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ROGER WILTZ: In my limited hunting circle, who's the best?

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A while back an outdoor television program featured a friendly deer hunt competition. The contestants -- Mark Kaiser, Larry Weishun and Ron Spomer -- were presented as deer hunting professionals, the very best in the business. They are talented hunters, but I suspect their fame relates to marketing and writing as much as hunting skill. Who's the best deer hunter? It's a ridiculous question, but if I had to choose, I'd pick Huron's Mike Hall, a one-time Wagner resident.

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For the past three days, I hunted West River deer with friends Don, Bob, Jerry, Dave and Mike. Tom, my Wisconsin son-in-law, and Sam, my 13-year-old grandson, also hunted. Sam had a South Dakota nonresident antlerless youth tag, and he filled it with a fine 100-yard shot.

Did Mike Hall do anything this past weekend to earn my high praise? I certainly think so. When Bob returned to camp late Monday morning, he hadn't seen much and was just a little disappointed. Mike returned to camp about the same time. He had taken a heavy-antlered whitetail buck late Sunday morning, but he still chose to go out and scout.

Mike made Bob an offer: "Bob, if you walk quietly, I'll take you to a trophy mule deer buck I saw bed down." Two hours later, Bob's tag was on that big buck. I was proud of Bob, but also a wee bit jealous. I immediately asked Mike if he'd be my guide for the remainder of the hunt. He said he would, and he mentioned that he had some ideas for my whitetail tag.

Mike had seen two whitetail bucks -- one better than the other -- bed down on the north side of the river that morning, and he anticipated them still being there. With about three hours of daylight remaining, we headed toward the Grand and walked westward for a mile along the flat above the south bank. We sat down to watch the grassy area where I hoped the bucks were still bedded. It was about 150 yards away. I adjusted my bipod and attempted to get comfortable.

An hour passed. Sunset followed the end of another hour. And then Mike pointed -- a buck was standing where Mike said he would be, the long yellow grass concealing the lower half of his body. I looked at him through my Leupold scope and chose to pass him up. Not enough bone mass on top of his head. I wanted the bigger guy.

I don't know how the bigger buck was onto our presence unless he watched us take our stand from his bed, but when he made his move, he was up right now and going full out for the timber. He also launched his getaway from the far edge of the cover. I didn't have a chance.

My good friend, Mike, isn't Superman. He has strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us. However, when it comes to hunting, he is the man. When recognizing Mike's talent as a hunter, I base it on his continued success over a lot of years. What separates him from other hunters? I'll begin with determination and passion. For Mike, hunting is a borderline obsession. Now add physical stamina and shooting ability to the first two traits, and you get the idea.

Like the rest of us, Mike will stalk quietly into the wind. He also has a knack for choosing a good stand location, but it is his vision that separates him from the rest of us. He sees deer most eyes don't see. With his binoculars, he can also readily spot, at long distances, antler tips above a fallen tree or in long grass.

In 2002, six of us -- including Mike -- made the long trip to the Ungava Peninsula to hunt caribou. The 16 hunters in camp took 32 bulls. The two biggest were Mike's. The camp staff told us we might consider taking both of our bulls the first day as the caribou could be gone the next. All of us did except for Mike. He took his chances and waited for double-shovel giants. It paid off.

n I must commend our South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department with regard to my grandson's deer license. His nonresident antlerless license is good from the second Saturday of September through January. It can be used statewide and costs only $10. What a great way to start young hunters!

GF&P also makes mistakes. Our group hunted Corson County. We had mail waiting for us when we got home. A deer with CWD (Chronic Waste Disease) was identified in North Dakota where it borders Corson County, and GF&P wanted us to leave the heads of our deer at a drop-off station up there so they could be tested. It's a long way back to Corson County, and neither Bob nor Mike is taking theirs back.

CWD is a serious problem, and I'm sure we'll hear more about it as this is North Dakota's first documented case. South Dakota has had some cases in the Black Hills, but fortunately the insipid disease hasn't appeared to spread.

See you next week.

Roger Wiltz is a South Dakota outdoor columnist. His columns can be read every Wednesday in The Daily Republic.

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