I didn't grow up hunting doves, when I was younger there wasn't even a dove season. Minnesota just wasn't one of those states that had a dove season. In 2006 they opened up dove hunting for the first time since 1947 and many people didn't think it was necessary. The opposition insisted that hunters were using the dove hunt, which starts September 1st, as an opportunity to get out in the field and use doves as target practice to prepare for the upcoming bird hunting seasons. I was listening to the radio the other morning and the outdoor talk show was discussing the dove hunt. Here in Minnesota hunters shot around 50,000 doves last year and never even dented the resident population of the birds. Minnesotans just aren't that into hunting doves and only a few have taking it up.
I am one of those hunters that decided this year that I was going to make an effort to scout and hunt doves in the hope that I might be able to eat a few of them to see if they are even worth hunting. I started reading online reports of what I should be looking for and the best times to hunt and pretty much everything I read said dove hunting is all about scouting birds. You need to spend some time in the field before the season starts to find out what time the birds start their daily trek from their roost to the fields that they eat out of. My hunting partner for this adventure was going to be Rick Edwards, an old friend and promising outdoorsman. Rick scouted a few fields near Cannon Falls, MN and I watched a few near Rosemount, MN and we decided we would try one of the fields Rick had been watching.
We arrived to the wildlife management area around 7:00 am and walked into the field following a tree line. About a quarter mile into our walk we saw our first doves of the day and practiced what I like to call, "shoot and release", this is when you shoot many times and the birds continue to fly away unharmed. We decided to sit tight and see if anymore flew over and got lucky as many more birds flew over. After several more rounds of shoot and release we finally got our first and only two doves of the day. Rick got the first one and I got the second. We spent several more hours out in the field that day but did not get anymore doves. Around 11:00 am we called it a day and took our two birds’ home. Rick decided that one bird probably wasn't going to feed him and his wife so he gave me his bird and I took them home.
The first thing I noticed about these birds was how easy they were to pluck, each bird took about a minute to do and we as clean as waxed ducks. The next thing I needed to do was figure out how I was going to cook them. I had never cooked doves before and had only eaten them twice, the last time I had them they were marinated in Italian dressing and wrapped with bacon and half a jalapeño. Although those were tasty, I was hoping for something more. While we were out hunting the whole area we were in was filled with juniper so I started thinking it would be fun to roast these little birds with juniper and see what I get. I took 6 juniper berries, one clove of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil and mashed it together in my mortar and pestle I then added one tablespoon of mayonnaise to the mixture and painted it on the doves. I roasted the doves in the oven at 500 degrees for 12 minutes and the results were amazing. I couldn't believe that these little doves could be so flavorful and have such a rich tasting meat.
Some of those who oppose the hunting of doves say that there isn't enough meat on them to bother with but I would disagree. I think if I had three birds per person everybody would be full. It is true that the wings and legs don't hold a lot of meat but the breasts of the bird were very good sized and as good as any bird I have ever eaten. I will most definitely be heading back out to shoot more doves.