Nebraska has four major upland game bird species. Three of them — bobwhite quail, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens (also a grouse species) — are native to our state. The fourth, the ring-necked pheasant, is an introduced species yet undoubtedly the most popular.
Recently, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission introduced a contest that celebrates these four game birds and encourages hunters to pursue them.
“The Nebraska Upland Slam was initiated in 2018 in an effort to promote our state’s excellent mixed bag hunting opportunities and increase awareness of upland hunting opportunities on public lands in Nebraska,” said John Laux, Upland Habitat and Access Program Manager with the NGPC.
“The concept of the Nebraska Upland Slam is simple,” Laux explained. “Hunters are challenged to harvest all four of Nebraska’s upland game bird species, including greater prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasants and northern bobwhite quail.”
In looking back at my records, I’ve completed personal upland slams several times. Unfortunately, there was no contest in effect back then.
Thankfully, now there’s a way to both officially recognize this accomplishment and celebrate Nebraska’s upland hunting tradition.
“To participate in the slam, hunters need to set up a profile on our website, outdoornebraska.org/uplandslam, and then upload their photos and enter details about their hunt,” said Laux. The process is repeated for each bird species.
To be eligible for the 2019-2020 Upland Slam, birds must be harvested during the 2019-2020 hunting season. The prairie grouse season runs Sept. 1, 2019, through Jan. 31, 2020, while the pheasant and quail seasons run from Oct. 26, 2019, through Jan. 31, 2020.
“All participants are entered in monthly prize drawings sponsored by Pheasants/Quail Forever,” Laux said. “Hunters who successfully complete the slam will receive an official pin and certificate, and will be entered into our grand prize drawing for the following prizes — a Browning Silver 12-gauge shotgun, YETI cooler and Pheasants Forever Print of the Year.
“During the 2018-19 season, 267 hunters representing 14 states participated in the Nebraska Upland Slam. Out of that total, 140 completed the slam, most of which were Nebraska residents.”
One of those hunters was Brandi Niemoth of Grand Island. This 21-year-old has been hunting upland birds for nearly a decade.
“The first bird I ever bagged was a ring-necked pheasant when I was 12,” said Niemoth. “My dad, Roy, and his buddy, Johnny, took me on a weekend hunt, along with my dad’s Vizslas, Sage and Mesa, and Johnny’s dog, Artie. The guys didn’t even carry guns. They wanted it to be my experience. Finally, on Sunday night as we were walking back to the truck, Artie went on point and I got right behind him. When the bird flushed, I dropped it. I’d never felt anything like it before!”
Just like that, a hunter was born. Niemoth says upland bird hunting is her biggest passion, filling all her free time from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31 each year. When she learned about the Upland Slam, she was in.
“I first heard about the slam last summer,” she said. “My dad and uncle told me about it, and I immediately wanted to enter it and try to beat the guys by completing it first.”
Niemoth hit the ground running.
“I got my sharp-tailed grouse on Sept. 1,” she said. “The very next weekend, on Sept. 8, I got my prairie chicken.”
Then, on opening day, which was Oct. 27 last year, Niemoth shot her first rooster pheasant of the season. “Three roosters flew up, and my dad, uncle and I each smoked one,” she said.
The following weekend, on Nov. 3, she bagged her bobwhite.
“I was the first of our group to complete the Upland Slam,” said Niemoth. “Before my dad, before my boyfriend and before both my uncles. It was so exciting, and I got to rub it in a bit, although my dad finished his slam about 20 minutes later. I was also the first female finisher.”
While she finished before her father, he ended up being one of the lucky grand prize winners and now has a beautiful Pheasant’s Forever print hanging in his office.
Niemoth said participating was easy. Each time she bagged a different bird, she simply logged onto the NGPC webpage, submitted a photo, the location of where it was shot, whether it was on private or public land, and the date bagged.
The young woman’s enthusiasm for the sport is both refreshing and infectious.
“I am without a doubt going to participate again this season,” said Niemoth.