morning.”
Dan Muntz, of Louisville, was prepared for the warm weather, bringing several bags of ice to help cool his 4x4 buck. Muntz hunted in Cass County with his daughters, Erin, 13, and Jenna, 9.
The whitetail's distance was too far for Erin, so Dan decided to take the shot.
“I wish Erin could have shot first,” he said.
“I didn't mind,” Erin said. “I've already got two.”
Erin, an eighth grade student at Louisville Public Schools, has been hunting for three years.
The only part of the hunt Jenna minded was the early start. When asked if she liked the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, Jenna said, “Kind of not.”
With more than 90,000 hunters buying deer permits this year, it is the state's busiest hunting season. Deer hunting participants surpassed pheasant hunting numbers as bad winter weather, summer drought and habitat loss have been responsible for a drop in the pheasant harvest in many areas. Kit Hams, the Game and Parks large game program manager, estimates this year's deer harvest will be one of the top five in Nebraska history.
At the Bassett check station the weather was cooler, but heavy fog slowed the opening day harvest, said Ben Rutten, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife biologist.
“It's a little slower than normal, but not far off,” Rutten said.
A big mule deer with remnants of velvet and a half dozen big whitetail caught his eye during the morning checks. Rutten said fog also hampered the harvest in the Valentine area.
In Chadron, cold rain turned to snow, slowing the first day harvest, said Matt Steffl, a wildlife biologist in the Panhandle district. Two to four inches of wet snow were expected by the end of Saturday.
“Our hunters will earn their deer this year,” Steffl said.
Whitetail deer have already moved back into areas affected by the summer wildfires, Steffl said. Forty deer were checked by noon, split evenly between whitetails and mule deer, he said.
Wildlife biologist Clayton Stalling started his Saturday morning checking deer in Fremont and then traveled to the Ponca check station.
“The bucks are running hard,” Stalling said of the northeast district. However, the harvest in Fremont was slow due to warm weather, he said.
Warm weather in Lincoln isn't the only condition slowing the harvest in the area according to Tony Shuster, owner of Shuster's Meats.
“It's too warm. The deer aren't out and about yet. And it's usually pretty slow when there's a big game,” he said in reference to Nebraska hosting Penn State in football at 2:30 p.m.
Before the game started, 39 deer were checked in at Schramm Park.
Nebraska has 112 check stations, many staffed by Game and Parks wildlife biologists, conservation officers and employees. Most check stations are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., unless noted. A list of stations and phone numbers is available at outdoornebraska.ne.gov.
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