Philosophy on the topic of hunting is vast, and luckily I really enjoy a good dialogue on the matter.
Labor Day was the Dove Season Opener in Imperial Valley this year, and after scouting good spots last fall plus not one but TWO failed hunting trips last year, I was about ready to throw in the dove-hunting towel. In the meantime I scouted my old spots and found some new ones, practiced shooting, and loaded up on ammo.
Monday morning we awoke at 4am to get out to Imperial County by sun-up. Imperial is known for being one of the best spots in the land to shoot dove, especially the Eurasian dove: a much larger species which is so prolific it is now "Eurasian season" year-round there with no bag limits.
After setting up at our spot and getting the kids comfortable, we were delighted to find that all that time spent at the range lately shooting skeet really paid off. Here's a snippet of what the hunting looks like though when the sun is up and you're casing the skies for the dove to come in close enough for a good shot. We don't have a bird dog, but as you can see our kids happily serve as bird dogs whenever they like. Did I mention that it topped out at 106 degrees on this day?
We hoped for about eight doves for dinner for the family - apparently three doves per adult and one per child is standard. Slowly but surely they began adding up (the two biggest ones in the center are Eurasians, for reference):
Afterward we went to county-famous Camacho's which was slammed with dove hunters on the season opener. While waiting over an hour for our food, we swapped hunting stories with nearby tables and my eldest daughter drew an imaginary picture of herself dove hunting. When asked if she had any interest in hunting in the future she said that so far, she was on the fence. But she loves shooting.
Next it was time to plan the meal we would enjoy. I have shared my still life painting obsession here and it's borne from the love of seeing a big pile food gathered up before you cook it: all that potential! This is a little of our hunting bounty:
Some of the smaller Mourning doves are best served by the breasting-out technique seen here. If you aren't breasting them out, you can pluck and field-dress them as you would any other bird... but use tiny scissors around the vent!
The result is some amazing-looking meat, as fresh as you will ever find in any farmer's market. ALL of our meat, save the one breast in the bottom left corner below with the obvious pellet hole, was free of any shooting damage. We used 7.5 shot in both our 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns and while it did seem on the small side, this benefit was real.
Next is a braising technique for our two whole birds and bone-in breasts as described in the LL Bean Game & Fish cookbook, found here. I bought my barely-used hardcover for $1 with Prime shipping! Amazon is crazy sometimes.
They were finished in a madeira sauce.
And served! Kids loved it, adults loved it, and next time we figure we'll need about 12 for this family, since there were calls for "more" and I didn't have any.
Thanks for looking + happy hunting!