WILTZ: Have you ever wanted to disappear or vanish?
I don’t like wolves. Admittedly, a prime wolf may be the greatest of North American trophies. A sheep or grizzly hunter might take offense to that statement, but the odds of getting a wolf on any particular hunt weigh heavily against the hunter. This isn’t so with sheep, elk or the big bears. I just don’t like animals that kill for sport and eat their prey alive. Perhaps my feelings were spawned the first time I read Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.”
For the first time in 30 years, Montana did not sell all of its nonresident elk tags during the 2012 general drawing. Wolves are the reason. Hunters are abandoning former elk hunting areas in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and turning to elk hunts in wolf-free states such as New Mexico where I successfully hunted elk in 2012.
In looking at elk numbers, the elk herd north of the Yellowstone border held 19,000 elk in 1995. It now holds less than 4,000. Cow-calf ratios in parts of Montana have fallen to 11 calves per 100 cows. Numbers this low will not sustain the population. Wolf numbers in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin are out of control, and the anti-hunting wolf huggers are doing everything they can to keep it that way.
Three of these five states border South Dakota. Could this wolf fiasco happen here? Even if we had the habitat needed to support a thriving wolf population, I don’t believe it would happen in South Dakota. I’ll give you my reason for saying this knowing that I have to be very careful about how I say it.
On the ranches I hunt, cattle are very important. These cattle are the very livelihood of my host ranchers. I have been looked square in the eye and told, “Roger, if you see a mountain lion or a wolf, take him out.” The conversation continues, “If you kill one, remember the three S’s — Shoot, shovel and shut up!”
I am a law-abiding citizen. I will never advocate taking the law into one’s hands with one possible exception, and that has to do with the guys who plan to take my guns away from me. However, that rancher is my friend. He has been very kind to me. I should follow instructions. I’ve been placed a tough spot.
What can I do to help me remain legal while hunting these awesome ranches? I can have a mountain lion tag in my pocket. For the time being, seeing a lion is a lot more likely than seeing a wolf. Realistically, I don’t know that I could tell, for certain, a wolf from a large northern coyote at 300 yards.
To sum this up, I don’t believe that South Dakotans will ever allow wolves to take over our range. I believe that they are good people, who if pushed, would take care of business. I also believe that there are many Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin citizens who carry a shovel in their truck. While these states now have wolf seasons, the wolf quotas are not near high enough.
The Wagner community buried Richard Podzimek Feb. 27. He was crushed by a tree he was taking down, and had the presence of mind to call 911 on his cell as he lay under its weight. He later passed away in the hospital. A large gathering of mourners served as testament to just how popular a man Richard was.
As I sat among the congregation during the funeral mass, I tried to remember the times we shared. Because I was the high school principal, I always admired the fine job Richard and Fran had done raising their children. And then there was something else — the great Canadian fishing trips.
Back in the 1980s, a group of Wagner north-of-towners made an annual fishing trip to Saskatchewan’s Lake Besnard. Twelve to 14 of us would load up in Gene Kisch’s old school bus that had been remodeled to hold bunk beds, a gas refrigerator and a restaurant-style booth for the card players. We pulled two boats clam style, with a third boat on the roof of the bus.
Richard joined us on one of those adventures. Somehow, my father, who was the same age as I am now, got to calling Richard “Doug” by mistake. Everyone on the bus made attempts to correct my father, but by the time we reached the remote lake, Richard had become “Doug.” Richard, always a good sport, just smiled when called by his new name.
It must have been on the first morning of fishing that Richard and I were side by side in the same boat. We were down on the south end of the lake by the saw mill, and Richard had hooked a good fish. Richard played the 10-pound northern pike up to the boat, and I slipped the landing net under the fish. I then took the toothy fish from the net, removed the silver spoon, and slipped the fish back into the lake.
Richard looked at me. He wasn’t angry, he didn’t raise his voice. He simply said, “That was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught in my life.”
Have you ever wanted to vanish, disappear or fall through some trapdoor in the floor? That was me. Color me deep purple. I apologized, but nothing could undo the damage I had done. A photo would have taken 20 seconds at best. I felt the pain all over again as I sat in St. John’s church.
I told Richard that he would catch a bigger pike. He did, but it would never be the equal of that first good pike. I’ll say it again. I’m sorry, Richard.
See you next week.