McKean Minute: This dove season, take a newbie

The single most popular day for American hunters is Sept. 1, the dove opener in most states. In Texas alone, over 400,000 hunters are likely to be in the field, and you can almost hear the drawl-cussing from here as most of those hunters whiff their first dozen shots.

Missing is half the fun, because with early season dove, there’s almost always another opportunity. The other half of the fun is the company. Dove hunting is one of the most social activities you can have while wearing camouflage. Maybe you have a special memory of a dove opener with family or a group of close friends. There was probably as much laughing as there was cussing. As many excuses for poor shooting as there are congrats for making nice shots. And as much cursing of dogs as praising them.

If you’ve been following Powderhook, then you know one of our foundational principles is the notion of passing on outdoor traditions. And there are few better traditions that deserve perpetuation than a good dove hunt. So here’s my challenge to you: Invite someone new to your group this year. If you hunt with your kids, ask them to bring along one of their friends. If you hunt with a group of buddies, enlarge your circle to include someone new. If you hunt with your parents, ask if it’s okay to bring along a classmate who may not have the family tradition that you have.

The asking can be the toughest part, as any mentor can appreciate. But everything else is easy, from sharing your gear to showing where to set up, from showing how to read the acrobatic approach of a fast-closing dove, to demonstrating how to clean a limit of birds.

There are plenty of dove to go around. Make a new tradition with a beginning hunter. It’s one way to ensure that Sept. 1 remains a sort of unofficial national holiday for hunters well into the future.

McKean Minute: Make the Most of This Cruelest Month

Where I live in eastern Montana, February is a brutal month. Hunting seasons are over, the ice fishing can be slow, and we annually have a bout of soul-searching cold in February when the mercury dips to -30. And stays there for a week or two.

But I’ll trade a year of Februarys for a single August. For me, August is the cruelest month because it’s hot, dry, buggy, and I’m daily reminded that I need to be prepping for the fall, but I can’t seem to find the time to adequately do it.

August is the cruelest month because nothing is happening yet, but everything is about to happen, and I feel simultaneously like I have too much time and not nearly enough of it.

Let me explain.

The first big-game season to open in my neighborhood is for archery antelope, on Aug. 15. I don’t have a tag this year for pronghorn, but the approach of that date reminds me that I’m not shooting my bow nearly enough. So for the past couple weeks, I’ve been making time in the evenings to tune up my archery gear and my shooting eye. It’s been going okay, but where I live, the mosquitoes are ravenous and out of every 5-shot group, one arrow typically goes rogue. The blame is on the inability to hold my form as a mosquito drills into my flesh. But I also have a self-imposed rule that I can’t stop shooting until I can stack all my arrows in a space I can cover with my hand. And every skeeter-skewed arrow keeps me out in the bugs that much longer.

Sept. 1 is the dove opener, and I know I need to sharpen up the field skills of both myself and my dog. But it’s so hot that I feel guilty working my pup until late in the evening, at the very time I usually shoot my bow. I should probably wake earlier and get in some solid dog work in the mornings, but I simply don’t. I’d rather sleep in, even though I know I feel guilty about it.

Then there’s fishing. The landlocked Chinook salmon are biting on nearby Fort Peck Reservoir, but I can’t seem to find time to go. Ditto the walleye bite on the Missouri River. And I keep promising myself that I’ll break out my fly rod and throw some hopper patterns at big-river trout. But I don’t.

I need to shoot my deer rifle a lot more, and work up a new load with Nosler’s AccuBond and Hornady’s ELD-X bullets. I need to mount a new riflescope on my daughter’s deer rifle. I need to waterproof my hunting boots and fix a torn strap on my backpack. There’s a pile of hunting knives that I told my kids we’d spend a rainy afternoon rebeveling and sharpening.

Then there’s the big ticking clock, reminding me that my kids are about to return to school, but also that we haven’t gotten done all the summer honey-do’s around my homestead that I said we’d tackle this summer. I’m reminded that we haven’t camped together nearly enough. Or fished. In another month, my boys will enter their senior year of high school, and that clock ticks louder, reminding me that this may be the last August we have together.

I know that September will be here before I know it. And I know that August is the time to get all the necessary prep done. I want more of August. I want less of August.

Cruel. Indeed.