We were invited to the Academy Cast & Blast event, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Certain traditions in hunting are as ritualistic as lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July or setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner.
Fox hunters don't ride horseback without a flask of port. Every post-harvest campfire includes fire-roasted backstrap. And, Texas hunters spend each Labor Day weekend in a field with a shotgun, a case of shells and a bucket.
The opening day of dove season doesn't only mark the start of a new hunting season; it serves as an unwritten holiday built on a foundation of informal formalities, timeless rites of passage and, most importantly, community-wide congregations of desirous hunters.
There are three acts within the ceremony that is the first day of Texas dove hunting season, none of which ever steers from tradition.
Everyone meets in a centralized parking lot, where breeze shooting and catching up never fails to trump some valuable hunting minutes.
There's then the hunt itself, which entails countless missed shots, recurring jokes about who's the worst shooter, and occasionally a limit of birds.
And finally, a cold beer (maybe two) rounds out a day that leaves each hunter with a story, the need for a shower and ideally some birds.
When Academy Sports + Outdoors planned its "Cast & Blast" event, it stayed true to both dove hunting tradition and its own Texas roots.
On the eve of opening day, I arrived in El Campo, Texas, where I would meet up with other media members and a handful of delightful Academy folks.
We caravanned to Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar in Katy, where we would exchange personal anecdotes, abridged media backgrounds and upcoming plans for the season.
The food--mouthwatering and plentiful--set the tone for what was about to be an incredible dove opener.
Once we were done feasting, we devised a plan for the following day.
We woke up early enough to beat the morning rush at the nearest Academy store, where we would gear up and go over some of the new Academy products we'd be using (watch for more info on the gear coming soon).
We then rendezvoused with the rest of our hunting group, which would comprise a total of more than 50 camouflaged gunners eyeing the same prize.
After driving about an hour and a half down to the El Campo area, we spotted a fleet of lifted trucks, a sure sign of fellow Texas dove hunters.
Correctly assuming we were at the right place, we started unloading and picking out shotguns before hitting the field.
I went for the Yildiz SPZ ME/12 TX 12-gauge over-and-under, as I'm a sucker for a pretty double-barrel (maybe it's the upland hunter in me).
This gun was no joke. Not only did it feature epic Texas markings and beautiful craftsmanship at a low cost, but it also shot and cycled like a top-shelf bird gun.
A vast cornfield gave us plenty of room to spread out and place decoys between each line of hunters. The sun was brutal, however, prompting everyone to grab excessive amounts of sunscreen and water. So it goes in Texas during late summer. The dove opener is almost never a cool weather affair.
It was slow for a while, as the sun was just starting to come back down, but as soon as temperatures dropped a bit, there were birds. Tons of them.
Those of us who were using break-barrel shotguns found ourselves fumbling over shells trying to keep up with the number of fliers flapping from above.
As soon as a bird fell, you couldn't take your eyes off of where it landed, as the cut corn did us no favors in spotting our white-winged quarries.
At first, each of us was trying to take shots en route to the pickup, but quickly learned there was no need. The birds weren't slowing down any time soon, and it wouldn't take long to reach the 15-bird daily bag limit anyway.
Constant action led to a collective struggle of heat exhaustion. It was fortunately aided by a few of our hosts on a Polaris side-by-side full of supplies, namely cold water.
When the dust settled, the sun had sunken below the horizon, empty shotgun shell boxes surrounded our feet and loose feathers served as evidence of a long, fruitful hunt.
A few stopped after getting 10 birds, but everyone left with a haul, which, of course, was celebrated with a beer.
Upon our return to the trucks and tents, we could smell already-cooked barbecue--brisket and pulled pork--which only solidified the underlying Texas theme.
We exchanged highlights, laughs and harmless jabs over what felt like a well-deserved meal.
While it was easily the best dove opener I'd ever experienced, all good things have to come to an end.
We packed up and returned for sleep, as we had to get back at it in the morning for our next expedition: a full day of largemouth bass fishing.
Stay tuned to hear more about that. Until you do, view the Texas dove opener for what it is: one of the most important (and fun) traditions we continue to practice. Academy certainly does, and the respect they showed and information they shared was just what I needed to kick off the hunting season.
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