Nebraska farmers could get free, special deer-hunting permit

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska farmers could get free, special permits to hunt deer on their land before the official rifle-hunting season starts under a bill that won initial approval Thursday.

Lawmakers advanced a measure, 38-1, that would allow farmers to hunt on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before the official hunting season if they get the permit. Qualified landowners could get up to four free permits for them and their families.

Sen. Dan Hughes, of Venango, said he introduced the legislation to reward Nebraska farmers who lose an estimated $60 million a year collectively when deer destroy their crops. Deer eat the leaves off of corn and mash down the plants when they sleep in large groups.

“The landowner who is feeding that deer 365 days a year does not receive any type of compensation other than a discounted hunting permit,” Hughes said.

Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard, said farmers are helping the deer and other wildlife survive, even though the animals are considered public property and the crops are privately grown.

“It’s difficult for me to understand why we should take private property for public use with no compensation, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said.

Opponents argued that the measure would infringe on the traditional bow-hunting season, but said they would work with supporters to tweak the bill before its next vote. Two more votes are required in the Legislature before it goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts.

“Bow hunters should be given time to hunt without additional pressure from rifle hunters,” said Sen. Tim Gragert, of Creighton.

Gragert said the early season would also make it difficult for the roughly 50 game warden who enforce hunting laws in Nebraska.

The original bill would have given farmers a seven-day early hunting window and required them to make at least half of their land available to other hunters, but lawmakers removed those requirements from the bill.