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Early seasons trigger hunters’ expectations

Monday might not dawn a great deal differently from today, but make no mistake: Something will have changed.

Today we enjoy the height of summer — grilling, picnicking, pleasure boating. Tomorrow, one-half hour before sunrise, we get our first taste of West Virginia’s 2014 hunting season.

The shots that ring out in those first heady predawn moments will foreshadow hundreds of thousands yet to be fired. By the end of February, when the final reports echo through the Mountain State’s hills and hollows, sportsmen will almost certainly have killed more than 130,000 deer; more than 1,500 bears; more than 1,000 turkeys; and tens of thousands of squirrels, rabbits and game birds of every description.

And all that begins Monday morning when the state’s so-called “early season for resident Canada geese” gets underway. The season, which extends from Monday through Sept. 13, carries with it a generous five-bird daily bag limit.

A good friend of mine loves the early season; every year, he and a companion jump-start their hunting regimen with a morning at Wayne County’s Beech Fork or East Lynn wildlife management areas. They rarely return home empty-handed — not necessarily because they’re terrific hunters, but because they do enough preseason scouting to know where birds will show up.

Long-time goose-season regulars know that scouting is the key, and they spend untold hours making friends with farmers and landowners whose properties harbor flocks of resident Canadas.

The resident-goose opener’s early-bird status gives it a special significance, but frankly it pales by comparison to the other season that opens Monday.

At noon, the first segment of West Virginia’s three-part mourning dove season will open.

In hay fields, grain fields and freshly mown meadows throughout the state, thousands of hunters will sit in the late-summer midday heat, watching their wristwatches’ second hands tick toward the appointed hour. Finally, when at last the clock strikes noon… nothing much happens, at least at first.

A dove might fly here or there, triggering a brief fusillade of shotgun blasts, but the real action tends to come toward late afternoon, when doves tend to fly in earnest.

Dove openers tend to be social occasions. At public hunting grounds such as Cabell County’s Green Bottom WMA or Mason County’s McClintic WMA, hunters sit and chat during lulls in the action. They talk about guns, about their families, about hunting — about just about everything, really.

Die-hard dove hunters call it “the annual gathering of the clan,” and some sportsmen would rather miss their daughters’ weddings than miss their opening-day dose of sporting camaraderie.

Case in point: Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. Taylor hurt his ankle not long ago, and when he visited the doctor he learned the injured limb would have to be fitted with a cast.

The technician asked him which color he would prefer.

“Do you have camouflage?” Taylor asked. “I’m planning to do a little dove hunting, and I want a cast that won’t scare the doves away.”

Such is the allure of the dove opener.

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