Sitting on the edge of a sunflower patch, there’s plenty of time to think a few random thoughts as a warm early autumn breeze rattles the dry stalks.
Things like why I love dove hunting so much, especially when I’m on a September 1, season-opening hunt somewhere deep in the heart of Texas.
To be truthful, I really can’t remember the first dove hunt I ever went on, just that it happened during my years as a student at Denison High School.
But as high school turned into college and youth turned into adult life, I grew to love the annual opening bell of fall hunting seasons more and more.
Even to this day, many years later, I still get as giddy on the last day of August as a kid trying to go to sleep on Dec. 24, eagerly anticipating all that is to come.
Like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day all rolled together, the September 1 opening day of dove season is an annual rite of passage that I dare not miss.
Why you might ask? Because in my humble opinion, dove hunting in Texas is a smorgasbord of the following sights, sounds, and traditions:
* The long anticipated arrival of opening morning, a day where you beat the alarm clock’s blaring ring…and never, ever punch the snooze button.
* An opening day September 1st fundraising dove shoot, one complete with excited hunters, whining dogs, the aroma of steaming hot coffee and a few boxes of fresh doughnuts too. After the host gives final instructions, it’s time for pickups to pull out of the parking lot and head west in gleeful anticipation.
* The quickening pulse that you get as the truck pulls off of the gravel road onto a trampled pasture, one next to a harvested milo field where big John Deere farm machinery rumbled only a couple of weeks ago. As the sky begins to blush pink on the eastern horizon, you reach for the shotgun, unload the retriever out of the dog box and quickly stride for a gap in the treeline.
* Once at your spot, you put the hunting bucket down, open up a fresh box of dove shells — “bullets” in the Texas wingshooter’s vernacular — and clank home a couple of rounds into the double-barreled shotgun. As you close the action with an oily metallic click, you smile big as the law prepares to come off another new season.
* The faint “Pop! Pop! Pop!” of distant shotgun shells going off, announcing the official arrival of legal shooting time. As the first mourning doves visit the field, the thought excitedly crosses the gray matter in your noggin that it’s finally “Showtime!”
* The smell of shot shell smoke curling up cleanly out of that stack barrel shotgun as the first trio of birds whips by on a freshening early morning breeze. The aroma smells so familiar and good that you almost don’t care that you missed the season’s first chance. Almost, that is.
* A familiar grin that creeps over your face a moment later as another pair of gray ghosts tries to rocket on by. Only this time, the gun is mounted cleanly, the barrels are swung smoothly, and miracle of miracles, a math challenged brain somehow figures out all of the geometry once again in a miraculous collision of shot pellets, distance, elevation and a clean double on doves.
* The light heft of a dove in hand — either a mourning dove, a white-winged dove, or an invasive Eurasian collared dove — as you bend down for the bird, pick it up, admire it’s gray feathered plumage, and dream of a meal of dove breasts hot off a mesquite wood fired grill.
* The intoxicating smell of smoked brisket during a September 1 lunch break. Whether that Texas barbecue comes catered at an opening day shoot or from a well known eatery like Don’s Barbecue in Whitesboro, The Smokehouse in Lindsay, or Clark’s Outpost in Tioga, the delectable meal somehow makes the day complete.
* Late afternoon hunts around a dwindling Lone Star State waterhole where the thermometer is almost as red hot as the shooting is. While meteorological summer may have ended, you wouldn’t know it as you wipe September’s sweet sweat pouring from your brow. But as a final small group of mourning doves quickly wings over, turns hard on a dime, and drops into the bare shoreline for a drink, the final bird for your limit is almost child’s play. Until you miss, that is.
* The belly rolling laughter that comes from your longtime wingshooting companion as he pokes fun at your expense. As you feel the rise of red-faced embarrassment, a mourning dove whips across the pond, giving you a quick unthinking shot with the scattergun, one that cleanly folds the hard right-to-left crosser. As the bird thumps to the hard, dry ground, your friend’s chuckle turns into a well earned compliment.
* Early evening tales of missed shots, lost canine companions, and past hunts, all told around the lowered tailgate of a pickup truck after the hunt has ended. As jalapeno venison summer sausage is sliced with a Knives of Alaska blade, cold beverages are pulled from a YETI cooler…I’ll take a Coke Zero, please.
* As you finish plucking doves, laughing with friends, and taking another swig of the cold soft drink, the revelry is broken only when the day’s last light reveals a couple of birds swooping in low to roost in nearby trees.
* The late afternoon sight of a big racked white-tailed deer slinking along the edge of a wooded patch in the distance. Seeing Mr. Big is a reminder that while dove season might be the opening bell for hunting season, the best is still yet to come.
* The comfort of an early fall cool front, one where the northerly breeze almost brings a touch of September chill to the air. Almost, but not quite.
* The sound of a Saturday afternoon college football game. In days gone by, you’d bring a transistor radio into the field with you so you could listen to a Texas Longhorns gridiron game from DKR Memorial Stadium in Austin. Today? You simply reach for your Smartphone and find the appropriate app icon to listen to Craig Way’s smooth call of “Touchdown Texas!”
* Kicking gumbo mud from your boots and smiling in amazement that no matter how hot and dry the summer has been, rain always seems to fall around the dove season opener.
* Picking prickly pear cactus spines out of your tender backside because you didn’t pay close enough attention to where you parked your hunting bucket.
* Standing in a long line at your favorite outdoor retailer on the night before dove season, waiting with a few dozen of your tardy hunting friends to take turns buying a new hunting license. You could have made the purchase earlier in the month, but somehow, even with the lengthy wait, you like the tradition of buying a TPWD Super Combo on Aug. 31st.
* Continuing a longstanding dove season tradition, reading a time honored wingshooting story the night before the season begins. No matter how many times you read Joe Doggett’s Texas dove hunting tale entitled Sunset’s Secret Thrill, reading the Field & Stream magazine story is like visiting with a long lost friend.
And there you have it. From Dalhart to Brownsville, from El Paso to Texarkana and from Denison to Laredo, those are a few of the sights, sounds and traditions — in my feeble mind, at least — that make Texas dove hunting such an amazing time afield.
It might not be the biggest hunting action that the Lone Star State has to offer each fall, but in so many ways, it ranks among the very best that the season can bring.
Deep in the September heart of a Texas mesquite patch.