- Keith Sutton
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No matter how we think of it, good or bad, the decade that just ended is one we're certain to remember.
It began with hysterical concerns about the "Y2K" computer crash that never materialized. That so few people remember that non-event attests to the many important things, both good and bad, that have happened since, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks; the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression; two stock-market crashes; the election of an African-American as president; increasing security measures; improvements in cell phones, the Internet and e-mail; and advances in genetic testing.
When looking back at events in the worlds of hunting, fishing and the outdoors over the past decade, there's a mixture of good and bad as well. In this reporter's view, the good seems to outweigh the bad. But different people have different ways of looking at things. Here are some of the top stories of the decade so you can judge for yourself.
On March 20, 2006, Mac Weakley of Carlsbad, Calif., made world headlines when he caught, weighed, photographed and released a 25-pound, 1-ounce largemouth bass while fishing California's Dixon Lake.
That bass, dubbed "Dottie," could have shattered the most legendary angling record of all time the 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth caught in 1932 in Georgia's Montgomery Lake by George Perry.
Weakley released the fish because it had been unintentionally foul-hooked, however, and did not submit paperwork for world-record recognition. Dottie was found dead on Mother's Day weekend 2008.
A little more than three years later, another bass the equal of Perry's surfaced this time on the other side of the world.
On July 2, 2009, while trolling a live bluegill in Japan's Lake Biwa, Manabu Kurita caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that tied Perry's all-tackle world record, which had stood 77 years.
Trout records, too
While they didn't garner as much attention as Kurita's world-record largemouth, several trout records were broken this decade, too.
On June 6, 2007, Adam Konrad of Saskatoon caught a 43-pound, 10-ounce world-record rainbow trout in Saskatchewan's Lake Diefenbaker, breaking a record that had stood 37 years.
Fishing the same lake on September 5, 2009, Adam's twin brother Sean landed a 48-pound rainbow to establish another new benchmark.
Four days later, while fishing Michigan's Manistee River, Tom Healy eclipsed a 17-year-old world record by catching a whopping 41-pound, 7-ounce brown trout.
Gun and ammo sales skyrocket
Gun and ammo sales across the country went through the roof following the November 2008 election of President Barack Obama.
Consumers were fearful Obama and a Congress controlled by Democrats might introduce restrictions on gun ownership and impose additional taxes. Fears of terrorism also helped lift demand, as did concerns rising unemployment would lead to higher crime rates.
FBI gun-buyer background checks increased 42 percent in November 2008 and 24 percent in December 2008. And from November 2008 through October 2009, U.S. gun owners bought 12 billion rounds of ammunition enough bullets to give every American 38 of them.
Boat sales sank
While gun and ammo sales rose, a soft economy and high gas prices had consumers thinking twice about committing thousands of dollars for a recreational watercraft, causing an almost-continuous downward trend in sales of powerboats that began in 2004.
In 2008 alone, sales in the outboard boat segment were down 24 percent, while sterndrive/jet boat sales were down 38 percent, personal watercraft down 27 percent and ski boats down 31 percent.
As a result, some large boat makers like Genmar, which manufactures Ranger, Champion, Stratos and other brands, were forced to file for bankruptcy protection.
Gas prices impact hunting/fishing participation
Unprecedented increases in fuel prices caused many hunters and anglers to greatly reduce outdoor activities or reduce their travel distance and boat use.
One economist speculated that "until the effects of higher fuel prices can be moderated via higher efficiency engines and other solutions, we may lose some hunters and anglers completely."
Archery program on target
The National Archery in the Schools Program, designed to teach children international-style target archery, expanded from 21 pilot schools in Kentucky in 2002 to 5,400 schools in 46 states in 2009.
Plans are being developed to soon add the final four states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Delaware.
Thanks to NASP, more than 1 million students in grades 4 through 12 learn archery from their teachers. Youths who participate are better students, more physically fit and go on to become involved in other outdoor activities.
As black bear populations skyrocketed to more than 1 million animals in the U.S. and Canada, wildlife agencies struggled to deal with increasing nuisance bear complaints.
Dangerous encounters with this normally reticent species also increased.
In one incident, a 70-year-old grandmother was killed by a black bear north of Ottawa while scouting for a fishing hole.
In another, a single bear in Nevada caused $70,000 in damage to dozens of homes.
To help deal with their black bear problems, Kentucky and Oklahoma became the 28th and 29th states to allow bear hunting.
More women hunting and fishing
More ladies took up hunting and fishing the past decade. That's the word from the National Sporting Goods Association, which says from 2003 to 2008, women who hunted with firearms increased 3.5 percent to 2.9 million, women who bowhunted rose 1.5 percent to 600,000, and women who fished increased 3 percent to 13.7 million.
More hunting opportunities for youths
Families Afield, an education and outreach program to help states create more hunting opportunities for youths, was founded in 2004 by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.
Since then, 30 states have passed legislation that eased or eliminated youth hunting restrictions, created mentored hunting programs and/or eased hunter education mandates. This initiative has opened the door for millions of hunters to introduce children and newcomers to the sport.
Print publications gone
Hunter/angler use of the Internet increased the past 10 years, but a Southwick Associates poll found 21st-century outdoor enthusiasts continued relying on print magazines as their preferred media source for information and entertainment.
Nevertheless, publishers faced with declining ad revenues and increasing costs of print publication gave the ax to dozens of popular magazines this decade, including Advanced Bass Strategies, Advanced Fishing Strategies, Bill Dance's Fishing, Blackpowder Guns & Hunting, Catfish Gold, Destination Fish, Fish & Fly, Fishing & Hunting News, Get in the Game, Hunt Club Digest, Salt Water Fly Fishing, Shallow Water Angler, Southern Sporting Journal, Turkey Call, Waterfowl Hunter, Wheelin' Sportsmen, Whitetail Fanatic and Women in the Outdoors.
Outdoor book publishers also were hard hit by the soft economy. For example, After publishing the 100th edition of its popular Shooter's Bible, 75-year-old Stoeger Publishing was closed by parent company Benelli.
Hunting/fishing coverage in newspapers also shrank as scores of papers across the U.S. ceased publication of outdoor columns by local writers.
Another animal increasing in numbers is the American alligator.
Once considered threatened throughout its range, the species rebounded, and, increasingly, hunting is used as a management tool.
Before the 2000s, only three states Florida, Texas and Louisiana allowed alligator hunting. Georgia sanctioned gator hunting in 2003, followed by Mississippi in 2005, Alabama in 2006, Arkansas in 2007 and South Carolina in 2008.
Some truly big gators were taken during recent hunts, including 11 alligators over 13 feet in length harvested during South Carolina's inaugural hunt and a massive 13-foot, 5-inch, 701-pound state record killed in Alabama in 2009.
Minnesotans pass landmark law
Supporters cheered passage of the landmark Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to Minnesota's state constitution in November 2008. Under the amendment, a statewide sales tax of 0.375% will be in place for 25 years, with proceeds going to conservation efforts and heritage programs.
The sales tax increase will bring in an estimated $234 million dollars a year, including an estimated $80 to $90 million annually for habitat protection.
States approve crossbows
for archery season
Until 2009, only eight states Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming allowed hunters to use crossbows during bow-only deer seasons.
But when New Jersey's Fish and Game Council voted to approve crossbows for the state's regular archery-only hunting season last June, the number jumped to 12.
Earlier in the year, state game commissions in Pennsylvania and Michigan approved crossbows for archery seasons through regulatory action, while Texas passed legislation to that end.
Bass fishing joins football, basketball as high school sport
On June 9, 2008, the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors officially approved the addition of a bass-fishing tournament as a school activity, making it the first state in the nation to sanction the sport in its schools.
World record elk
A Utah bull killed on September 30, 2008 by Denny Austad of Ammon, Idaho, was confirmed as a world's record elk by the Boone and Crockett Club.
A special judges panel determined a final score of 478-5/8 B&C non-typical points, an incredible 93-plus inches above the B&C minimum score of 385 for non-typical American elk, and more than 13 inches larger than the previous world's record.
Elk also made news in Tennessee and Kentucky. In 2001, five years after the start of an ambitious program to restore elk to the southeastern portion of the state, Kentucky held its first modern-day elk hunt.
And after a nine-year effort to restore huntable populations of wild elk to the Volunteer State, Tennessee hunters harvested the first elk since the last documented kill in 1865.
Snakehead fishing, anyone?
Toothy, air-breathing snakeheads, a group of highly predatory freshwater fish native to Asia and Africa, made national news throughout the 2000s as these fish turned up in areas where they shouldn't have been.
The first one reared its ugly head in Florida in 2000 and more in Maryland in 2002. Snakeheads later surfaced in Wisconsin, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas as well.
Worried that snakeheads could eradicate sportfish, biologists poisoned thousands of acres of water to kill the "Frankenfish." But in some areas, the effort apparently failed.
Along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., one can hire a snakehead fishing guide, and some ardent snakehead anglers are predicting these hard-hitting, topwater biters will become the next freshwater fishing phenomenon.
Legislation protects sportsmen's rights
Sportsmen's groups hoping to make the right to hunt, fish and trap an American standard campaigned for passage of sportsmen's rights legislation in states across the U.S.
Such measures passed in Virginia and North Dakota in 2000, in New Hampshire in 2001, in Montana and Wisconsin in 2003, in Louisiana in 2004, in Georgia in 2006 and in Oklahoma in 2008.
Two of the country's top conservation organizations celebrated big anniversaries this decade.
Pheasants Forever celebrated its silver anniversary in 2008. Since its inception in 1982, the organization has completed 370,262 wildlife habitat projects that helped improve 5,003,578 million acres of wildlife habitat across North America.
Trout Unlimited, the nation's oldest and largest coldwater conservation organization, celebrated its golden anniversary in 2009. Founded in 1959 by 16 Michigan fishermen who wanted to protect their local river, TU has been instrumental in restoring more than 10,000 miles of rivers and streams and protecting trout and salmon habitat from Alaska to Maine.
John O. Cartier, Outdoor Life editor, book author, June 19, 2003
Karl Maslowski, pioneer wildlife photographer, film-maker, writer and conservationist, June 8, 2006
Tim Tucker, Florida outdoor writer, book author, long-time contributor to BASS Times and Bassmaster Magazine, July 16, 2007
George Harvey, "Dean of American Fly Fishing," fly-fishing teacher at Penn State for nearly 40 years, March 31, 2008
Dr. Loren Hill, University of Oklahoma zoologist, inventor of the Color-C-Lector and other fishing products, July 17, 2008
Charlie Farmer, Missouri outdoor writer and book author, October 5, 2008
Ray Petersen, pioneer aviator instrumental in starting Alaska's fly-in fishing industry, August 12, 2008
William Tapply, book author, contributing editor for Field & Stream, July 28, 2009
Benson, "Britain's Favourite Carp," caught and released more than 60 times and weighing 64 pounds, 2 ounces, July 29, 2009
Sudden Impact, the buck with the biggest antlers ever recorded on a white-tailed deer (492 inches), August 29, 2009
To contact Keith Sutton, email him at email@example.com. His book, "Out There Fishing," is available at www.catfishsutton.com.
A look back at the first 10 years of the 21st Century