WILTZ: Please don't wish me a happy 25th anniversaryI have a 25th anniversary coming up in a few weeks for an event that I wish had never happened. I’m not proud of it, but writing about it today may help me stay on the straight and narrow for another 25 years. At the root of all the things I did wrong that day, we find one of the Seven Capital Sins — Anger.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
I have a 25th anniversary coming up in a few weeks for an event that I wish had never happened. I’m not proud of it, but writing about it today may help me stay on the straight and narrow for another 25 years. At the root of all the things I did wrong that day, we find one of the Seven Capital Sins — Anger.
The 1987 East River Deer season was to open the following morning, and we had company at our house that included my youngest brother Mike. He had never been on a deer hunt, and he wanted to go along. I welcomed him to come along, but told him we would be leaving the house at 5:45 a.m., and that he had to be ready. I gave him a hunter orange-colored vest to wear.
The clothes I would wear were carefully set out along with my boots, rifle, knife and ammo. An old fridge sat in the entry way right next to our back door, and I put my deer tag and hunter orange stocking cap on top of it, so I wouldn’t miss them on the way out the following morning. I was prepared.
I woke up Mike the following morning, but that wasn’t good enough. He must have fallen back to sleep. I dressed and ate a bowl of cereal. No Mike. Quarter to six. No Mike. Anger was mounting. At six he was looking for his coat. I yelled, stormed out the back door, slammed it and started the car.
It was 6:05 a.m. when we finally got going, and I knew that I wouldn’t be where I wanted to be sitting a half hour before sunrise. I didn’t realize until I climbed out of my Chevy in Francis Soukup’s back yard that my tag and required orange hat were still on top of the old fridge. In my anger, I made the second bad move of the day. It was warm enough that I didn’t need a hat, and I probably wouldn’t see a mature buck anyway. I wouldn’t go back for my hat and tag.
Through the early hours of the season, nothing came by that I wanted to shoot. I now had a feeling that this was fortunate. Mike and I were walking in the bottom of a drainage around 10:30 a.m., more or less on our way back to the yard, when a barrage of gunfire cut loose from the north. I told Mike that the shots were probably fired at a good buck, and that the hunters had apparently missed. I also told Mike that the buck was running, and that he could be headed in our direction. My words were prophetic.
My rifle was up as I watched to the north at the rim above me. Perhaps a minute later, a large-bodied whitetail buck piled over the rim. He was headed right at us as I put the crosshairs on his chest and fired. He rolled to us butt over head. After pulling myself together, I field-dressed the deer. One of his antlers was missing — something I hadn’t noticed in the excitement. I should have left him right there and gone home for my tag. A deer doesn’t have to be tagged until loaded into a vehicle or brought into the yard. It would not have been illegal.
We walked back to the yard and borrowed a pickup. I remember like it was yesterday. Someone might steal my deer if I left it where I killed it. When I got the deer to the yard, I worried that Francis could get into trouble if an untagged deer was found on his place. I made the terrible decision to load the buck into the car’s trunk and take it home. The trunk lid was up, and the deer’s four legs were protruding from it.
I was about five miles south of Wagner when I noticed a red flashing light in my rearview mirror. It was Mary Clausen, our local conservation officer. I gave her my full cooperation as she wrote my citation and confiscated the deer. She asked about my tag, and I told her where it was. She asked if she would find the tag on the old fridge if she followed me home. I told her she would. She found it there, but it had nothing to do with my guilt.
I’m just an ordinary guy. How did this thing get so blown out of proportion? To start with, Mary must have called my apprehension in on her radio. This was back when everyone had a radio, and all of Wagner knew about it before we reached town. Horns were honking when I drove by.
In 1987, my column appeared in The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. The P&D put the story on the front page! I appeared before a judge who thought he was a comedian. He sentenced me to 25 hours of community service. Fair enough. I expected more including the loss of hunting/fishing privileges. I didn’t know it, but “improper tagging of a deer” does not merit loss of privileges. When I asked the judge about my deer, he said, “Roger, I’m going to call it ‘Terms of en-deer-meat.’ ” The movie “Terms of Endearment” was popular at the time. It wasn’t funny, and I didn’t get my deer back.
If anything positive came of my transgression, I would have to say it was the pleasure so many people derived from it. Many people wrote to the paper with suggestions on how I should spend my 25 hours. These included “road kill” duty, and cleaning up the smelly barrels of fish guts at fish-cleaning stations during the heat of the summer. A Lake Andes man told me I wasn’t fit to work with his son when I helped with the hunter safety program. He came close to seeing more of Roger’s anger.
How did I spend the 25 hours? I cleaned up a burn site at Dante Lake where cans and litter had accumulated for years. I then shoveled rotten, fermented grain out of bins at the Lake Andes Wildlife Refuge. Finally, I scrubbed, waxed and polished the Game, Fish, & Parks boats stationed at Platte. I was well over 25 hours when I finished those boats.
There is something I’m proud of. I was hurt and embarrassed. Twenty-five years ago I vowed in my column that I would never again intentionally break a rule when it came to fish or wildlife. I have kept that promise, but there was one time when I or we were in violation, but I didn’t know it.
Some years ago a friend, John, asked if I would take him, his son-in-law, and his son-in-law’s son walleye fishing. We put my boat in at Snake Creek. GF&P checked us two times that day. The first check was for licenses and life preservers. The second time they counted our walleyes. Later in the day, as our fish total approached a full limit, I asked Dale, the son-in-law, if his son’s limit was a part of his, or could his son have his own limit. Dale thought his son could have his own limit.
Wrong! This would only be true if the son, who was under 16 years of age, had his own license. We left that day with an extra limit. I was a part of it, but it wasn’t intentional.
*See you next week.