KEVIN TATE: Dove opener harbors anticipation of Christmas morning

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Neat, square packages of 25 treats each are lined up. The coffee pot is set to run before daylight. Our favorite toys are ready to go, and our friends are set to help tackle the presents.
Saturday’s dove season opener is an anniversary that’s been special to me from my earliest days afield. First spent sitting alongside Dad or one of the Old Men then, finally, being trusted to carry a shotgun and hold a spot on the field myself, these early September mornings are rich with memory and rife with opportunity. My children look forward to a lighted tree and Santa Claus, but the September dove opener is my Christmas Day.
Soon after the alarm sounds, ending a night that lasted just short of forever, light from the east will turn off the stars in the still of the morning. Heading to a shooting spot we’ll lug buckets stacked with too many shells, break a sweat and remember that summer’s not quite gone. A few weeks shy of the equinox, anything naturally cold around here is still a long while away. That shiver in the air is just excitement.
A few brisk morning flights are all it will take to get the fireworks going. Soon everyone will have hit a few and missed a few, laughed a few times at their friends and logged a shot or two of their own to remember.
Most of us have had a few slow openers where scarcely any birds appeared at all, and we’ve had a few with shooting so fast that reloading became a constant chore while joking aloud that anyone would travel to Argentina when a challenge like this could be had at home.
Generally, though, opening mornings have a few fast times interspersed with slow, gradually winding to a party-ending lull just before noon when only the youngest shooters remain on alert for one bird more.
In the eventual heat of the day, yellow cabbage butterflies will bob past the corner of the shooters’ fields of view, grabbing the last flashes of their attention when the midmorning sun is hot and the coffee long cold, waiting for another dove to stir before taking the game bag to the cleaning table.
By the time the early games kick off on TV, caffeine and adrenaline will give way to second breakfast and a comfortable chair. The best part of this sort of Thanksgiving, though, is it can be repeated as often as we like all season long.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.