If I had to choose, fall is my favorite season. I suspect that many of us who enjoy the outdoors share this opinion.
That’s because this season, arguably, provides more opportunities to connect with nature than any other. The final few months of the year offer fantastic fishing, foliage that serves up an incredible backdrop, and, in Wisconsin, the bulk of our hunting seasons.
From September through November, I spend nearly all of my free time outside. Between chasing river run salmon, targeting smallmouth bass that are strapping on the feedbag prior to the arrival of winter, finding “the X” for that next waterfowl hunt, and ensuring I have a few hours to sit in the deer stand on occasion, it seems that there just isn’t enough time in the day come autumn.
But it is September 1 that is the gateway to all of these wonderful things. That day marks the beginning of the early goose, mourning dove, and, more recently, the early teal hunting seasons in Wisconsin.
I have been in the field, shotgun in-hand, on the first day of September each of the last 11 years. Every one of these trips has brought varying degrees of success. But none of that dampens the excitement that comes with the first hunt of the year.
The key ingredients for this excitement are a combination of reflection and anticipation. Remembering the past while looking to the future with an eye on all the possibilities that await can stir up powerful emotions. Even the act of preparing for Opening Day gets my mind racing.
Sure, the potential of filling my freezer with game and the allure of successful hunts is exciting. But hunting is about so much more than that.
In late August, I begin to get my hunting gear in order. I purchase my duck stamp, dust off my decoys, organize my shotgun shells, and make sure my blind bag is properly stocked. Every part of the process brings its own little trip down memory lane. From hunts with those who are no longer with us to remembrances of legendary outings in brutal weather, these memories quickly transition into a glance into the future and all of the potential that is waiting to be tapped.
On August 31, I go to bed with the special feeling of knowing that I have the ability to go hunting every single day for the next 90 days or so. Each of those trips has the power to turn into something special.
The dawn of fall means the chance to find adventure in places both new and old. It brings about the chance to create new memories that will be cherished and shared for years to come.
Opening Day ushers in more opportunities to catch up with old friends and keep meaningful connections alive. It means crisp days in the field that transition into cleaning birds on tailgates which leads to campfire-lit socials with plenty of cold beer and an even steadier supply of laughs.
Perhaps most importantly, Opening Day is a chance for those of us who invest time in the outdoors to reap what we’ve sown. It’s an opportunity to realize the fruits of our labor.
All of the hours spent brushing-in blinds, scouting spots, improving our accuracy, practicing our calling, learning our craft: it’s all for this. When daylight breaks on the first day of the season, the dividends of those efforts begin to pay out.
Those who spend time and invest money in protecting habit and promoting conservation will see that first flock of birds crest the horizon and get to enjoy the realization that those efforts played a part in making that moment a reality.
There’s a feeling that comes with all of this. And I’ve learned it’s impossible to find anywhere else.
Opening Day is a chance to reflect while also a looking ahead — a reminder of all that has been and all that could be.
And that’s the magic of Opening Day.