The Swoosh of September Heralds the Coming of Fall

The Swoosh of September Heralds the Coming of Fall
(Lynn Burkhead photo)

The dawn is oftentimes pleasant, even in my home state of Texas, with the temperature falling somewhere between the oppressive heat and humidity of late summer and the forthcoming crisp and cool days of autumn.

But even if there isn't any cool air to be found in these parts of the world a half-hour before sunrise on September 1, I'll still be afield – me and thousands of my shotgun-toting kinsmen on the south side of the Red River.

After all, it isn't the promise of cool air as August falls from the calendar and September begins what draws me outdoors every year on this particular date.

No, instead it's the whistle of wings, the distinctive swoosh of a mourning dove – or sometimes, even a white-wing dove – swinging by overhead.

Just before the afterburners kick in, of course.

From Texas to Timbuktu, the encroachment of modern civilization has done little to quench the call of the wild that begins each and every year when the calendar flips to September.

And in nearly all of those places, there's no better way to celebrate this primal urge than by clutching a familiar shotgun while guarding a spot in a nearby grain field or around a dwindling waterhole.

That's why I'll have the Lab in tow, fighting the Lone Star State scourge of triple-digit heat – and a few marauding fire ants along the way – all for the chance at a handful of birds.

Wild fare, when coupled with bacon, a jalapeno slice and a red hot grill fired by mesquite wood, offers up some of the finest eating this side of any five-star restaurant.

But opening day of dove season is more than just the prospect of fine eating. It's far more than that, actually.

For starters, there is the tradition associated with opening day, a date on the calendar that holds all of the promise of Christmas morning, the Thanksgiving Day feast and the unbridled fun and celebration of the Fourth of July, all neatly rolled up into one.

In fact, when I receive a new calendar every year, there is one date that gets scribbled on it before any other — the September 1 dove season opener.

It's a good thing that my wife's birthday isn't on September 1. Same goes for the birthdays of my three children.

Otherwise we would have to hold the annual cake-and-ice-cream celebrations in a local grain field or around a nearby stock tank.

I'm just kidding, honey … I think.

In many parts of the southern Great Plains where I live, the tradition of dove hunting's opening day brings the atmosphere of a local county fair as old friends shake the dust off handshakes, uncase a worn shotgun and sip on an ice cold cherry flavored Coca Cola — or in my case, the diet version.

All before we begin to laugh at how rusty each other's shotgunning skills have become since we all gathered last year at this same time.

Throw in youngsters on their first hunting trips and the clownish antics of a Labrador retriever who doesn't like dove feathers in his or her mouth and you've got a great recipe for a superb morning or afternoon of wingshooting fun.

As long as everyone is careful and remembers the lessons of gun safety from their hunter-education classes, that is. Which does include wearing a good pair of shooting safety glasses and hearing protection, of course.

Topping off the tradition of opening day of dove season, the topic of food shows up once again since some of the more elaborate dove hunts feature a pile of catered barbecue, baked beans and potato salad to boot.

While I've rarely had the privilege of being invited to such an affair, when such invitations have come my way, I've quickly cleared my calendar.

Not to mention loosening up my belt a little bit.

If no such invite is forthcoming this year, then a mid-day trip to The Smokehouse in Lindsey, Texas, always scratches the itch for some good old fashioned Lone Star State beef barbecue.

Being born and partially raised in the Mid-South region near Memphis, I'm certain that a good shredded pork barbecue sandwich from Corky's – extra sauce and some coleslaw, please – also will do in a pinch.

And if no barbecue option is available where I'll be hunting this opening day, a sleeve of venison summer sausage, some cheese slices and a good cold soft drink will prove to be an adequate substitute I'm sure. Because it always has.

Aside from such time-honored traditions, opening day in its most simple form gives enthusiastic wingshooters like myself the chance to show off shooting skills.

If you can call it that since the shooting average across Texas is a paltry one dove bagged per every five shots fired.

Why is that?

Take a hunter whose physical senses have been dulled by another hot summer of lawn care, an over/under that hasn't seen the light of day since last fall and a diminutive gray ghost that can kick the afterburners to Mach One as the first salvos of the season are fired and the truth is that you have an ammunition maker's dream on the first day of September.

But tradition and shooting aside, perhaps the best reason of all to enjoy the spectacle of a dove season opener is what it ultimately represents: the hint of all of the other autumn hunting pleasures soon to come on the thinning yearly calendar.

Because with each passing day, the heat of summertime will slowly begin to fade — the key word is slowly in my part of the world — into the cool crispness of autumn.

A time when ducks and geese begin to wing south, bobwhites queue up into coveys, the leaves on the Creator's palette turn to the year's most brilliant colors and secretive white-tailed bucks suddenly appear on a frosty dawn with a case of love on their heavy antlered minds.

Sure, I know what the calendar says: Autumn's official beginning is still weeks away.

And I know all too well that the thermometer will undoubtedly be somewhat reluctant to relinquish its devilish heat, meaning that I'm all but certain that this current summertime won't be ready to go riding off quietly into the September 1 sunset.

Not just yet, anyway.

But don't try to tell any of that to me or to any other dove hunting cronies that I know when opening day rolls into town.

Because for the legions of my wingshooting brethren out there, those of us who still thrill to the ancient chase of table fare that comes by way of the wing or the wild hoof, we all know better.

As August mercifully ends, let the outdoor games of this upcoming autumn finally begin.

Because the dove hunting swoosh of September serves as a harbinger of sorts, a sure sign that fall in all its hunting glory is finally at hand.

No matter how much red is showing outside on the thermometer.

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