By ambassador Michael Cravens
For many hunters across the country, the first day of September marks the beginning of their sporting season. In the midst of a long hot summer when August finally rolls around, the thought of the hunting season being only a month away is enough to bring the sportsmen great relief and excitement. I’m no exception to this. While I immensely enjoy waning away the summer month exploring streams with a fly rod in hand, I can’t help that my thoughts turn to ideas of cool crisp mornings, the smell of spent shotgun shells, and the excitement, and frustration, of pass-shooting doves.
Doves are members of the family Columbidae. In North America, this family consists of around nine species, excluding those occasional species visiting from other lands. Of those nine species, six are available to the hunter. The white-tipped dove is native to south Texas and, unless you’re a resident, hunting for white-tips will take some planning. Next, is the band-tailed pigeon. This is the only native North American pigeon. It makes its home throughout parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and up the Pacific Coast. Being a resident of Arizona, I hope to bring home my first band-tailed pigeons this year. Moving on, is the white-winged dove. These beautiful birds are abundant summer residents throughout the southwest and can make for some exciting and fast passed shooting. We cannot leave out the common pigeon, aka rock dove, that is commonplace throughout cities across our globe. This exotic species is rarely considered a sporting species but, the truth is, when pursued in a rural setting, they make for fine hunting and are terrific on the dinner table. Just Introduced to the U.S. in the eighties, the collard dove has quickly established itself as one of the more common species in out country. In most places, this exotic dove can be harvested without season or limit. Finally, there’s the mourning dove. This is the species that most dove hunters spend their August dreaming about and preparing for. Mourning doves are one of the most abundant and widely distributed game birds in the country. Every year, around one
million hunters take to the field in pursuit of this bird harvesting some 15 to 20 million doves.
Becoming a dove hunter has relatively low barriers to entry. For the most part, all you need is a shotgun, some shells, a hunting license, and access to some property where doves fly. As a child growing up in the Ozarks, my dove hunting gear consisted of a single barrel twelve gauge, a pocket full of scrounged number eight shells, and, occasionally, some homemade cardboard cutout dove decoys with paper clips glued to the backs. I’m pretty sure there are still outlines of these spray painted on the driveway of my childhood home. As an adult, my gear hasn’t changed much. The shotgun is a lot fancier, the shells are new and more abundant, and the decoys are of the commercially manufactured variety. The truth is, the better equipment doesn’t necessarily equal better success, so just get out there with what you’ve got and have fun.
No essay on doves would be complete without mention of the fine eating they provide. As much as hunters look forward to the hunting of doves come the first of September, many, like me, are just as excited about their first batch of dove poppers. This dish is likely the most commonly prepared dove dish across our country. A fillet of dove breast, nestled in a jalapeno, filled with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and cooked on an outdoor grill. Who wouldn’t look forward to that?
That being said, don’t forget all the other wonderful ways to eat these delicious birds. They can be fried, stewed, roasted, and grilled in various wonderful ways. One of my favorites is to pluck the birds whole, rub them down in bacon grease, and grill them on a hot charcoal grill. Even better, serve the birds on a pile of alfredo noodles with homemade white sauce.
Doves are an abundant and wide-ranging game species, they are pursued with relatively simple and inexpensive equipment, and finally they provide exceptional table fare. What else could a hunter ask for in a species that signifies the beginning of the hunting season for so many sportsmen across our country? In my opinion, not much. These amazing and abundant birds provide the perfect scratch to a
long summer itch.