So we sit, tasting salt as it rolls across our lips, swatting the bugs intent on finding a way into one of our eyes, rhythmically wiping our faces on one shoulder or the other. Looking back I can recall only two years when it wasn't hot on the first hunt of the season.
For a long time I drove to eastern North Carolina to spend opening day with my grandfather. He'd been a member of the same dove club since the late sixties and for as long as I hunted with him he was the oldest member. Most clubs are members-only for the first few shoots but the Southern Pines Shooting Club had a Henry Ford-esque policy: bring anyone you want as long as they're male and over fifteen. They'd have upwards of sixty hunters gather for the pre-game breakfast around ten (can't shoot before noon 'til after Labor Day) - eggs, bacon, grits, homemade biscuits, sausage, gravy, orange juice and coffee all prepared on a trailer cooker. On a hot day with a full belly it was mighty tempting to just lean the car seat back and enjoy the A/C for a while.
Nobody did, of course, and after a convoy to the field we'd all pile out, stake our spots and wait for the birds to start flying. One year we piled out into the remnants of a hurricane. In late August of 1999, Hurricane Dennis flirted with the North Carolina coast, lost a bit of steam, then looped back around and came ashore over the holiday weekend. I've never hunted in sustained 35mph winds before or since and while it made the temperatures quite tolerable, trying to hit a bird in those conditions took me back to square one.
|Anatomy of a windy opener, courtesy Wikipedia|
By mid-afternoon I figured out that although a crossing bird flying into the wind looks like it's barely moving, you need to put the muzzle a good eight feet in front of it and then double that distance. The very same wind that's slowing the birds to a crawl is also flinging your shot pattern sideways. In a hurry. Pilots know it as the difference between groundspeed and airspeed, dove hunters know it as a good way to blow through four boxes of shells in no time.
In all the years I've hunted dove I've only seen rain once on opening day. When the storm blew in everyone thought it was just passing through and we'd be in for a sunny, albeit muddy, hunt once the clouds cleared. After about an hour my grandfather and several of the other elders decided the rain had "set in" and headed for the cars. I'd driven almost three hours to be there, was already mostly wet, and since the birds were still flying I stayed put. Somehow it was better than cooking under an apocalyptic sun.
Most openers I've spent just soaked in sweat. You tend to get a little wiser as you age, though, even if only in the most practical of matters. I'm talking specifically about personal comfort. Lately I've been picking my stand not based on the flight path of the birds but the path of the sun and any object that can intervene. Personal comfort gains value with each passing year. Tempted by a sale flier in the Sunday paper, I broke down a few seasons ago and purchased a camo t-shirt made of some technical wicking fabric. Worth every penny and now I'm on the lookout for a pair of matching boxers. Heat be damned.
Enjoy that opener fellas...