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Omaha Magazine

Bird by Bird

Oct 21, 2023 06:05PM ● By Patrick McGee

Design by Nickie Robinson.

It is no secret that Nebraska contains some of the best pheasant hunting in the nation. 

Pheasants Forever describes the state as a “bird hunting cornucopia” that boasts 800,000 public access acres supporting upland bird hunting—and that’s only 2% of the mostly-private land in the great state. (Upland bird hunters might also be lucky enough to find access through landowners.) Native Omahans are no doubt accustomed to seeing bird dogs leashed on neighborhood walks or pheasant hunting-themed bumper stickers on trucks. In short, pheasant hunting is big in Omaha, and with the heavily anticipated season come (rightfully) big expectations and even bigger traditions.

Per the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, this year’s upland bird hunting season begins October 28, 2023, and runs through January 31, 2024. During the season, bird hunters may take three rooster pheasants per day with a maximum possession limit of 12 birds. There are plenty of pheasants for the taking in Nebraska’s sprawling fields. Many bird hunters have their own spots and bird dogs, with plenty also relying on guides.

Every fall, Trent Leichleiter, managing partner at Pheasant Bonanza Hunt Club near Tekamah, looks forward to guiding groups through the club’s 1100 acres of fields. He enjoys guiding generations of hunters as they arrive with excitement, walk the fields, and pass on the tradition.
“I remember not being able to sleep the night before the season opens,” he said, recalling how pheasant hunting brought together family members, many of whom had traveled from elsewhere for the occasion. To this day, he appreciates when families fill his lodge and husbands and wives walk the fields with his well-trained dogs in search of upland game.

For upland bird hunters who do not wish to join a club, Leichleiter advised looking for open fields with milo, oats, wheat, and millet. He said, “Millet is like candy to game birds.” During the warm season, focus on Indian grass, big blue stem grass, little blue stem, and switch grass. In the winter, look for overwintering structures. Identifying grass and forage is a big part of the sport, and a guide is especially useful for that. 

The same can be said for a good bird dog. “There’s nothing better than watching a good dog work a field,” said Leichleiter.

Hunters with access to productive land, good dogs, and decent marksmanship should have success in Nebraska.

Even so, bird season wouldn’t be complete without a field-harvested meal enjoyed in a warm home with the family. Food is certainly a major part of nearly every pheasant hunting tradition. Leichleiter said pheasant meat is like chicken and can be used as a substitute in most dishes. 

His favorite pheasant preparation features stuffed pheasant breast fillet stuffed with Boursin cheese wrapped with cottage bacon, then grilled. Bacon wrapping, the pheasant expert explained, prevents the breast from drying out, an important step since pheasant is naturally lean. 

At the end of the season, pheasant hunting is about much more than taking birds. There’s a unique, local culture surrounding it, and a holiday spirit that is fitting for Nebraska’s coolest seasons. With the excitement surrounding upland bird hunting, families bond, friends walk fields, and maybe more importantly catch up and spend time with one another. 

But in Nebraska, the chances of getting birds is high, too. 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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