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WILTZ: Is photography becoming a part of your hunt?

Though we’re far from wealthy, Betsy and I are comfortable enough for me to go to Africa this summer without our having to live on venison and Ramen noodles. We make it just fine on our South Dakota teacher retirement check, a modest Social Security check, and some change for writing this column.

If you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’d like to encourage our young people to go into the teaching profession. You will be financially comfortable, and the retirement system will more than satisfy your needs. Never mind the whining about South Dakota teacher salaries ranking 50 out of 50. Our quality of life more than compensates. There’s also a priceless factor. Occasionally, I’ll receive a letter that says, “Mr. Wiltz, you made a difference in my life.” That’s worth more than my combined retirement checks.

Today, I’d like to discuss cameras and guns. I’ve never been able to do both very well on the same hunt. Countless times I’ve packed a camera with the notion that I’m going to get some great wildlife shots while camped on a favorite stand, but I seldom get beyond a photo of friends with their expired critters, and that’s usually done in haste. I just can’t do a good job of either when I’m trying to do both.

What I’m talking about is a matter of priorities. My son-in-law, Tom, comes away from our West River deer hunts with magazine quality landscapes. I suspect he places more emphasis on the photography and less on tagging a deer … although he has taken some nice deer. For Betsy, our last African hunt was all photography. She collected some marvelous shots, but she didn’t do it while carrying a rifle.

If all goes according to plan, my coming African hunt will be different. I will make time for my camera. I’m going to have 10 full days. I will be hunting one on one, meaning I will have my own personal guide. I have no particular agenda with regard to game taken. In the past, I “had” to come back from South Africa with a good kudu. In Namibia, I was obsessed with the taking of a good gemsbok. This time the tempo will be far more relaxed.

Since I’m the one who brought up money in today’s opening paragraph, I’ll give you an idea of what this is going to cost. For $400 a day, I’ll receive very comfortable lodging and meals. If I want an animal prepared for taxidermy work, this labor is included. I’ll have the services of a hunting guide (known in Africa as a professional hunter), and we’ll have a Toyota Land Cruiser at our disposal. One or two trackers-skinners-game scouts will also accompany us. As my PH is highly trained and skilled, I see the daily rate as a bargain. I also plan to do some bird hunting and fishing.

With the primary subject of today’s column being photography on the hunt, it so happens that both of my partners on the coming African adventure have discussed photography with me. Doug expressed an interest in video footage of his hunt, and asked me if I knew anything about video cameras, their cost, etc. I knew almost nothing.

Since then, I have observed some dads taking video footage of their daughters at club volleyball tournaments. I made it my business to talk to them. Most were using a small, tripod-mounted camera that appeared to be about 7” x 4” x 3” in size. They said these cameras were about $400. They also said the cameras were easy to operate. If Doug’s PH is going to be backing him up with a rifle when a cape buffalo is likely to charge, Doug may have to add a photographer to his crew.

To a very small degree, I have become somewhat of an organizer for our hunt when it comes to booking flights, overnight rooms, etc. For this reason, Jim, the third member of our party, asked me to look into hiring a photographer for his hunt. Jim obviously realizes that he can’t do both. I’d call it a darn good idea.

Until recently, I’ve never been involved with video photography on a hunt or fishing trip. On opening day of pheasant season in the fall, the wife of one of the hunters walked along with us while toting a video camera. She did an excellent job and made a DVD for each of us. It’s something I’ll treasure.

During our New Zealand hunt a few years back, Gert, our outfitter, followed my guide, Owen, and me as we stalked a free-range red stag in incredibly beautiful country bordered by the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t realize that Gert was carrying a video camera. We spent a good hour on our bellies as we slithered under mountainside fences and through the high grass. When we finally got as close to the stag as we were going to get, I unhooked my fanny pack and put it in position under my rifle. I still didn’t realize that Gert was video-taping all of this.

Gert apparently thought that I would tell him when I was going to shoot. Because of my tremor, it took me quite a while to get comfortable with my shot. When I finally fired, the stag collapsed instantly. If ever there was a shot I wanted preserved on tape, this was it. The camera wasn’t running. Gert later sent me a DVD that included everything but my shot.

With today’s technology, photography is becoming a more important part of many hunts the world over, especially when one can slip a DVD into one’s TV set.

Deer tags

I read with great interest what Game, Fish & Parks chair John Cooper had to say in the April 30 edition of the Mitchell Daily Republic. Cooper knows our game and fish as well as anyone. He said because of habitat loss and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, 2014 deer tag numbers will fall. I wrote the following after reading the April 30 release. Since then, May 1-2 GF&P releases have outlined almost exactly what I suggest. I feel good about being on the same page.

Cooper looks for East River tags to drop from 50,600 to 30,000 and West River tags to plummet from 45,000 to 20,000. Even last year, the second year in a row when EHD ravaged our deer herd, antlerless deer tags were included with both my East River and West River tags. If the extra antlerless tags were eliminated, couldn’t most of the hunters who apply still receive a deer tag?

See you next week.