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As Labor Day comes and goes, it brings about a wonderful time of the year. It marks the entrance to the hunting seasons. Whitetail deer, Canadian geese, small game, bear and other waterfowl.
Yes, the seasons start lining up for constant blasts from muzzleloaders, rifles, shotguns and even pistols and the silently stealth bows and crossbows.
Fittingly, the seasons work much like the outdoorsman becomes associated with hunting. Beginning-to-seasoned hunters will sit in the stands over the crops and fields waiting on one of the few but plentiful big game to come out grazing or mating. The regular hunter accustomed to working with dogs to assist the hunt can run deer, bear, small game and work the birds while wingshooting.
But the beginning to it all, both during Labor Day weekend and in the accumulation of hunting experience, starts with doves.
Dove season has always been magical to me. Very few things we experience in our lives mix young and old, legend and lore with present day happenings, as a good dove hunt.
It marks the close of summer and beginning of fall, even though the temperatures usually make their way in to the mid-90s regardless of sun or cloud cover. Gnats, mosquitoes, horseflies and deerflies are on the prowl. Sweat beading just above the brow line are natural attractants to the aggravating insects.
This teaches us patience at an early age. It teaches us perseverance in suffering through the insufferable, all in order to take home the prize after reaching our goal. It marks the natural shift from chasing butterflies in the outfield during a long baseball game to actually staying focused on the end goal.
Dove hunting brings about that very first sense of being self-reliant in the realm of safety. “Low bird, don’t shoot!”, “bird to your left!”, “it went down about 20 yards to your right.” Yes, communication is key as always, and it is used extensively.
The adrenaline flow of watching a small group of birds work their way through shot after shot across a 200-acre field and knowing the whole time that they will end up in range of your muzzle’s blast, then raising the shotgun to your shoulder, clicking the safety off, and pulling the trigger in one swift motion is but one part of the reward. The other part is watching the dove fold in flight and quickly acquiring a second target in the group as well.
Marksmanship, comfort in handling the firearms, understanding and respecting the power while not being afraid are all important lessons; lifelong lessons. Bringing home the quarry and making a meal out of something you harvested finishes out the lessons of the day.
Dove hunting provides so many lessons and offers so many opportunities for those lessons. The gateway to a hunting heritage. The gateway to a love of all outdoors.
It truly is a wonderful time of the year.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.