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WILTZ: Many of today's readers will remember Chef Roger

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By ROGER WILTZ

For The Daily Republic 

I had a phone call recently from Perry Peterson, of White Lake. We go back to the active days of “Sportsmen for South Dakota.” Perry told me that I might be interested in some comments that a friend of his, Jim Headley, of White Lake, made at the August South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks commissioners meeting in Watertown. I contacted GF&P to see if the meeting was a matter of public record, and they e-mailed me a printed transcript as well as an audio version. I appreciate the GF&P’s cooperation.

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According to the GF&P transcript, both Headley and Larry Berg, of Wallace, made some similar comments relative to our pheasant hunting. With regard to South Dakota Tourism, Headley used the term “promote deception.” This captured my attention to the point where I contacted both Headley and Berg by telephone. Both men told me I could use their names in today’s column.

They attended the National Pheasant Fest in Minneapolis in February. It was a large outdoor show that included many South Dakota preserve owners. While at the show, they talked to a South Dakota Tourism representative stationed in a South Dakota Tourism booth. The representative told them that he had killed 800 pheasants during the past season. To put it mildly, I’d call that a bit much.

With reference to Jim’s words “promote deception” at the GF&P commission meeting, he was referring to South Dakota pheasant preserves that called their birds “wild.” Not all of our preserves advertise wild birds. While a wild pheasant may be killed on a preserve, every bird taken must be replaced. They are replaced with pen-raised birds. Jim would like to see truth in advertising.

South Dakota pheasant hunting becomes more about money every year. It is time to put money aside and think about how important our word as South Dakotans is. Someone needs to keep South Dakota Tourism in check. Do you know what Al Gore and S.D. Tourism have in common? No one believes ’em.

I am not critical of pheasant preserves. They create jobs and bring revenue to our state. Many offer a great hunting experience, especially those with hundreds of acres of great habitat. Good food, talented dogs and an attractive lodge add to the enjoyment. Our wild pheasant shortage is not the fault of preserves. Last summer’s severe drought, combined with too many coons and skunks, have led to our current low numbers.

* * * * * * * * * *

The alfalfa field spread before us was perhaps a mile long by a half mile wide. The west side and north end had been cut and baled recently, but the remainder was knee high. Dick and I walked downhill into the wind while hunting the west edge, swung east and then began the southward half mile trudge uphill.

My feet were dragging and I was short on breath when two sharptails erupted in front of me. I missed with both barrels. We saw the birds land ahead of us, and Dick and I gave chase. He took both in separate flushes. Unfortunately for the grouse, Dick could shoot.

We were headed west in the pickup on Sept. 26th, when one of the guys asked if I was going to write about our coming grouse hunt. I indicated that I probably wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be very interesting to readers unless legions of sharptails blackened the sky or I got bit on the butt by a rattlesnake. Neither happened, but I’ll write about it anyway. Contrary to expectations, grouse were very scarce. Some awesome Armour guys — Vern, Marvin, Ivan, Dick and Jeff, along with myself — averaged about a grouse a day apiece. We worked very hard.

Our hunting area included the four corners country where Todd, Bennett, Jackson and Mellette Counties come together. The country looked great — green grass, stock dams full of water and seemingly more hay bales than all the cows in the world could eat. Copious bean, corn and milo fields blanketed the landscape.

What we didn’t see is the biggest concern I’ll share in today’s column. We made the same hunt two years ago. Pheasants were abundant. On this hunt, we traveled Highway 44 to White River by way of Platte, Winner and Wood and our return route was similar. We hunted prime alfalfa, shelter belts and CRP. We did not see a single pheasant while hunting or on the road.

For me, great partners made our hunt a totally enjoyable experience. Meals were a high point with everyone sharing in the preparation. Thanks to Vern’s garden, a platter of cold, red, ripe, sliced tomatoes garnished every culinary adventure. I wound up being the grill man. It was a position I hadn’t handled in over 50 years, turning the clock back to 1961.

On Medary, just south of the Campanile on the SDSU campus at Brookings, we find Dale & Vi Thomas’s State Grill on the east side of the avenue. With its long counter and row of stools, it is “the” place to eat for all the regular guys, and it is often standing room only. No need for a menu. We’re talking a hamburger steak and a mountain of French fries. Forget rare, medium or well done, for it was one size fits all. The State Grill eventually became Dale & Vi’s Pizza.

Other than during the football season, Chef Roger was often found manning the grill. I’d get there around 4 p.m. and dump about 50 pounds of potatoes into the peeler. After peeling, I’d slice the spuds into fries with a special cutter. In the meantime, the oil in the deep fryers was heating up. Once hot, I’d blanch all the fries in preparation for the rush hour, dump them in bins and cover them with damp dish towels.

There was a huge tub of fresh burger. With an ice cream scoop, I’d create 2 1/2-scoop, oval-shaped burgers, slightly brown each side on the hot grill and stack them in piles of six or seven around the rear perimeter of the grill.

When the first guys showed up, it was load the deep fryers with blanched fries and deal burgers onto the grill. I was soon turning out a greasy plate every 15 seconds while refilling the fry baskets and slinging more patties. All this for 60 cents an hour and supper.

I didn’t need the money as my summer steel mill job more than covered my college expenses. It was like I was driven to keep busy. I wish now that I had tried studying. See you next week.

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