Outdoorsmen should focus on here and now

March 21, 2014

The fact that my 67th birthday was last Wednesday is all the excuse I need to take another look back through the years. Some people might argue that, at least part of the time, I’m viewing history through rose-colored glasses. That might be, but my shooting glasses have rose-colored lenses, and I can see through them just fine.

Sometimes what we call the good old days really were the good old days. For example, the 1950s and 60s were a gilded age for quail hunters that will never be repeated. The primary reason bobwhites were so bountiful was that the Midwestern landscape was dominated by a patchwork of small, multi-crop farms. Another important reason for the success of many species of upland birds and small game mammals was the fact that avian predators–which were represented by healthy populations of a number of species–were fair game for any youngster with a .22 rifle.

Fate put me in a perfect position to enjoy a full two-thirds of this avenue of opportunity. I was fortunate enough to hunt over some exceptional bird dogs, but the plain truth was a determined hunter could easily kill a daily limit of bobwhites without canine assistance.

It’s impossible to define the glory days of duck hunting without defining the term duck hunting. If your idea of a duck hunt is shooting birds that dare to venture beyond the boundaries of an artificially created refuge, today is duck hunting’s good old days, because there are unquestionably more ducks now than there were 50 years ago. Conversely, if your idea of a duck hunt puts the emphasis on the hunt, the 1950s and 60s were duck hunting’s halcyon days. There may have been fewer ducks, but they were widely dispersed among hundreds of lakes, ponds and streams, where everyone had a fair chance to enjoy a good hunt.

Those of us who enjoy fishing warm-water streams quite rightly wax nostalgic for the good old days. I grew up on the banks of the Solomon River in north-central Kansas. Even during the drought years of the 1950s, it ran deep enough to float a wooden boat propelled by an outboard motor and yielded impressive numbers of both channel catfish and flatheads.

In the late 1960s, new impoundments on both of its head-water forks destroyed the river’s natural ebb and flow. Nowadays, it would be hard to float it in a canoe, but there’s really no reason a fisherman would want to bother doing so anyway.

I have to admit that an overwhelming majority of modern anglers prefer reservoirs. To them, the Corps of Engineers’ if-it-flows-dam(n)-it attitude brought forth undreamed of fishing opportunities. These folks are only now beginning to realize that their good old days are slipping away.

Is there anything a fisherman or hunter of any age or level of experience can do to make 2014 his or her good old days? Yes, there is. Simply forget about what has been or what might be someday and concentrate on what is right now.

The year I was born, deer were officially declared to have been extirpated from my native Kansas, and Missouri had too few deer to allow an open season. Although Missouri had a limited deer season in 1957 and Kansas followed suit in 1965, not even the most optimistic deer biologist would have predicted how widely dispersed near-saturation deer populations would be by the dawn of the 21st century.

When European settlers arrived in Kansas and Missouri, both states had what seemed to be an infinite number of turkeys. They were gone by the early 1900s. Missouri began its restoration program in earnest in the 1950s and Kansas did so 10 years later. Calling the two states’ turkey flocks infinite would be a stretch but calling them phenomenal isn’t.

Geese seem determined to prove there really can be too much of a good thing. Light (snow, blue and Ross) goose populations have gotten so far out of control, that annual conservation orders permit no-limit hunting until mid April. Resident Giant Canada geese, once presumed to be extinct in the state, now pose problems in urban areas that only a vastly liberalized hunting season has any hope of containing.

For my part, I’ve switched from quail and pheasants to rabbits even though it meant giving up my beloved Brittany Spaniels and Labrador retrievers in favor of now equally-beloved beagles. I hunt geese occasionally, but most of the time I used to spend hunting waterfowl has been added to my squirrel, deer and turkey hunting quotas.

As for fishing, I launch my boat on one of the big reservoirs when the crappie, bass or walleye action is hot. The rest of my fishing time is spent reliving my own good old days on the banks of a pond or stream.