Many things happen when I go dove hunting. My gun gets dirty, my wallet gets lighter, ammo companies prosper, and I bring home a bird or two. I went dove hunting last week.
I used an H&K imported Fabarms Red Lion Competition with fancy accenting woods, ported carbon fiber wrapped barrel, with adjustable comb and length of pull. I camo-taped it pretty well for protection in the field. It was born in about 2004, and I bought it for a song when working at Gander Mountain years ago because it was pretty, in its fitted case and giant wallet of extended choke tubes. I didn’t use it for many years until I was filming a TV spot for Wiley X Eyewear with Midwest Outdoors TV show. I shot some clays quite well with it on camera, then talked about the glasses and even shot them with a load of 71/2s at 20 yards. The great eyewear held up perfectly, with no penetration to the lenses or frame. The visual acuity of Wiley X glasses is outstanding.
The hunt was out in Hebron with friends last week. Weather was sunny at 75F with little wind. Shooting time started at noon, when I missed my first birds with this sexy, go-fast scattergun. Just singles came by for hours. When you wait for a long time between misses it hurts a bit more because you really want that bird. After a couple hours they came more frequently, effectively dodging the 11/8 oz shot of 71/2s from my Winchester Supersport Sporting Clays target loads. To a dove, a shot column of lead pellets moving at 1300 feet per second is about as hard to avoid as a bicycle messenger dodging cars in Chicago. It’s just fun and part of life. Some of the braver birds just swim between the pellets. And with an adjustable stock, you’re always thinking about changing the height or length because it can’t be you shooting that bad. There must be some other excuse besides you just suck.
And so it went on for hours, with my ammo supply getting gradually depleted, and missed birds circling around again just to give me the finger as they zoomed by again, even closer. I swear that mourning doves smile. I could see the grinning little beaks on the feathered bastards as they rocketed past me. Some I lead by a foot, some by a football field. Damn, those yummy little missiles are fast. They say the average shooter can shoot one dove from every 4 shots. I want to know who first stated that lie and why so many have repeated this fantasy for so many years. I wasn’t even close.
Closer to the cut off of shooting time at 5:30 PM, the frequency of birds increased. More singles came by more often, from more directions, then doubles and triples from even more directions. I didn’t even know there were more directions! Many times I just blinked and these magical little beasts just appeared like comets coming straight for me! Many came from behind, certainly intending to (successfully) humble me. I was based on an aircraft carrier in the Navy, and I’m familiar with how an F4 Phantom looks at Mach 2. These birds were faster with less noise.
The flocks starting coming in with abandon just before shooting time ended. The gun got hot and I got warmer. It’s really the most fun you can have bird hunting. The temperatures are comfortable, the gear is minimal, you bring a shooting stool with water and food, and you often get to shoot a lot. The limit is 15 and I brought home 14. It took two boxes of shells.
Doves are just about my favorite animal to eat in the whole world. Despite my previous tale of shooting ineptitude, there have been many times I’ve limited out with 15, and the possession limit used to be 30, while now here in Illinois it’s 45. I’ve experimented with preparation and recipes over the last several decades, and I’d like to share my two favorite ways with you.
First, it’s crucial that you do NOT filet the meat off the breasts! Think of this: fun food. Fun food is corn on the cob and BBQ ribs, where you work the food off with your teeth. You should do this with dove breasts, also. Besides, it also preserves the flesh so it’s not exposed to air, the enemy.
Skin the breast and pull out the whole keel (the bone that is under the breasts) with the meat on. I use scissors to keep it neat and easy. Rinse well. Save the heart, also, they’re fun poppers if roasting.
A super easy recipe is to marinade them in Italian dressing for a few hours and grill with other foods. This is great if you have a party and lots of doves. Start a dozen or two on the grill with your other fare and replace them with more when they're done, handing them out to guests a few at a time.
But my very favorite way is with wine, cinnamon, and honey. Preheat the oven to 350F and spray a glass baking pan with cooking spray. Warm some red wine in a saucepan and warm some honey with a liberal dose of ground cinnamon in another. Soak the birds in the wine for a few minutes and then dip into the honey mixture. Place into the baking dish and bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Drink the rest of the bottle of wine. Crank the oven up to 425F. Baste the birds with the honey mixture and give them another 5 minutes or so. When you take your first bite and break through the caramelized candy shell of the honey and cinnamon, and your teeth dig into that deep red, rich meat suffused with wine, while scraping the last bit of meat from the bone, your eyes will roll back into your head and thank God that you are a carnivore. Enjoy.