Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Opening Day

One of the rites of passage for a young southern male is often attending an opening day dove shoot with a friend or family member. It is an invitation that is steeped in tradition and camaraderie for the few who are chosen to share that special occasion. Dove season begins in our neck of the woods on September 1st which also happened to be Labor Day this year. I tagged along as photographer and writer to see what the mysterious male bonding was all about. Boy did I learn some stuff! The group met for lunch on a hill overlooking the field where the hunt would be held later in the day. The menu was, of course, completely southern fried in outdoor fish cookers. The crowd of about twenty or so men and two ladies feasted on tilapia and broccoli/cheddar bites with french fries on the side. Empty beer boxes lined with paper towels were heaped with fish and trimmings that had enough grease to clog the old arteries just by looking at them! Two or three guys did the cooking while the rest of us sat around under the shade tree and visited. With a giant pan of peach cobbler for dessert, it was a meal that would keep these hungry hunters satisfied during the long hot afternoon ahead. Sometime around mid-afternoon, the action moved downhill to where the birds feed. Our camo-clad group traveled by four-wheeler, pickup truck and mule (no, not the animal kind ) down the hill and over the pasture. Each man selected a spot surrounding the field and staked his claim with a chair and a shotgun. I was positioned in the shade with the spotter and it wasn't long until he hollered out the magic word "Bird!" with a short description of location. Calling each man by name, as he knew their positions, he announced the sighting as if he had just won the lottery. "Bird, Tom...bird! Right behind you!" Mid-afternoon shooting was light with several birds fluttering down amid a shower of feathers to end in somebody's pocket. There was one labrador retriever in the field, his skills honed like a sharp knife to pick up the bird and return it to the shooter without disturbing the body. That would come later when the breast is removed for gourmet eatin', southern style. After awhile, especially when sightings are light, the heat begins to wear down on the heads that are protected by hats and the guys take shade and water breaks before returning to their spots for the remainder of the afternoon. That's when the shootin' begins in earnest, between 4PM and 6. Bam! BAM! The lead shot can be heard falling through the trees as the great American hunt is on with a fury. Bird! Bam!! I think I understand a bit more about the holy tradition that is opening day now and it's definitely a man thing :)