The beer can hurtled through the air, catching the late afternoon sun.
I raised my borrowed shotgun, a youth-sized Remington .20 gauge. I fired, cringing a little in anticipation of the blast and the kick from the gun butt.
The can landed, uninjured, in the grass.
“You missed that one, too,” Jimmy said. “I’m out of cans.”
My husband is a pretty great shot, a former SWAT sniper, veteran hunter and rabid firearms enthusiast. I, however, had never fired a gun until after we were married, just over three years ago.
I never really saw the need for a gun. Except for one uncle, no one in my family hunts or owns guns.
I figured, if I had any trouble, I would simply lock myself in a room and call police. If I needed meat, I would go to the grocery store and buy some, pre-trimmed, packaged in plastic and ready for the pan.
Strangely, it’s my growing interest in where food comes from that led me to become less and less squeamish around meat and, eventually, to learn the difference between a shotgun and a rifle and drove me to obtain my very first hunting license.
I decided fairly early in our relationship that, since Jimmy was going to bring home game anyway, I may as well find a way to make it taste good.
So I slowly began eating venison, then cooking with it myself. As I sought out recipes, I began to learn more about the health benefits of game — a truly free-range, lean and organic food source. No one gives antibiotics or hormone shots to a wild hog, for example.
Readings like “Hunter, Gatherer, Angler, Cook,” by Hank Shaw and “Girl Hunter,” by Georgia Pelligrini further inspired me. Both of these authors have extensive websites with blogs and recipes, by the way.
I hadn’t thought much about doves until last year’s Buck Fever, when Rick Scott and Glen Dorn of Rafter D Chuckwagon were serving up samples of dove, slowcooked in a sort-of-stew with peppers and onions. I took a taste of what was much like a tiny, delicious steak.
“You have to dove hunt next year,” I told my husband. “I want to eat more of these things.”
But then I decided that, if I wanted to really take part in the wild food experience, it seemed wrong for me to get Jimmy to do all the hunting. I’m a modern woman, after all, so why should the gathering of meat be “man’s work.” It seemed a little Neanderthal.
So after much consideration, I decided that I wanted to learn to hunt and my dear husband, of course, was thrilled that his city-bred wife had turned such a corner.
Dove hunting bothers a lot of people who think of doves from TV, Christmas cards and weddings. What many people don’t know is that the “white dove of peace” is usually a pigeon.
Doves and pigeons are close relatives, members of the family Columbidae. White homing pigeons became the “white doves” because they return to their roost after being released. They’re also larger, which makes them show up better on camera.
Actual white doves are usually a color mutation of a ring-necked dove. If you release them, don’t expect them to come back.
The doves hunted in Texas are mourning doves or white wings, grayish brown, acrobatic seed-eaters that can be seen year round.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine recently explored the history of dove hunting, which wasn’t wildly popular until more recent times.
The article cited two early mentions of Texas dove hunting in the San Antonio Light in 1895 and again in 1897, but it seems the occasional dove was generally bagged as an afterthought during a quail hunt.
The dove population has rebounded in recent decades, particularly the once-threatened white wings, and September dove hunting has become a popular way to celebrate the beginning of fall and hunting seasons ahead.
Dove hunters seem to be divided squarely into two categories — pluckers or breasters. You can either remove the breast of the bird and proceed with your recipe (like the one supplied by Jimmy here) or you can pluck them and leave them whole, which also makes a nice presentation for recipes that can be found in both of the game cookbooks I listed earlier (or many others online).
Some people don’t bother eating doves at all. Personally, I don’t see any reason to kill something I wasn’t going to eat unless it was, say, attacking me. Not an issue with the mild-mannered doves.
Also, these little guys are super-tasty. Author and cook Hank Shaw describes them as “Very fine-grained meat, red, juicy, tender.”
Maybe, though, I could have picked an easier quarry to start with. I found out pretty quickly that doves fly like feathered fighter planes, moving quickly and erratically through the sky. Blink, and you’ve missed your shot.
After my unsuccessful attempt at practicing with beer cans, we spent a few evenings crouched under a mesquite tree watching doves swoop down and then away.
A few bobbing decoys helped bring in a few more and then a deluxe “Mojo” dove with spinning wings really drew some attention.
Jimmy, who hadn’t hunted doves in years, managed to catch back up pretty quickly and soon was filling our bag with birds. I fired a few times, with no luck, but mostly just watched.
Finally, as the sun was starting to set on a recent Sunday night, a group of about four or five mourning doves swooped down to check out our decoy. Jimmy got two and, as they doubled back to flee the pasture I fired, not at the dove but a little in front of it and, much to my shock and amazement, it dropped into the tall grass.
“I think I got that one,” I gasped.
“I think you might have,” Jimmy said. “We’ll call that one yours.”
‘Dead Simple’ Doves
(In the words of Jimmy Limmer)
For each bone-in, skinless dove breast:
Thin sliced bacon, (I prefer pepper bacon)
Slice of pepper, quarter to a fifth of a decent sized jalapeno
a strip of your favorite version of cheddar cheese’
Make a slice in the dove breast, creating a pocket, but not going all the way through.
Put the jalapeno and cheddar cheese slices inside dove breast. Take bacon and wrap around the dove breast.
Pin with a toothpick and do each one that way.
Get your pit nice and warm, not overly hot, but good enough to cook with.
Put it on the grill and cook until bacon is well-done.
The problem with using thick-sliced bacon is that it doesn’t cook all the way through and nothing is, to me, nastier than a greasy chunk of bacon. I like my bacon cooked and if you use thin-sliced it works better, in my opinion.
Once the bacon is crispy, the dove is usually done (15-20 minutes). Just monitor them and turn them over from time to time.