Older hunters enjoy so much moreBy JEFF NORTH,
The aftermath of Harvey turned the rich, alluvial soils of the Mississippi delta into a quagmire. Cotton, heavy with unopened bolls, became a tangled mat. Corn that was more than 12 feet tall barely reached your knee in height. Water was halfway up the stalk on soybeans in the swags and tail diches. If it was December, the mallards would have been thick. As wet and muddy as it was though, spirits were high. Dove season is here and it was time to get serious.
Each year we are called to the delta for the opening weekend homecoming. The “season” and what it means to each of us varies as greatly as the models of shotguns that are brought to the field. For some, the pre-season social is the highlight of the weekend. For many, this is the first time since last season that hugs and handshakes have been exchanged. Trays and trays of delectable items line the tables. The array is vast. Prime filet medallions, succulent pork loin, and giant boiled prawns are the stars of the show. Dips, cheese and sausage platters, and the multitude of desserts make a grand finale. This year, to me at least, the fried pies stole the venue. As I mentioned, this spectacle is the highlight for some.
Walking into the field is what many more of us live for. This year was quite comical as the gumbo mud sucked and pulled at every truck, utility vehicle, and boot that dared to engage it. I love watching the youngsters grab their vests and shotguns to take their place among dried sunflowers. The excitement abounds as they fumble and drop everything because their eyes are locked in to the doves that keep pouring out of the hackberries and pecan trees. For these, this is the highlight of the opening weekend. High hopes of filling a limit of birds is their main agenda. Time after time, I chuckle as game vests are emptied on the ground to count and re-count birds to not only know when that magical number of 15 is reached, but to doubly make sure one too many is not taken. I love watching a young hunter walk out of the field with his or her sagging vest and shotgun almost as long as they are tall. Their smile tells everything.
Another sector of hunters may venture quickly to the field to take their turn only to walk back to the tailgate of the truck before taking their limit. Sometimes the shooting is so fast and furious that it can end almost before it gets good. I like to think of it as savoring the moment. A break to enjoy some boiled peanuts and watch the show for a few minutes before venturing back to the arena is delightful. There is always someone with the same idea so conversation is not lacking. I know many hunters that will stop one bird shy of their limit so they always have the opportunity to make that final shot and extend the experience. When number 15 goes into your vest your “participation” in the field is done until tomorrow.
Of course there are others that wait until most shooters are done before taking their turn at wingshooting. In fact, some choose to enjoy the whole affair as spectators only. I guess it really doesn’t matter as long as you get the most out of what is offered and your day is fulfilled. After all, we all get to choose how we spend our opening weekends.
If you think about it, this whole scenario describes where you may have been in your outdoor career, or possibly where you are now, or perhaps where you may eventually end up. I remember my exact path as my hunting career evolved. If I didn’t limit out on ducks or take my three gobblers years ago, I had an “unsuccessful” season, at least in my eye. As the years progress I am fulfilled if I call a drake mallard to my decoys, even if it is the only bird I see. Passing a three-year-old 10-pointer is a non-event, though watching him brings satisfaction. Years ago I would have squeezed the trigger on him at first chance. I suppose you can call it “maturing.” The good news is that no matter where you are personally in your career, there is no wrong place to be. We all go through stages in life, business, and yes even in our outdoor adventures. So whether you are in this limiting out phase, or method stage where you may enjoy calling a gobbler to gun rather than sneaking up on him in a field, or even if you are now a non-participant other than just being there, it’s all good. I guess what matters most are the friends we share our passion with and the memories we make. In the end, that’s all we have anyway.
A couple of weeks ago we lost a great outdoorsman and great friend of many, Mr. Howard Grittman of Drew. He, along with some of his close friends, began this dove hunting tradition that so many of us are blessed to be part of more than 50 years ago. We will miss him until we all meet again but he lives on through his family and their continuation of the tradition. Mrs. Ann, Allen, and Fred, we are sorry for your loss and we are all better people for knowing Mr. Howard. For that, we are grateful.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.