I know of few things in hunting that are as celebrated as the opening day of dove season in the South.
In the Midwest, we dove hunted. But in the same way that you fished or maybe squirrel hunted. The season was open, you had a good spot to hunt them, and so you parked your bucket in the fence row of a cattle lot and you dove hunted. It was really just a precursor to the more revered species like whitetail, quail or pheasant. It was a warmup.
But in the South, it’s the main event. A holiday. A place to reconnect with family and friends, to eat, to tell stories, to laugh and to burn through multiple boxes of ammo. It’s like a camo tailgate for the biggest college football game of the year.
It’s a tradition.
When I was growing up, the opening day of the Illinois shotgun season was our tradition. The season was only three days long (Friday-Sunday), which posed a problem for a high-school kid obsessed with deer hunting. However, the simple life of a small town provided a solution. If you brought your tag into the principal’s office, you could get an excused absence for the opener. My dad, brother and I, as well as our extended family and network of friends, never missed an opening day. Those are still some of the fondest memories I have of growing up. One day, I'll tell my grandkids about the good 'ole days when they let you out of school to deer hunt and a Coke was only $1.79.
As sportsmen and women, traditions are the lifeblood of our sport. Webster defines “tradition” this way: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Just like so many things in life, it’s rarely about the act itself, but what the act conveys that truly matters. Traditions aren’t just skin (or hide) deep – they’re much deeper than that. Here’s what traditions have taught me in my own life outdoors:
- The value of family, friends and relationships. Traditions are never done alone. Think about your fondest outdoor traditions - you’re always surrounded by those closest to you. Your family. Your friends. Your tribe.
- An appreciation for a craft. Whether it’s folding a dove with a single shot, building a solid campfire or field dressing a deer without slicing the stomach, traditions always involve us huddling around a task and learning from those who have perfected it over decades of doing it.
- An appreciation for a setting. Whether it’s the back forty or forty thousand acres in Wyoming, traditions have a place, and you learn to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of it.
- A sense of accomplishment and self-reliance. Rather than giving a man a fish, or a dove, or a deer, you’re teaching him to fish. You’re showing him how to hunt. If we don’t learn to do it ourselves, we’ll never be able to pass it on. Which leads me to the most important aspect of traditions…..
- A new generation to share it with. Remember the definition? The transmission of beliefs from generation to generation. The most crucial aspect of these rituals is that they continue. The family, the friends, the craft, the settings and the learning must pass to the next generation.
For over three decades, I’ve been that next generation; the recipient of the knowledge, time and talent of those that came before me. Now, I’m a father, and when I take Rhett to the woods I realize that things have come full circle, and I’ve become the one that must pass it on to him.
As we take to the woods and waters this fall, remember why we do what we do. Take the time to slow down and make sure our heritage runs deep into the next generation of hunters and fishermen. It’s the only way we can ensure that our love for the outdoors carries on for centuries to come.
Below are a few pics I’ve taken over the years of our own dove opener, an annual tradition. I’d love to hear stories of your own in the comments below.