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Kenneth Kieser: Changes in the outdoors and outdoor writing

The Examiner
The old outdoors writer was not always old.

The 2020 pandemic that has stretched to 2021 gave me time to ponder the past several decades in our outdoor lives.

I started writing outdoor prose professionally in 1978. Since then, there have been many changes in hunting and fishing and in outdoor writing – some good, some not.

When I started there were more than 90 outdoors magazine titles to write for, covering everything imaginable about hunting or fishing. Even a fledgling writer could sell stories back then and I did. Those early checks paid for a lot of groceries and the rent.

Visit a newsstand today and you will see very few outdoor magazines, most went out of business for various reasons.

We had more outdoor subjects to write about in the 1970s, especially upland game birds. For example, at least three coveys of quail could be found on our farm at any given time. Today we are lucky to find one small covey.

Insecticides, more predators due to declining fur market prices and less natural cover have decreased quail populations. Pheasants have suffered the same fate in many areas. I am happy to note that organizations like Quail Forever and local conservation groups have started buffering programs or planting natural cover around the edges of row crop fields and this seems to be working.

I took classes at Maple Woods Community College in the 1970s. There were no computers, only typewriters. Computers were at NASA or in James Bond movies.

Magazine editors were strict about receiving clean copies with no mistakes. We had correction paste called Liquid Paper that painted over misspelled words, then you could type over the corrected spot after it dried. Editors rejected manuscripts with these blemishes. Eventually typewriters had correction tapes that worked well.

I once had an editor in New York send back a story. He found three mistakes. I retyped the page and they ran the piece. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

During this period, the 1970s through the 1980s, duck numbers started dropping and we went to a point system. You were allowed 100 points per day. A drake mallard was 25 while a hen was 100 – or in other words, shoot a Suzie and you were done. They were needed for future nesting. Some diving ducks were 10 points each.

Another big change was the building of huge lakes, this changed waterfowl migration patterns from their Missouri or Mississippi River flight patterns.

I want to salute Ducks Unlimited and all state organizations for their work in restoring waterfowl numbers through increasing habitat and setting seasons and limits to benefit each waterfowl species. There is still a lot of work to do and the need for money will always be an issue, the same with all conservation programs.

The 1980s brought us computers. My first computer was a MacIntosh with a small screen. The words were white on a black background. There was a way to change the words to green, but that really hurt your eyes after an hour of writing.

Sending a story back then was an adventure. There was a cable that stretched to a modem with several red lights. As the story was sending, the red lights would start blinking. Success was announced when the lights became solid again. Sometimes it went where you intended and sometimes not. I may have stories circling around the moon, who knows?

I watched an old-time editor almost get in a fistfight with one of my friends who made the mistake of claiming that sending manuscripts in the mail would soon be obsolete and everything would be sent electronically. The old, grizzled editor claimed that there will always be a need to mail typed stories. He is gone now and would probably be shocked and likely unhappy to see all delivery is by email.

About this time, in the early 1980s, deer herds started growing in Kansas and Missouri, a tribute to our conservation professionals. Suddenly we had more quality wildlife in our backyards to write about. Back then I shot one of the first bucks in Northwest Missouri, big news then, not news now.

Problem was that deer populations across Missouri and Kansas were growing rapidly, leading to increased crop damage, deer/vehicle collisions, and the emergence of urban deer issues. Lawmakers, encouraged by wildlife biologists, made deer seasons longer, with more deer hunting permits available. Today thousands of deer are harvested annually. Missouri hunters killed more than 176,000 deer during the 2020 firearms season and more than 6 million nationwide.

I am proud that share-the-harvest programs are being done in Missouri and Kansas. Hunters share their venison with many who are praying for their next meal – a win-win program

Wild turkeys made a huge comeback in the 1980s to 1990s. Today, in most Midwestern states, flocks are huge. For example, during the 2020 Missouri season more than 41,000 wild turkeys were harvested. However, reports in Kansas are claiming declining nesting success and wild turkey numbers are down – a great time to have a fish and game department that will address this problem.

Finally, the last great change for outdoor communicators is digital photography and PhotoShop, a great change over film or slide film when we could only pray for a well-shot photo.

In 2021, outdoors writing is still around and we have plenty of great hunting and fishing. Let’s hope that never ends and future generations will enjoy the benefits of good conservation practices.

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 kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser