Sometime after the Fourth of July, once all the pasture grass was brown and all the hickory leaves soon would be, my friends and I would begin looking forward to dove season, specifically to the early September opener. From the time we were old enough to be trusted with shotguns of our own, it was an occasion that rivaled Christmas Day.
Once July was gone and August was upon us, it was nearly too hot to fish and far too close to school to get very excited about much else. Most of us had scant access to deer hunting, whitetail populations then bearing no resemblance to the abundance enjoyed now, but the doves didn’t have to live here to be in the game. There were large native populations on hand, and their migratory cousins were presumably on the way.
By the time our morning school bus rides had once again become routine, anticipation was growing like a fever and recess talk focused on little else. The sting of summer break’s conclusion was mitigated a little by the promise of being out for
Labor Day, and the fact that day could be used altogether for hunting made it seem like a holiday for the occasion itself.
“What did y’all plant?” and “How big is your field going to be?” and “Do y’all have any doves coming in yet?” were the standard questions. These were accompanied by the usual lies about how many doves we, our older brothers, uncles, cousins and fathers had shot the year before. In the tales, our past year’s performance had drawn rave reviews and the older shooters who mentored us were nearly infallible. In truth, nobody cared about it as much as we did, and most shooting efforts reflected the same. Our relatives and their cohorts who prepared the fields enjoyed the shoots on their own terms as largely social events, just as adults do today, but for us, for a few weeks each year, it was everything.
I think of those days often now, especially around this time of year. Somewhere there are photos of us in our various groups, clad in boonie hats and army surplus camo. One of our uncles called us “The Rat Patrol” after the TV series from the 1960s, and our collective experience at that time bore as much resemblance to life’s reality as did the highly-fictionalized drama. We knew nothing to dread greater than the coming Tuesday’s math class, had no promises to fulfill greater than doing all of our homework and sitting still in church. Life, of course, arrived and continues to arrive as it will in its own time, but on those days we were just boys and it showed. I look at the faces in those photos now, and I can still hear the echoes of our laughter, remembered sounds that make the arrival of each new season feel like going home.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.