Changing Times

As one generation of outdoor enthusiasts is replaced by another, profound changes are taking place in the ways we interact with the world and the people around us. Keith Sutton

I graduated from high school in 1974. Although more than 30 years have passed, it doesn't really seem that long ago. Each day, however, I'm reminded that the differences between the world I grew up in and today's world are profound.


Keith goes squirrel hunting before school and leaves his shotgun in his gun rack when he pulls into the school parking lot.

1974: The principal stops Keith, asks about the shotgun, then goes to his car and gets his to show Keith.

2007: School goes into lockdown, the FBI is called, and Keith is hauled off to jail. Counselors are called in to deal with traumatized students and teachers.

Teacher needs to open a sealed box.

1974: Teacher asks if any of the boys have a pocketknife she can use. Every boy in class offers one from his pocket.

2007: The box will have to wait. All sharp implements are banned on campus because they might be used as weapons.

It's time for Keith to purchase his annual hunting and fishing licenses.

1974: Keith shells out $10 for licenses: $5 for a hunting license and $5 for a fishing license. If he decides to hunt migratory waterfowl, he'll need a $5 federal duck stamp, too. These three licenses allow him to take any legal game or fish on any public land open to hunting and fishing.

2007: Keith pays $21.00 for his licenses: $10.50 for a fishing license and $10.50 for a hunting license. If he decides to hunt migratory waterfowl, he'll need a $15 federal duck stamp and a $7 state duck stamp. If he fishes for trout, he'll need a $5 permit. If he wants to kill more than one deer, he'll have to buy a license that costs an additional $14.50. If he wants to hunt big game on many public lands, he'll have to apply for and be lucky enough to draw a permit. That permit costs extra, too.

A feral cat has been killing songbirds, squirrels and other wildlife on Keith's property.

1974: Keith shoots the cat and mentions it to a neighbor. Neighbor asks if Keith can rid her property of some stray cats, too.

2007: Keith shoots the cat and mentions it to a neighbor. Neighbor calls the police who investigate and charge Keith with felony cruelty to animals.

Keith goes bass fishing, catches some small ones and puts a few on a stringer to take home and eat.

1974: A man at the dock sees the bass on the stringer and says, "Wish I was eating supper at your house tonight."

2007: A man at the dock sees the bass on the stringer and follows Keith all the way to his vehicle, cursing him and calling him "Fish Killer!"

While attending high school, Keith tries to think of a way to earn money in his spare time.

1974: Before and after school, Keith runs a trapline. His income from selling furs is enough for spending money, plus some extra to put in a savings account for college. The savings pay his first year's tuition.

2007: Keith thinks about running a trapline but is discouraged by low fur prices. He winds up mowing yards instead. The little bit he puts in savings won't buy his first college textbook.


A young male black bear has been causing problems on Keith's property scattering garbage, eating sacks of dog food and breaking into a storage shed.

1974: Keith contacts the state wildlife agency, obtains a depredation permit and shoots the bear the next time it comes on his property. His family enjoys eating the steaks and roasts and sitting on the new bear rug in front of the fireplace.

2007: Keith contacts the state wildlife agency, which dispatches two technicians with a huge live trap. The men spend over 50 man-hours trapping the rogue bear, then relocate it to another area 100 miles away. Total cost to trap and relocate one bear: $3,500. Within a week, the agency receives a call that the bear is causing problems on another family's property.

Keith plans to bass fish on a lake he's never visited before and needs to determine local regulations.

1974: Keith picks up a regulations guide at his local sporting goods store, turns to the page on statewide creel limits, determines he can keep up to five black bass daily, then sticks the guide in his hip pocket, confident he now is familiar with all the laws he needs to know.

2007: Keith can't find a regulations guide at any sporting goods stores, or anywhere else for that matter. He goes home, logs on to the fisheries department's website, then spends three hours scrolling through page after page trying to determine the regulations for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass on the lake he plans to fish. He winds up confused and frustrated, and decides to go bowling instead.

Keith goes trout fishing on a local stream.

1974: Keith throws out some corn to chum up the hatchery-raised stockers and sets out two poles. One hook is baited with corn, the other with a night crawler. Keith catches a 12-inch rainbow he takes home and grills for supper.

2007: Natural bait isn't allow for trout fishing in this stream, so Keith must use an artificial lure. The lure must have a single hook only, and the hook can't be barbed. Chum isn't allowed either. And anglers can fish with only one pole. Keith catches a 12-inch rainbow and releases it. Keeping trout isn't allowed either, even though the state stocked two million in this river last year.

Keith's children are learning about wildlife in school.

1974: The cirriculum is provided by the state wildlife agency.

2007: The cirriculum is provided by PETA.

Keith takes his son deer hunting.

1974: Keith's son makes a beautiful shot on the first buck they see, just a couple of hours after they enter the woods. The deer is only a spike, but the excited youngster is hooked on hunting for life.

2007: Keith and son see 10 bucks during three days hunting but the boy can't shoot any of them. None of the deer has three points on one side as required by law. The next time Keith offers to take him hunting, the boy says he'd rather stay home and play games on his X-Box.

What will the future hold for our children and our children's children? Let us hope there is change for the better.

Keith "Catfish" Sutton is the author of several books on the outdoors. For more information, visit his website, www.catfishsutton.com.