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WILTZ: I’m not normally a gloom and doom guy, but …

That we are a nation in decline is fact. It is not merely the fault of Congress. We have stood back and watched. Apathy is our greatest problem. The “wake-up” call related to our massive deficit spending rings louder every day as our dollar’s buying power plummets. If you do the grocery shopping, you know exactly what I mean. The cost of a new pickup truck has doubled. Burger King’s “Whopper Jr.” cost $1 not long ago. What does this have to do with hunting and fishing? Plenty!

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Friends in the grocery business tell me we are on the brink of $4 a pound hamburger. The cost of seafood will follow closely. I’m going to suggest within the year, many of us will begin to look at hunting and fishing as more than sport. I just might be our state’s leading authority on this subject as Betsy and I have lived on venison and fish for all 49 years of our married life.

Am I being realistic? Let’s put sport hunting for big antlers aside. Any of us can apply for and receive an antlerless deer (doe) tag for our home county or neighboring county. Getting land-owner permission to hunt antlerless deer is relatively easy. Bagging a doe is also relatively easy. There’s also a bonus. The eating quality of a doe is generally better than that of a buck.

What do you do with your doe? One can butcher, grind, bag and freeze the deer yourself. Or one can take the deer to a locker where a professional will do the same for $60-75. He will also mix some beef tallow with your ground meat if you ask. This makes it taste more like beef. Bottom line? Your ground venison will cost you less than $1 a pound. Are you squeamish about the taste of venison? Use it in chili or spaghetti sauce. I think I’m being very realistic.

Now let’s run fish through this same scenario. If you and a partner go to the river and back for the fillets of eight walleyes, you’re paying big bucks for your fish. Add some tonnage to your take. I’m talking smallmouth bass, white bass and catfish. There is no limit on the number of catfish you take. All of these fish are excellent table fare. For a great mixed bag, I like fishing beneath the Randall Dam. The tail-waters at Fort Thompson are also excellent.

For numbers, size and variety, Oahe Reservoir is hard to beat anywhere on our planet. With the same technique, one can take walleyes, smallmouth bass, white bass, catfish and northern pike on Oahe. I won’t call my friends or me great fishermen, but when we go after a mixed bag, our fillets more than pay for the gas. Take my suggestions for what they’re worth.

Africa is calling

As you probably know, I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt in some neat places. I have one regret. I have seldom taken advantage of the great fishing those places offer. This was true of Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. I totally blew it when it came to Patagonia’s pristine trout rivers or the giant sharks off of the Cape of Good Hope. While in New Zealand, I had an extra day, and the coastal fishing was right in front of me. Getting there was the most expensive part of these trips, and I wasted the opportunities. I’ll not make these same mistakes again.

At the Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas last month, I booked an African safari for August, the dead of their winter. In visiting with outfitter and professional hunter Jamy Traut about my safari, I thought about what I just said in the preceding paragraph. My actual questions of Jamy went like this.

Will I be able to fish the South Atlantic along the West Coast during my hunt? More importantly, will I be able to fish the great Zambezi River for tiger fish during my hunt? Traut answered both questions in the affirmative. My anticipation for fishing among the crocs and hippos is almost beyond my control.

One of the great hunts I’ve ever been on was a caribou hunt in the far north country with the best of friends. We had an equally good time fishing for Arctic char and lake trout. The absolute frosting on the cake was the great ptarmigan hunting. Ptarmigan are a northern grouse. Related to this, I also asked Traut if I’d get an opportunity to hunt African sand grouse. I’m taking my shotgun along.

In order to pay for my safari, I have already sold a number of my personal firearms. Some of my coin collection will have to go. Also, I don’t plan to send any trophies home — an expense with shipping and taxidermy that can easily equal the cost of the safari. A good tiger fish might be one possible exception.

Trophy fees will be minimal as I plan to hunt non-trophy animals. Wouldn’t stalking an otherwise trophy gemsbok except for a broken horn be just as exhilarating as hunting one with good horns? I certainly think so. I believe the experience is what matters most. None of the meat will be wasted.

I have a further aspiration. I’ve never before read a story about a hunter who made his safari possible by implementing my above mentioned plan. Writing and selling my story, along with great photography, could go a long way in paying for my hunt. I’m confident I can do it.

The truth be told, I don’t have any more wall space in my trophy room for skulls or shoulder mount heads. My little trophy room, an extra bedroom, is just fine the way it is.

Talking over my cull hunt plans with various outfitters at SCI was interesting. One particular outfitter offered me the opportunity to thin out zebras, ostriches and springbok. In fact, he talked about a hundred springbok. I’m about hunting, not killing.

I promise I’ll get more down to earth again with next week’s column.