Much like farmers, hunters tend to follow a different calendar that is also closely tied to the rhythms of nature. An ancient cycle that cares not for arbitrary words like “Tuesday.” These rhythms cause us to view scales of time differently. Calendar dates take on more complex meanings because our internal calendar revolves around hunting season and it starts with opening day.
Around the world, opening day takes the form of days like the Glorious Twelfth or St. Hubert’s Day; but the feelings remain the same no matter the locale. This holiday is one of the great human traditions. Our New Year’s Eve is not marked by fireworks, but with anticipation. On the eve, you might find yourself talking over strategy, in your living room, or hiking in to stay the night in the backcountry to ensure you are at exactly the right spot come morning light. Often, the planning for opening day started the minute legal shooting hours ended the previous season. It is a day marked with much fanfare within our circles. Friends and family gather at camp or in the field. Food and storytelling are always present and essential.
That first hunt of the season is both significant and changeable based on location, game, and the interests of the individual. For some, it begins as early as August, chasing deer or pronghorn with bow in hand. For others, bugling elk herald the commencement of the season. My own personal new year used to begin the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This was the rifle opener in Mississippi. Even though archery had already begun, the rifle opener was of the utmost importance. In more recent years, and as I have become a more generalist hunter, the time and place has shifted around. This year started with moorhens on the river. Last year meant a couple alligators on a lake. The year before that was a wild pig on Florida public land with a recurve.
From year to year and place to place, all of these have one thing in common. Even when it does not happen on the official opening day, that first hunt signals the start of “The Grind”. The kind of Type B fun that makes us question our sanity. Why would anyone in their right mind spend so much time and energy to be so uncomfortable? We wade through waist deep swamps in 100-degree heat, sit in trees for hours fighting boredom and mosquitoes, hike miles with heavy packs, and freeze our tails off all for a single moment when our quarry finally emerges into the open. Why? Because we cannot help but to do it. We do it for the incredible sunrises, the adventures, the memories, and the full freezers. We do it for the camaraderie of our fellow hunters and because we love it. It taps into something deep within our psyche. The unconscious desire to take our place within the processes of the natural world. The same desire that causes our anxiety to rise when we feel a cold front moving through while we slave away at our modern jobs.
As rutting whitetail give way to flushing snipe that, in turn, change to gobbling turkeys, we grow and learn. We spend the summers looking back at the lessons learned so that we may be better next year. We try new broadheads, take up backpack hunting, or study up on a newly observed animal habit. We do this all with anticipation for the next opening day.
So, whether you have already started or are still chomping at the bit, take a moment to reflect on the years before and those to come. Take a kid out or, better yet, an adult trying to learn the ropes. Share with them the significance of opening day. Even mid-December can mark a new beginning for a fledgling hunter.