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Times begins on upland opener

November 14, 2009 at 07:55 PM

SPRINGFIELD — In the mid-1980s, Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell wrote a best-selling baseball book, “Why Time Begins on Opening Day.” In it he talks about how the baseball fan’s “clock” resets at the beginning of each new season, bringing high hopes and the expectation of great things.

For Big John, Tony, Buckwheat and me, time also begins on opening day, but it has nothing to do with the baseball.

Our opening day comes on the first Saturday in November — opening day for upland hunters. We start tearing pages off the calendar starting Jan. 15 until we get to the opener.

Before the sun breaks the horizon, the dogs will be in the boxes, the hunting vests and gun cases will be in the truck and we all will be heading for the same place we met last year. Rain or shine, hot or cold, foggy or clear, all four of us will be on deck.

It’s not necessary to check schedules. We all know what day it is. And, we all know that Buckwheat will be late, Tony will be early and John will be pacing up and down mumbling about Internet meteorological data indicating that an Arctic cold front will be here 10 days from last Tuesday and deep six the bird-hunting prospects until the day after Christmas. John is happiest when he’s worried about the weather.

For me, the familiarity is reassuring. This hunting season will begin the same way last season did, right down to the scalding cup of convenience-store coffee that looks, and smells, like road tar. Soon, the dogs will be on the ground and we’ll be back in business.

Every upland hunting season comes with a jet engine strapped to it. The time flies by at Mach 2. Because this year’s first Saturday in November is as late as it can possibly be, we are a week behind before we get started. It will be mid-January long before we have had enough time afield.
I don’t pay much attention to the upland hunting forecasts. It doesn’t matter whether the prognosis is stellar or cellar. We’d go hunting this morning if the experts said there wasn’t a game bird between here and the Illinois River.

We have been at it long enough to know that upland hunting, and quail hunting in particular, isn’t as good as it used to be, and might never be again. It seems every year we hunt harder for fewer opportunities to see the dogs to go on point. As long as we see that once in a while, we will keep trying.

It’s a good day to be optimistic, and to keep things in perspective. Every trip afield is more about the people who go along than it is about filling a game bag.
Even if there isn’t a covey in that old hedgerow, on the far side of that muddy field, getting over there to find out is always worth the trip.

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