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Wiltz: With outdoors trips, a Plan B is good

For you, I, and the thousands of hunters who recently applied for South Dakota elk hunting tags, we will soon learn whether or not we were successful. My partner, Doug, and I have 14 preference points for Black Hills tags. We would hunt the Custer area if we are successful in the current draw.

Is elk hunting fun? Is it enjoyable? It isn't according to a recent article in Hunting magazine. In the March 2017 issue of Hunting, author Joseph von Benedikt states in his article "Western Hunting 101" that for the most part, elk hunting is not fun. Hiking up and down steep mountains in the pre-dawn darkness is not fun. What do you suppose Mr. Benedikt is looking for? His thinking is way out of order, in my opinion.

In looking back at the last two elk I killed, both self-guided, I was at 65 years of age or beyond, I had neuropathy in my legs, I was out there in total darkness, and I made a steady but slow and methodical ascent. My attitude was one of exhilaration! Though I realized that failure was a distinct possibility, I was where I wanted to be. I was having fun, and I was nothing more than an ordinary hunter at best. One of the hunts was in Custer State Park, the other in New Mexico's San Juan Mountains near Chama.

To be realistic, even with my 14 preference points, I may never draw my Black Hills tag before I am no longer able to hunt elk. I often think of my late friend Harold Settje. He spent a good chunk of his life trying to draw a Custer State Park elk tag without success. When on his deathbed in the Tyndall Hospital, he told me that his application was in. That's determination. I feel that if one really wants to make an elk hunt, we can't bet the whole pot on drawing a South Dakota tag. We need a Plan B.

I currently have my Plan B. Late this past winter, I drew a Wyoming cow elk tag. The tag cost $302. I will make a guided hunt with the Wood River Ranch Outfitters just outside Meeteetse, Wyoming. The area is a wintering ground for migrating elk, and my chances of adding elk to my moose larder are excellent. It would also be a boon for local food pantries. My hunt will cost $1,500. Via I-90, Meeteetse is 671 miles from Wagner.

At this point you are asking yourself, "What if Wiltz draws his Hills tag? Can he do both hunts?" You bet! The Hills hunt is in October and I can hunt Wyoming in November or December.

Many, if not most readers, may look down their noses at a cow elk hunt but not me. The difference between the average $8,500 bull hunt and a cow hunt is about $7,000. There isn't a set of elk antlers in the world worth $7,000 to me. There's nothing "macho" about a bull. He doesn't require more skill. With every cow elk I've ever bagged, a nice bull(s) accompanied her that I could have dropped. Another thing: the cow meat is superior. Hopefully I make sense to some of you.

My granddaughters call me "cheap." I call it being practical. It's the hunt itself, the total experience, that matters most to me.

Now for some practical fishing. One of my personal fishing highlights of summer 2016 was a morning on the water beneath the Fort Randall Dam with Steve Petry, Wagner's middle school principal. We fished for catfish, and we used commercial stink bait for bait. In my column that followed, I went to some lengths in describing the rigs we used. At that time, catfish tackle did not appear to be available in Mitchell.

I recently found everything I needed in the Yankton Walmart. Get yourself a BIG'N bait holder. Excellent directions appear on the package. The Yankton Walmart also has jars of stink bait. As always, I have no deal going with BIG'N or Walmart.

Some people see the catfish as a lower lifeform. I don't understand this. The cat out-fights most anything that swims, cats are abundant and cats are excellent table fare. As I thought about this obvious prejudice, I got to thinking about the notorious barbs on the ends of his dorsal and pectoral fins. The danger of these is way overrated! When unhooking the fish, simply place the dorsal between your second and third fingers, wrap your hand around the body just beneath the pectorals, and you're completely safe.

When I fillet a cat (very easy to do), I hold his head in my left hand with the tail pointing away, wrap my index finger around the dorsal, jab my thumb into its belly, and slice away on an angle that misses the rib cage. I'm right-handed.

Though I love walleyes, a day of handling and filleting walleyes will leave a lot more punctures and tiny cuts on my hands than a day of handling linoleum smooth catfish.

By mid-to-late summer, a day of chasing walleyes on our Missouri River system can be downright frustrating. Switching to cats will have you giggling to yourself. We have ready access to huge catfish numbers beneath our dams at Fort Thompson, Fort Randall and Gavins Point.

See you next week.

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