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Opening Day

by Robert L. Mason

            As summer sets its feet against the encroachments of the fall and the cycle of the seasons takes its course, none of God's creatures rejoices more than the hunters and the hounds, for the changes swirling in the thickening air.

            For countless houndsmen and hunters across the continental United States, the return of the cool winds of Autumn rekindles fond memories, signals new adventures and sets in motion grand rituals as ancient as the sun.  Readily, our thoughts resort to childhood haunts and carefree times when the opening day of hunting season arrived on the heels of a blizzard of anxious preparations.

            Nothing galvanizes hunting interests and spurs hunting efforts like those first cool days of fall.  Up to that point, everything is purely rote, perfunctory.  But with the coming of that first perceptible chill across the land, hunting preparations take on a decided urgency.  Whether it's finding a couple of utility Beagles to hunt over or buying or trading for that crack hound needed to anchor an uncertain pack, the frantic drive towards opening day begins in earnest with the first hint of changing weather.

            Beagles, like other super athletes, lose their edge during periods of reduced activity.  Long months of kennel life diminish the level of a hound's performance, and atrophied muscles and dulled instincts must be hardened and sharpened in the field.  Young hounds, too, their bones and musculature yet developing, need significant amounts of quality fieldwork to strengthen their bodies and hone their burgeoning instincts.  With the onset of cooler weather, training intensifies for hounds both young and old.

            Not until within a couple of weeks of hunting season does the pace of the training begin to subside.  Then begins the tempering period that prepares the hounds for the long, hard campaign of the hunting season.  Over the week or two before opening Day, many houndsmen won't run their Beagles at all. This allows bruised and exhausted muscles and tendons to heal and rekindles the fire of hunting desire.

The night before the opening day is much like the night before Christmas.  For hunters young and old, it is a torment of anticipation and anxious preparation.  The shotgun is thoroughly cleaned and lightly oiled, and hunting clothes, shells, shell-belts, leashes, gloves and other hunting essentials are painstakingly laid out against the early-morning alarm of the clock.

            Every veteran gun dog recognizes opening day and each hunting day throughout the course of the season.  The younger hounds, too, quickly sense the mounting excitement.  They leap joyously against the kennel gate in their eagerness for the hunt.

            Many years ago a favorite hunting spot would rarely be farther than a couple of miles away.  Nowadays, it is not uncommon for hunting parties to drive scores of miles just to enjoy a decent day of hunting.  Occasionally, on such trips, my buddies and I will stop for coffee or an early-morning breakfast at some restaurant along the way.  Often enough, we'll spot other hunters who, like ourselves, are bound for some choice hunting spot.

            There may be brief exchanges of conversation and admiring glances at the other party's hounds or truck.  And, while there is certain to be curiosity about the other party's destination, never will such thoughts find expression.  The locations of choice hunting spots are more closely guarded than National secrets.  Only the most exotic techniques of torture would make a hunter reveal that kind of information.

            Once our hunting party arrives at its destination, another surge of anxiousness ensues.  The dogs stir eagerly in their cage, as our eyes sweep over the richly-carpeted cover of the field.  Hastily, we don our hunting gear, no one wanting to be last.  Retrieving our shotguns from the rack, we quickly load our guns.  Then, someone says--as someone always does--"Turn "em out!"

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).