The Opening Day: The Festival is Gone. Long Live the Festival!

Two hunters shooting doves

Do you sometimes miss the grandeur of the Opening Day when it was much more than a hunt – a date as important, as joyous, as looked-forward-to as Christmas? It was once a big deal, bigger than big. You counted days for it. Jobs, birthdays and weddings, even relationships were sacrificed for its sake. It was not a hunt, but a festival.

The Opening Day was more than just an opportunity to go out with a gun and kill some bird or animal. Traditionally for agricultural communities, there were no hunting in the summer; people would get up at dawn and go to bed at dusk, with labor in between. And they counted days before the opening day when the field work would be mostly over for the year, and you could go and relax.

There are still people alive who tell the stories of how it was once in small rural communities. How everyone who had a gun and could shoot would go out for doves or pheasant, and those who didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t stayed behind and prepared everything for the festival. Then they would all pluck and cook the harvested birds together, and feasting lasted well into the night.

It’s not like this anymore. The society has grown much less tolerant for hunters. Fewer and fewer people live in the country. People flock to the big cities where they can’t be parts of such tight-knitted communities, and don’t have such a ready access to the great hunting grounds.

On the other hand, there are more and more hunting opportunities each year. Invasive species, such as wild hog, and predators, like coyote, are more or less legal year in and out – and some good hunting they represent, too. There are few animals more cunning and wary than the coyote, and the boar has been royal game since times immemorial (yummy, too!).

It is no longer a “must” to wait patiently through the summer. If you aren’t happy with hogs and dogs, and can afford to spend a few bucks, there are many awesome exotic animals available at game ranches year in and out. Most of them are free-ranging enough to offer a challenging hunt, and their names sound like music – axis deer, Barbary sheep, blackbuck, and you don’t even have to leave the country!

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If your spirit objects to game ranches and longs for the chase of the species in its natural environment, all roads are open. Summer is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and a prime time to hunt many areas in Africa, South America, and Oceania. Small wonder a humble dove or even whitetail near home loses part of its magic in front of this magnificence of choice.

When the long stretch of wait is no longer mandatory, the reward at the end is not as attractive. Modern wildlife management methods further complicate things. When some hunters go in for the early archery season, and others wait for the regular firearms season, there is no common focal point to attract the attention of the community.

Urban hunters are especially deprived when it comes to the opening day, whatever is left of it. Blessed are those who maintain the ties with the country where there’s still some wilderness left. They can schedule an opening day hunt as a family reunion, and make it an immersion into the past as well, getting the feel of how it used to be for the old-timers. But not every hunter is so blessed. Most have to content with overcrowded public lands, or commit to a private land lease.

Yet, as they say, God never closes a door without opening another one first.

If you can’t participate in the communal Opening Day festival, you can make the Opening Day a special private holiday by booking an outfitted hunt. It doesn’t have to coincide with the official start date, but can take place in any part in the open season convenient to you. Of course there’s price to consider – but holidays don’t come free anyway, and many guided hunts are more affordable than people may think.

An outfitted hunt has everything to make it a hunter’s holiday. The opening day typically offers the best chance to harvest game, and so do outfitters. They usually have access to prime hunting terrain with good game stock. In addition, you can count on the guide’s experience and knowledge – they will come in useful for a big city hunter who is deprived of the opportunity to scout and learn the lay of the land in the off season. Last but not the least, the best outfitters are experts in creating the festive atmosphere with a merry meal around the campfire, spiced by tales and anecdotes.

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Times change, and your first hunt of the season doesn’t have to be the same as your grandpa’s. Treat yourself to your own personal holiday.

Pick the species, select the destination, and go for your grand Opening Day.  

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