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The Wiltz girls and dad stand with some Mother’s Day walleyes and white bass at Fort Thompson. (Photo courtesy of Roger Wiltz)

WILTZ: Deer herd management makes emotions flow in Minn.

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I happened to be in the Twin Cities over Easter weekend when I picked up a copy of the April 20 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in our motel lobby. The front page story headline read, “Fate of forests, deer in balance.” The gist of the story was that Minnesota deer management was on the verge of making a decision that would affect both deer numbers and the general condition of the state’s forests. One directly affected the other. The story called for sensible compromise.

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My first reaction to the story was one of thankfulness that we South Dakotans don’t need to struggle with heavy decisions when it comes to deer or habitat management. Over the years, our Game, Fish & Parks Department has made common sense decisions with regard to deer management without incurring the wrath of hunters, landowners or environmentalists. In my opinion, a good job has been done of keeping politics out of it. Not perfect, mind you, but good. Some rumbling is always present.

Based on the Star Tribune article, it would appear to me that the fundamental difference between South Dakota and Minnesota deer herds has to do with what the deer eat. While our deer will browse on shrubs, they much prefer beans, corn, grass and sunflowers — at the expense of our farmers and ranchers. In much of Minnesota other than the south and west, deer eat trees including white, red and jack pines. I have seen what deer can do to Minnesota trees. During a hard winter, they will eat everything within reach and then they will starve. The sight of the trees alone is depressing.

Between 1997 and 2006, Minnesota’s deer population grew from 733,000 to more than 1.1 million. The foresters and ecologists cried that the deer were depleting the woods of undergrowth. The Department of Natural Resources responded by lowering the deer densities. They did this by increasing the legal take by hunters. Now recent harsh winters in some areas have crashed the deer population, leading to an outcry from deer hunters. The 2013 Minnesota deer season yielded a harvest of 172,000 deer — the lowest in 15 years.

The Minnesota forest experts believe the state’s half-million deer hunters with their $19.6 million contribution in-state license fees hold all the high cards when it comes to who will win the deer versus tree battle. To quote the article, “It’s pretty clear that nobody is really going to politically stand up and say we are going to decrease the number of deer that are out there.”

Gary Alt, a prominent biologist, said this when speaking of hunters.

“They pay the bills, so keep them happy,” he said.

Alt has experienced death threats for his views and has worn body armor to public meetings. To once again count our blessings, it would be a sad day indeed when South Dakota GF&P officials needed to wear body armor to public meetings.

On the plus side of her state’s deer issues, Minnesota’s deer czar, Leslie McInenly, knows there can never be enough deer for some hunters. But she adds, Minnesota deer hunters understand the need to keep their deer herd in check. I hope so. There can be, there must be, a win-win situation for both hunters and tree people in Minnesota.

For a different view of Minnesota deer hunting, take a closer look at Minnesota’s 2013 deer season. A half-million hunters took 172,000 deer. That’s a 34 percent success rate. Considering it was the lowest harvest in 15 years, Minnesota is a good place to hunt deer.

If one goes to our South Dakota GF&P website, a wealth of deer hunt information, county by county and season by season, can be found. Results of the 2013 season weren’t posted yet as of this writing, but I did look over the 2012 results. All seasons included, 112,008 licenses were sold. Hunters had a success rate of 42.7 percent when it came to filling their tags. Considering our deer were devastated by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in 2012, I’d call that a pretty good success rate.

There’s another factor, significant in my estimation, that doesn’t show in our GF&P statistics. How many of the unsuccessful hunters could have killed a deer if killing a deer was important to them? I would guess we would be looking at an 85 percent success rate.

In the meantime, we are coming off a winter that was long, but not devastating to our wildlife. We will be making a good recovery from the EHD of 2012 and 2013. I feel pretty good about our South Dakota deer hunting future. Hopefully our Minnesota neighbors will feel the same way.

Fish at lilac time

I’ve been writing my column for roughly 42 years. If I’ve abused one particular subject by almost beating it to death with a keyboard, it would be fishing at lilac time. When our lilacs are in full bloom, many of our fish are on a rampage. Allow me to cover this fish by fish.

Largemouth bass, the big females, are protective of their nests. They attack intruders with a vengeance. We are blessed with lakes that are good. Stock dams are great. What a time for catch, photograph and release.

Our walleyes are on a post-spawn feeding frenzy. Pluck them like grapes from a vine in shallow water between sundown and dusk. Bank fishing is highly effective.

How does life get any better than the white bass angling at lilac time? Their strikes are savage, and they fight like there’s no tomorrow.

Finally, the smallmouth bass are beginning to stage for their spawn, and will try to beat the walleyes to your minnow-tipped jig. Such problems. Why shouldn’t I beat this subject to death? You might consider hanging out around Fort Thompson. I know I’ve used some flowery language to describe the fishing, but, it’s that good.

See you next week.

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