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Wiltz: Deer hunting is mighty important to me

While my being a South Dakotan is mostly about good people with conservative Christian values and a strong work ethic, our deer hunting is also a part of it. To give you some idea of how important deer hunting is to me, I'd like to paraphrase what Tom Kelly said about turkeys in his classic story, "Tenth Legion." Even at 76 years of age, every November makes me twenty-something all over again.

"The first deer I ever killed came to me a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart stammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The Charles Mix County buck that came to me last fall had exactly the same effect, and the day this does not happen to me is the day that I quit."

In May, I'll be attending a meeting in Mitchell hosted by the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department. The meeting will concern a proposed change in the way we apply for West River, East River, and Black Hills deer hunting tags. The other seasons, including archery and muzzleloader, would remain unaffected. The "special buck" applications would also remain the same.

In its simplest form, rather than making separate applications for the Black Hills, East-River, and West-River seasons, and possibly drawing either all three, nothing at all, or a combination, Hills, East River, and West River would be part of the same application. We applicants would make a first choice. We also get a second choice, and that could get us a second tag, depending on unit popularity.

There are pros and cons to the new proposal. On the plus side, the applicant would have a better chance to draw his/her first choice. As author of this column, I hear complaints every year from those who fail to draw up to three years in a row. I feel for them, and I actually feel a bit guilty when like last year, I had both East and West River tags in my pocket. Granted, there have been a few years, very few, when I drew neither.

For me personally, I would stay with the current system, as I have been fortunate most years. However, for the sake of all hunters, I would vote for the new proposal if I had to vote today. If you will let me know how you feel, I will make your opinion known at that May meeting. Call me at 605-384-3794, email me at, or write me at P.O. Box 253, Wagner, SD 57380.

Because of my age and the number of hunts I've enjoyed over the years, my feelings may differ from yours. My first priority is now the hunting experience. Antler size is of secondary importance. An "antlerless" tag can make me happy. For this reason, I don't want GF&P to mess with the muzzleloader season and its unlimited antlerless tags.

I have a second wish. East or West River units often include an additional "antlerless" tag, and these additional tags frequently go unfilled by choice. I would like to have the opportunity to draw an antlerless tag if my first choice fails. The solution is simple and cost effective. Make those second antlerless tags a unit of their own. It's a win-win deal and here's why: More hunters get to hunt, and more dollars enter the economy through fuel, restaurant, and sporting goods sales.

I have reasons for desiring an "antlerless" unit. I've hunted the same West River ranch since 1969 — that's 48 years. We've become family, and the social aspect of the hunt is far more important to me than any size antler. When I haven't had a tag, I still join the group as an observer, but I'd much rather participate, and that antlerless tag another hunter might not use would sure make me happy.

I can also make that antlerless hunt a challenge by using one of my vintage "scopeless" rifles that demand I get close. These include Model 86 and Model 94 Winchesters, a Model 99 Savage, and a Model 8 Remington. I love toting those classic rifles.

While waiting for the waters to warm up, I've had a good time catching trout from the bank beneath the Randall Dam. Try being a kid and give it a try. See you next week.