It’s just before seven in the morning; I am sitting on a milk crate in a millet field. The taste of my coffee tells me either my kitchen skills are lacking, or I should have washed the thermos better after my last fishing trip. The air is damp, my feet are wet, it’s just now light enough to see, and there is nowhere else I would rather be than this field, waiting on the mourning doves to start flying.
A few hunters have said, “Good morning”. One of them offered me coffee, and I should have taken it. We recognize each another from previous opening days, but seldom does anyone exchange names. It’s a kind of silent brotherhood; those who are crazy enough to get up so early for the chance to sling lead and a prayer at small birds, gracefully darting through the grasses in the middle of nowhere. The payoff in the real world is a small tasty delicacy few will savor. The task takes skill and far more shots will fall harmlessly to the ground than will meet their intended target. Still, there is a payoff in the visceral world, the world of self-esteem. When the entire line blazes away in vain at a bird beyond their range but you, you hold your fire, looking quietly down your barrel, concentrating intensely. You’re figuring furiously on how far to lead the bird, how fast he’s moving. Waiting, tracking, following, squeezing the trigger ever so slightly until…BANG! And one bird makes a nose-dive into the dirt.
The line around you erupts in a chorus of whistles and cheers. Faceless shouts of “Attaboy!” and “Dead-eye!” and even “Show-off!” are showered on you as you beam with satisfaction, wishing you could bottle this moment. You kept your cool, you swallowed your excitement, and you held your fire until just the right moment while all others lost their nerve. Your audience is mostly virtual strangers, but their compliments are high praise in this moment.
That’s the way opening mornings of dove season have gone in the past. It’s a ritual by which I secretly mark the years of my life. Most people mark their years by birthdays, some by their anniversary, not I. My life is marked by how many opening days of hunting season I have known.
Only this first Saturday in September, things are a little different. We sit in the high fields listening to the goose hunters in the Killbuck Marsh two miles distant and far below us fire round after round at their intended prey. Yet here we are, sipping our coffee, checking our shotguns, peering at the sunrise, watching, waiting. Only a few, very few doves have dared to cross our field.
If you struck out on the dove fields there’s a reason for that. Scott Peters, Wildlife Management Supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife says, “Areas that are traditionally our best, at this time of year, had hardly any birds on opening day.” It seems the dove have congregated in Western Ohio possibly due to early September storms on the North Coast. Peters says hunters should try the same areas again as cooler weather drives birds our way and early season hunting pressure subsides.
Lorain County a popular destination as Early Canada Goose Opens
Brandon Baker is an expert hunter who put together an all-around sportsman’s weekend. He says the hot weather and remnant rains from hurricane Ivan made goose hunting a chore on opening day. “We got out early on the golf course and set up, but things were kind of hot and slow. We got two geese and a couple teal, and then we took 12 doves the next day.” I talked to him as he and his crew were stepping out of the boat, having taken 90 perch in two hours off of Avon Lake.
Now that the busy summer is over there’s opportunity for us to re-connect with our kids and pass on to them the hunting and fishing heritage. The Izaak Walton League at 21334 Foster Road, Penfield is hosting a Free Youth Pheasant hunt on Saturday, October 13th. All youth must be accompanied by an adult, and interested hunters should call Rob Wood at 440-610-0951 to register.
Another great family event is the 2012 Zink Calls Youth Waterfowl Tune-up at Erie Outfitters 5404 Lake Road in Sheffield Lake. The event takes place from 4 to 7PM on Saturday the 22nd and includes free refreshments and lots of giveaways for everyone. Learn about waterfowl calling and tactics, and win prizes in the duck calling contest! To register, call Brandon at 440-541-8148 by (tomorrow) the 15th.
Thanks for joining us on the new Chronicle Outdoors page this week. Please join Byron & Tom online for more stories and interactive outdoor fun at www.chroniclet.com/outdoors