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AP file photo by Cuauhtemoc Beltran / The opening day of dove season, typically in early September in the United States, is an exciting time for many hunters because it is the kickoff to not only the pursuit of these birds but the start of a new hunting year.

It's almost fall, y'all.

The gray-faced pointer eased over to my knee and requested an audience. With her chin resting there, I looked into the eyes that seem to become more soulful with every passing day. "What's on your mind?" I said, thinking how much I would miss her. The dog's expression was that of a teacher addressing an unwitting student. As clear as day, her eyes said, "You know it is almost fall."

Callie is right; it is almost fall. I know, we still have August to go, but you will turn around two times and it will be the middle of September. Where does the time go? I don't know. If you find out, please tell me.

So you know me, if I am thinking about fall being close, I am thinking about the hunting seasons. I wonder sometimes that we hunters must sound like a broken record to those who don't hunt much, always going on about our favorite season coming up. Don't hold it against us — it's just what we do.

Most of us, me included, are still preoccupied right now with complaining about the hot and muggy weather. You know what is going to happen, though: You will wake up one morning, it will be cool and foggy, and it will dawn on you that fall is upon us.

For the hunters, the first significant thing that will happen next is dove season. Most states will open this season during the first week of September. Now we talk about fall, but in truth when the season comes in for doves, it is still summer where the calendar is concerned. The autumnal equinox will not occur until Sept. 22 this year, so we actually start hunting before fall gets here. Deer season in South Carolina will start in some areas on Aug. 15; think about that for a minute.

For many of us, going forth to be embarrassed by a small gray bird, the mourning dove, is the kickoff for a new hunting year. We are embarrassed because sometimes it seems trying to hit one of these little speedsters with a shotgun is like shooting at an aspirin tablet shot out of a .257 Roberts on a windy day. (For the nonshooting crowd, that would be really fast.)

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Two mourning doves interact on a branch in East Brainerd on May 3. Mourning doves are "little speedsters" whose elusiveness has frustrated and embarrassed many a hunter returning to the field for the first time in months, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

The mourning dove is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America and can be found all over the United States, southern Canada and Mexico, and it will winter down into Central America. Doves are prolific breeders and in some areas will have as many as six broods in one year. Although there may be millions taken by hunters in one season, the overall dove population does not seem to be affected. Doves, by the way, are quite tasty on the table. Hunters will often prepare dove breast on the grill wrapped in bacon, and I recommend it.

An early season dove hunt can take many forms in different locales. In many parts of the South, the dove season opener can be a gala affair. Large organized shoots are often accompanied with hefty amounts of barbecue and socializing. In many areas, the first day of the season starts at noon, so there is lots of time to catch up with those we haven't seen since last year. These hunts often occur on large parcels of private land that have been groomed for dove hunting, and there is sometimes a fee involved.

Another form the dove opener can is take is you and a couple buddies sallying forth to a public hunting area to sample the dove prospects there. Many states now do some form of small game management and may plant sunflowers, millet and other small grains to attract doves. Do a little homework and scout out an area near you before the season. You probably won't have the area to yourself, but in dove hunting you may not want that anyway. Often in dove hunting, shooters will surround a dove field, and this may keep the birds flying back and forth. So in dove hunting, more is often better.

Do yourself a favor and take that full choke out of your shotgun for dove hunting. A modified choke will serve you better to hit a few birds, and you may even want to go with the improved cylinder. Light game loads are all you need for doves, with No. 7 shot being ideal. The early portion of the season is often hotter than a $2 pistol, so make sure you take plenty of ice and water for the day. Even more H2O is needed if you take your canine buddy to the dove field. Dogs need lots of water and shade during hot days afield, so don't forget that.

Well, I used up all my time going on about the first of the fall seasons, dove hunting. Next on the list would probably be early squirrel season.

Anyone for squirrel gravy and biscuits?

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Larry Case / Contributed photo

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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