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Wiltz: Thankful in all forms during hunting season

Pictured are a Colt Single Action Army Peacemaker, top, and a Colt 1851 Navy, bottom, from Roger Wiltz's collection. (Courtesy photo)

I've been busy hunting, but I haven't squeezed a trigger.

In a past column, I mentioned that I failed to draw my West River deer tag. I checked the list of leftovers, and successfully reapplied for Unit 30-A19, double antlerless tags in Gregory County. I spent almost all of Nov. 5, opening day, in a well-placed stand, a veritable hot spot, without a doe coming by. It reached 80 degrees that day, and I don't believe that I've ever hunted deer in that much heat. With the exception of a few young bucks, they just weren't moving. It was a good lesson.

There were more lessons. For the Nov. 12 West River deer opener, I accompanied my usual partner, Mike Hall, on his hunt. In order to help resist any possible temptation, I didn't take my rifle along. Though it was another unusually warm day, the rut appeared to be kicking in, and the deer were moving all morning. From a rim above the mouth of a draw that emptied onto the Grand River bottom, I observed at least 50 deer heading for their bedding areas. We would return to this place the following morning if Mike hadn't filled his "any deer" tag.

On the following morning, even though we were probably the only hunters in the area, even though Mike hadn't fired a shot, those great deer numbers were gone! What had happened? Did it relate to the full moon phase? Had all of those deer seen us? I just don't know.

Though I have 50 years of deer hunting behind me, we saw the absolute biggest mule deer buck I've seen in my entire life. Mike's an excellent shot, and he gave Mike some good shots, but Mike missed. It happens. Had I been the hunter, I probably would have drooled on my scope and messed up the shot. This buck had Boone & Crockett credentials.

The country was full of pheasants, grouse, and partridge, and I did have my shotgun along. I wanted a pair of partridge for the wall, and I had a chance. Another lesson. What did I do wrong? I was sitting in Mike's pickup early Saturday evening. I was watching river bottom, and there was a brushy draw right next to the truck on the driver's side. I happened to be looking out that driver's side window when a large flock of partridge flew up the draw and landed in the oats field behind me. I marked the spot in my mind.

I loaded my gun, crawled under the barbed wire fence, and headed to the spot where they lit. No partridge. Perhaps partridge run like pheasants after they land. I picked up the tempo and headed north. Nothing. I returned to the landing area and began circling. Eventually I worked a 30-yard radius. Nothing. I smiled. Betsy certainly didn't want new birds on our wall.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Other than our families, our health, our freedoms, our jobs and prosperity, we hunters have so much to be thankful for as South Dakotans. Think about what I mentioned today — an opportunity to hunt Gregory County deer with leftover licenses! Abundant grouse, partridge, and pheasants in "walk-in" areas! Our cups indeed runneth over.

I own a modest gun collection, and one of my favorite pieces is a Model 1851 Colt Navy percussion pistol. Colt manufactured the handgun from 1850 to 1873, and we can presume that the 1851 saw extensive Civil War action.

Wild Bill Hickok, the Union Civil War spy, lawman, gunfighter, and gambler, is forever linked to Dakota Territory history as he was murdered by Jack McCall in a Deadwood saloon on August 2, 1876. When he was killed, he was wearing a holstered pair of 1851 Navy Colts. Today, these Colt 1851 pistols are synonymous with Wild Bill.

Loading any Colt cap and ball pistol, including the 1851, was no easy matter. One had to individually charge each of the six cylinders with a measured quantity of black powder, seat a lead ball over the powder charges, and then smear a quantity of grease over every ball to prevent "chain" fires. Finally, a percussion cap had to be pinched over each of the six nipples on the rear of the cylinder.

Another favorite handgun is my first generation Colt Single Action Army "Peacemaker." In 1873, percussion pistols became obsolete when Colt introduced the Single Action Army (SAA) cartridge pistol or Peacemaker six-shooter, a.k.a. "The Gun that Won the West." It was now a matter of taking six cartridges and dropping them into the empty cylinders. What was even more convenient was using the same ammo in one's state of the art Model 1873 Winchester rifle.

As I am very familiar with both classic Colts, I can tell you that if I had to defend myself with either pistol, I'd choose the Peacemaker without hesitation.

I have a question. Why was someone of Wild Bill's fame and notoriety carrying obsolete 1851's when Peacemakers were available? Was he that good with his Colt Navies, or was it that he couldn't afford the new Colt? If he was holding aces and eights, "the dead man's hand," he had money on the table.

See you next week.

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