As I write this, there is less than 48 hours before the opening of the pheasant & quail season – and I can hardly wait. I realize that this fall’s outlook may not be the best for either species, but it hasn’t dampened my spirits any. Anticipation of the hunt is a big part of the fun and with each passing season I find the final Saturday of October signals much more than just a chance to put some birds in the bag – it’s been a chance to relive past hunts.
Fresh out of Hunter Education my Dad, Uncle Mike and Cousin Bill were kind enough to let me be a part of an opening day hunt they decided to go on back in 1988. I can still smell the frosted grass from that morning, feel the rush of wings from those first birds and hear the football game on the AM radio. We ended with a few shots fired and no birds in the bag. But none of us truly realized what we had started. For the next 18 years we hunted the opening day of bird season - together.
After the first few years, it seemed that each new opener brought more cousins, brothers, in-laws and sons. It became sort of a family reunion of hunters in many ways. Interesting to me now is that once somebody took part in Opening Day, they always came back . You didn’t have to be someone important to be a part of it – but being part of it made you an important someone.
We all knew, as did those around us, where we were going to be on the final Saturday in October each year – it was a protected weekend. The Opener was off-limits to all other activities, unless they could take place after shooting hours or us bird hunters were not needed. It was a tradition – respected, observed and important. With all the change that comes with middle school, high school, college and the start of a career – Opening Day was one of the few constants.
2006 was the final year for the Opening Day tradition – and it has left a void in my fall ever since. However, this year I get to relive some of it as my younger brother and I are meeting up and heading out to try our luck at chasing the wily ring-necked pheasant on Opening Day. We may find a few – we may not – not sure it really matters. What does matter is we will be making some new memories that will bring life back to former Opening Days and perhaps be the start of a new Opening Day tradition.
Whether it be a pheasant field, deer camp or duck blind, protect the traditions you have with family and friends. If you don’t have any, make one this fall – you’ll be richer for it.