Just about the time high school bands start to practice on the football field, when hardwood leaves pick up the first notes of fading, and farmers begin to harvest corn and other grains, hunters start looking to the skies. The opening day for doves is the party that kicks off their season.
Anticipation: The field preparation began months ago. Dove fields take a lot of work. Basically, someone has to farm grains for doves. Sometimes these fields are prepared solely for hunting with a mix of grains that mature in succession to extend the feeding throughout the fall season. Corn, millet, and sunflowers may be sectioned into a field for a steady smorgasbord.
Once the field is underway, progress is routinely checked coming up to opening day, judged both by the maturity of the grain and the doves that begin to accumulate on phone wires around the field.
Word then travels to the troops with logistics, much like party invitations and no less treasured. By the time everyone arrives, the atmosphere is festive.
Opening Day: Barbecue routinely finds its way into the event with enough sweet tea to float a boat. All the usual sides will be there and the food will fuel the camaraderie. Past shoots will be remembered and tales will have grown in the off-season.
Kids and dogs will be playing afoot, both being retrievers of spent shells and downed birds for the day. For an afternoon, their families expand to a host of temporary uncles, aunts, and cousins, adopted for the event with safety in mind.
The Shoot: By mid-afternoon, the hunters will be finding their ways to stands. A few birds may stir and an occasional shot be taken. Then, as the sun slowly starts its downhill slide, the action begins.
Doves start to drift in to feed, find a surprise in the field and then dart and dive to make their escape. They pop in from all directions and occasionally land in the tree overhead. Some birds have a knack of flying along the entire field, dodging every shot and then circling back. It’s a steady rush of action with kamikaze birds diving in from all sides, but most often, the side least expected.
Retrievers, both two and four-legged, work the field picking up birds. Kids and dogs have to be kept well-watered on these warm fall afternoons. By the end of the hunt, both kinds of retrievers look to be smiling with their tongues hanging out.
After the Hunt: As the hunt is called, shooters gather birds and gear and assemble back at the iced tea. Tales of the afternoon are relived, birds are dressed for upcoming feasts, and the kids and dogs collapse, too tired to play.
Old friendships have been renewed with promises to not wait another year. Deer hunts are planned and meeting times set. The rest of the season is ready to unfold and the opening day of dove season has just announced it.
All the hunters drive home with a healthy fatigue. Everyone will sleep well tonight. The kids and dogs will start on the way home.