Hunting Doves

August 18, 2010 by  

By Nick Simonson

I’ll take the sure thing before I’ll take the risk. Give me a savings account with two percent over anything on Wall Street these days. I play poker like that too, which might be why I’m not very good at it, and I rarely bet on sports, even when I know the Gators will crush Vanderbilt. And while I might not get rich quick, win a golden bracelet, or parlay a correct pick-em, I am a fan of certainty, and one thing is firm both in my mind and on the paper calendar on the wall – fall is on its way.

hunting dovesSo while I wait for the waffling of Brett Favre to come to one end or another (or maybe he goes all Roger Clemens on us and plays the last half of the season for $16 million?) I know that when it does, the first hunting seasons of the year will already be under way, starting with one of my favorites. And while the targets might not be the biggest in the bunch, you can bet that dove hunting is one of the best ways to kick off autumn.
I can still remember the first dove hunt I went on with my dad. We walked out to the middle of a farmer’s horse pasture and sat on the earthen hill of excavated dirt and overlooked the waterhole our perch once occupied. As the sun set, gray-winged mourning doves swooped in from all directions. My dad fired his shotgun several times that night, and I watched as most of his targets bobbed and weaved themselves out of harm’s way. By the end of the night, dad had three little birds in his game vest, and we cooked them in a frying pan when we got home, sharing the tiny spoils of our night afield.

My next dove hunt didn’t happen until I was 23, after I had graduated from college, and that summer’s Hunter’s Education course along with nearly all of the twelve-year-olds in Barnes County. But it wasn’t long before I was patrolling stock ponds, sitting on treelines and swatting mosquitoes in the evening air as the dipping and diving doves made their way across the horizon that fall.
From there I was hooked on these little birds, and the earliest of the hunting seasons. Since that first year, I’ve honed my shot, scouted fields and I am now prepared for yet another season in pursuit of doves – a simple pleasure that all hunters should pursue, but very few in these northern climates do, in comparison to grouse or pheasants. But doves provide a unique challenge on the wing and a tasty reward for a successful shot.
Mourning doves inhabit the entire length of the upper Midwest and are huntable from as far north as the Canadian border for at least part of their federally set season (September 1 to October 30) they can be found flying and flocking around small grain fields, shelterbelts and water sources. Most of the time though, these migratory birds are clear of the region before their season ends.
Because of their transient nature, hunters who pursue them are required to relay their hunting data to the Harvest Information Program (HIP) to provide researchers with the information from each year’s hunt and harvest. Beyond getting a HIP number, dove hunters need only a small game license in most states, and a little bit of pre-season scouting.

Mourning doves, as alluded to earlier, are drawn to small watering holes, grain fields and safe roosting areas like shelterbelts. Finding where the birds fly each evening can provide hunters easy direction to an exciting hunt all in an hour or two after work. From that point, one can set up a small chair, don a camo shirt and hat, and prepare for an evening of hunting – or at least shooting.
Generally size 7.5 or 8 shot is used in the pursuit of these small upland birds, as more shot in a shell makes for a better chance at hitting these birds with vital areas about the size of a ping-pong ball. Having a dog on hand to retrieve also adds to the hunt and limits lost birds, as their gray plumage blends well with dry grasses and other plants. What also helps up the success rate is a little practice prior to the hunt. Shoot a few rounds of clays to be ready for these small targets before the season, and maybe warm up at the range before an evening hunt on the weekend.

The meat from each bird only amounts to two tiny breast fillets, but there’s a good opportunity to take a few birds on each outing. The internet abounds with hundreds of delicious recipes for their full flavored meat. My personal favorite is a dove popper recipe, consisting of two breast fillets sandwiching a piece of pepper jack cheese and a jalapeno slice. Wrap the ingredients in bacon for moisture and flavor, and hold it all together with a toothpick. Place a dozen or so on a tinfoil-covered grill and cook on medium-low. It’s a perfect appetizer for what’s to come this season!
If you are a longtime hunter, or just starting out, dove hunting is tough to pass up when you’ve endured enough of August’s heat and can’t stand any more of FavreWatch2010. It’s a guaranteed good time, and kicks off September in surefire style. Plan a few nights afield this fall for our smallest game bird and rest assured that the season is just around the corner…in our outdoors.


One Comment on "Hunting Doves"

  1. Mike C on Sat, 21st Aug 2010 4:32 pm 

    While the dove hunt is one of my most favorite hunts of the year, The feast afterwords is one of the best. You say poppers, Try dove breast on sliced jalapenos with cream cheese sliced pineapple wrapped in bacon,slow cook on the foil wrapped grill and indulge. Thanks for letting me get myself hungry and have a safe hunting season. Mike C

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