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Connected to the outdoors and readers: South Dakota outdoors columnist Roger Wiltz dead at 80

Earlier this year, Wiltz wrote about how much he appreciated having a personal relationship with local residents through his column, getting feedback and tips from his devoted readership.

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In this 2016 photo, Roger Wiltz poses for a photo with his catch and his fishing shirt.
Submitted photo
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MITCHELL — Roger Wiltz, a longtime outdoors writer in South Dakota and contributor to the Mitchell Republic, has died after a battle with brain and liver cancer.

Wiltz, of Wagner, died on Sept. 5. He was 80.

"Our readers have enjoyed Roger Wiltz's column for literally decades, and he undoubtedly made our newspaper better with his work," Mitchell Republic Editor Luke Hagen said. "His writing had a deep connection with those who love the outdoors through his stories, opinions and memories. We're lucky that Roger's words will live on forever in our newspaper's history."

Earlier this year, Wiltz wrote about how much he appreciated having a personal relationship with local residents through his column, getting feedback and tips from his devoted readership. He noted in a March 2022 column that he’s relished my adventures from Africa to New Zealand, but “I’ve enjoyed my South Dakota hunts just as much.” Some of those special South Dakota adventures included hunts after school during his days as a teacher and school administrator, or meeting up with former students or beloved friends for day trips or extended adventures hunting and fishing.

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Outdoors columnist Roger Wiltz, left, and hunting partner Mike Hall pose with an elk during a 2018 hunting trip in Wyoming.
Submitted photo

“For the past 60 years, I have been a passionate South Dakota hunter. I haven’t missed a pheasant or deer season, and for more seasons than not, I’ve had a duck stamp on my hunting license,” he wrote for the Mitchell Republic’s 2019 hunting season preview.

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A native of Chicago, Wiltz moved to South Dakota in 1960 to play football in Brookings at South Dakota State College, boarding a train and moving west. He quickly took a liking to the outdoors in South Dakota, noting that South Dakota State football coach Ralph Ginn confiscated his shotgun and gave it back as long as Wiltz promised to not skip any more classes to hunt.

It was in Brookings that he met his future wife, Betsy, who was a frequent part of his stories in his columns. He also wrote fondly about his three daughters and his time spent with his grandchildren, and wrote about his close relationship with family animals, most notably Brown, his Chesapeake Retriever that the Wiltz family acquired in 1977.

Wiltz’s stories frequently referenced local residents that he interacted with or that might have helped him with a hunting or fishing trip. Over the last few months, Wiltz had trips with family to Gulf Shores, Alabama and with friends in Ontario. He frequently wrote about what adventures he had planned or that he was looking forward to and closed his columns with a simple “See you next week.”

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A student at South Dakota State College at the time, Roger Wiltz is pictured here in 1960 with his shotgun and a handful of pheasants.
Submitted photo

In his columns, Wiltz took readers to hunting trips in Wyoming and northwestern South Dakota, fishing on the Missouri River, hunting and fishing trips in Canada, on exotic hunts in Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. He regularly provided updates on how fish were biting below the nearby Fort Randall Dam and which bays and coves on Lake Francis Case were worth trying out, giving advice on lures and bait and shorelines.

But much of Wiltz’s print had practical use for readers. He provided advice on how to cook and eat wild game, and what to look for when buying an antique gun and advocated for fish that he saw as underrated, such as flathead catfish and freshwater drum.

He cherished this relationship with you and it filled his tank every week.

Wiltz parlayed his newspaper writing into a few books, including a collection of his columns and an autobiography. In his columns, Wiltz frequently wrote about the intersection of political and outdoors issues, advocating for what he believed was best for South Dakota outdoor enthusiasts.

His family said a gathering of friends and family in memory of Wiltz will be held in coming days in Wisconsin, and a celebration of life will be held in summer 2023 in Wagner.

Tributes and messages can be left on Roger Wiltz’s CaringBridge website . In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations in Roger Wiltz's memory to the Rotary International Foundation or the American Cancer Society .

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In this undated file photo, Roger and Betsy Wiltz are pictured at Lake Tomison in Saskatchewan, Canada, with Betsy holding walleyes.
Submitted photo

Related Topics: WAGNERNORTHLAND OUTDOORS
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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