By Erik Guggenheim
There is nothing more sacred than September 1st to our tribe of brethren. Be them male or female, young or old, rich or poor, all colors, walks of life, and differentiations of a person. It is our New Years Day, the beginning of the physical calendar for the hunter. For our world is not governed by 365 days a year; rather how many days’ till dove season, deer season and duck season start and how many days of doldrums depression once the final season has ended.
It is a rite of passage for many. The time when proud parents take “Junior” into the field for the first time to sit among the sacred circle of elders called the Camp or the Lease. It’s where a young child is now second in command of the 25 neatly placed shells packed into a cardboard box awaiting the first commands calling for more shells as the little grey rockets of the sky whir past. This is where you earn your stripes as a retriever chasing down wounded birds. This Opening Day is where grandpas sit on the back of the tailgates after a hunt and let you have a sip of that cold, bitter, frothy, malted beverage for the first time as you try and swallow to show your fortitude; all while being told, “Don’t tell your momma or grandma.”
Oh yes, this the glorious season of going back out into the field, pulling out your camo, washing out coolers, buying shells, and beginning the hours and hours spent calling hunting buddies on the phone to rekindle a relationship left from last year.
The sound of opening morning is like thunder in the sky; telling the story of birds flying from roosts to fields to eat. The smell of gunpowder wafts across the countryside as the wind brings back memories of that first Opening Day. As we sit there in the baking sun we reminisce of past hunts, loved ones gone, and the arrival of another Hunting season sure to bring with it its’ very own memories.
In Texas the dove hunting is as close as you can get to Argentina as any where in North America. Specifically, West Texas, where the desert like climate is a prime staging ground for migrating Doves. From Lubbock to Llano the mesquite filled hill country is the Napa Valley of Mourning and White Winged Doves. Our harvested wheat fields are covered in a blanket of yellow sunflowers; specifically black oil sunflowers. While these native crops are a major draw we also plant crops like red top milo that is a major food source for doves.
As many people know and can attest the dove is no easy bird to harvest. The little grey rockets dipping and diving across a field at speeds up to 60 mph can humble even the best wing shooters. The key to good dove hunting is volume, high volume – that being; lots of birds and lots of hunters.
True high volume dove hunting comes from specialized agriculture practices. Here at Ranger Creek Goose Guide Service in Haskell, Texas, we take our dove farming as serious as our waterfowl food plots. We start by planting Previc Sunflowers and wheat in the winter, then burning the grasses in the early spring before the sprouts come up. Then in late summer after the flowers have died we begin stripping the sunflowers to open up ground for doves to reach the seed. Then as the season progresses we continue to open up more and more lanes until late season when we disk plow. This allows us to have staggering numbers, like 12,000+ birds killed in opening week alone last year.
The future of hunting does not lay in the conservation of today. A bold statement made by a man who believes that mankind has a responsibility to care for the land in order for the land to repay him. I think back to the quote by my literary mentor Aldo Leopold “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations, the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”
To me, the answer lies in the ability of us wildlife “dreamers and visionaries” to pass along our passion to the next group. The answer to solving the great question of conservation that was started by passionate folks like Jack Miner lies in our own offspring. Passing down the traditions of hunting is what matters.
Today I share the west Texas tradition of Dove season with a group that values this concept. Mother to daughter, father to son, and sister to brother. My crew lights up the sky with powder and lead as the sprinkling of memories in the field fall upon the lives of their children and friends like spent shot on the ground.
So as we count down the days until September 1st let us not forget that by including the next generations or welcoming newcomers we are ensuring the future of The Season Opener.