I will turn 65 in May and have been blessed with over 60 years of outdoor experience.
My great-grandparents started taking me fishing at age 3 in their Ford Model “A”, the only car they ever owned. By age 6 I started following my dad on quail and rabbit hunts. I fished in ponds with my family until about age 12, when we moved to a lake and my fishing education really started – the beginning of my outdoor writing career that has lasted 41 years.
During my youth, the 1950s through the ’60s, gun ownership, hunting or shooting was not protested. Advertising in most publications had images of a boy finding his BB gun under the family Christmas tree or even an older boy holding his new .22 rifle. Most of us learned to shoot at a young age with BB or pellet rifles and eventually .22 rifles. Lead shotgun ammunition was $3 to $5 dollars a box. We bought 50-round .22 ammunition for 50 cents. BBs were 25 cents per tube of 50.
Hunting was not only for sport during my youth. We learned early to only shoot what we planned to eat and to never waste ammunition. Our parents and grandparents survived the Great Depression and nothing was wasted. We were first taught how to safely handle a gun and then how to shoot. I was thrilled when my turn came to put wild meat on the table.
My mother and grandmother became very good at turning rabbit, squirrel and game birds into great meals with two or three sides. They were country women and I was shocked to learn after we moved closer to a city that all mothers didn’t cook like that.
Throughout the 1950s and 1970s you could buy fishing and hunting equipment from almost anywhere. Drug stores, hardware stores and department stores all had an outdoor section. Not all carried guns, but most had fishing equipment and ammunition or items like hunting clothes and hats.
Outdoor equipment was less expensive back in the day. A bass lure, sometimes wooden and often hand painted with less realistic finishes than found on modern versions, was rarely over $2 or $3 and feathered crappie jigs were a dime each. Mustad brand hooks in a round tin box that held a variety of sizes, sold for around a dollar.
Tackle boxes were first made of steel that occasionally rusted through the paint if not properly stored. Later aluminum versions entered the market, knocking out steel fishing boxes forever. Steel or aluminum tackle boxes had metal shelves with compartments for separating lures or hooks, weights and bobbers.
Sometimes folding latches that supported each shelf would break and the tackle box would be ruined unless repair was possible. I once saw a broken metal latch repaired with tightly wrapped bailing wire, crude but effective. Today tackle boxes are made of hard plastic.
Most fishing rods were made of fiberglass, although a few telescoping metal rods were still used. The rods were generally flexible and rod tips easily broke. Eventually graphite and other materials were used to create more sensitive rods.
Today outdoor equipment companies have changed. Companies like Rebel Lures or Arbogast are owned by bigger companies, but back then were separate businesses. They were in heavy competition for a sportsman’s money and put out beautiful advertising on cardboard or tin signs. Many of these today are sought-after collectors’ items and worth a lot of money.
The beauty of separate companies was made apparent at sports shows where outdoor celebrities would make public appearances, no doubt honoring a clause in their sponsorship contracts. I met many that were still around after becoming an outdoor communicator. I took great joy in telling them about our chance encounters all those years ago and a few even seemed interested.
Steel shot for waterfowl was not required when we started hunting ducks and geese in the late 1960s, and for all I know didn’t exist. We would use a No. 5 or No. 6 shot for ducks and No. 7½ or No. 8 shot for teal and doves.
There was a lot less hunting pressure on waterfowl back then and ducks or geese decoyed easier. We used old tires cut in half with painted plywood heads for Canada geese. Newspapers and diapers were effective for drawing in white geese. Many used white cloth draped over the end of a wooden stake. Modern day waterfowlers know that geese are much smarter now and require better decoys.
Ducks, too, were easier to hunt with color molded mallard decoys and even some silhouettes on lake, pond or river shorelines. I bought three dozen Victor D-9 mallard decoys for about $70 from a TG&Y Store. They advertised this sale in the newspaper and sold out the first day.
Boats were exactly that – boats with oars and without trolling motors, live wells or any kind of electronics. Most were aluminum “V” hull or Jon boats with a Evinrude, Johnson or Mercury outboard motor, seldom larger than 25-horsepower. I did float a couple of Ozark rivers in wooden Jon boats build before my first birthday. I remember them to be stable, but leaky.
During my youth, many of the bigger lakes like Truman and Smithville did not yet exist. Most lakes were in southern Missouri or central Kansas – at least that I knew of. We had Missouri Department of Conservation lakes like Pony Express and ponds where most kids started fishing.
Sports shows, including Kansas City and St. Louis were at least 10-times bigger than our modern versions. Booths were crammed together and companies would talk to potential customers about the superiority of their lures or hunting products.
I was blessed to have read outdoor magazines and stories by outdoor newspaper columnists like Bill Bennett in The St. Joseph News Press and Ray Heady in the Kansas City Star during my youth, the beginning of an education for my life’s work as an outdoor journalist. I owe much to many of these authors and actually had the chance to become friends with several of the first generation of outdoor writers.
My only regret of reaching this age is not having 60 more years of outdoor adventures. I envy those who do!
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.