Dove Hunting: The Birds of Peace Are Delicious

Categories: SFoodie
Ben Narasin
BBQ Dove Breast
When my wife and I began dating, I started carrying a gun. Not immediately, and not consistently; I was initiated into the manly ritual of killing birds over a Christmas break with hunts for pheasant (great fun and great food), and ducks (wetter, colder, and harder for an amateur chef to make a great meal out of).

Later I joined the family's long-standing, and now my longest, tradition of being armed and ready for the opening of dove season. In California, that's Sept. 1 every year, and we have hunted at the same spot in Paso Robles for opening day since I was able to pull a trigger.
My ethics of hunting are simple. 

1) I hunt birds (I deviated once for a wild boar to cook for my 40th birthday).
2) I do my best to find what I shoot.
3) I eat what I kill. 

I don't use the shield that doves are "rats with wings," or "a nuisance the farmers are happy to get rid of'" or any other pretense. They are perfectly pleasant little birds. I still feel bad if the bird is in need of a final dispatch: I want every shot to be a clean kill. But in the end, doves are delicious, and as far as I know there's only one way to procure them.

They fly in front of my shotgun one or two days a year. My whole family, and every friend who's shared them, enjoy the meal.

They're as organic, sustainable, and locally sourced as you can get. They're not just from my watershed, they're drinking my watershed.

I know where they came from, and I know what they ate. This year's catch were as full of grain as little sandbags. And I know they're fresh. I typically breast the birds in the field, the breast being 98 percent of the available meat, and drop them in a Ziplock with the perfect dove marinade, Wishbone Italian Dressing. I buy it once a year solely for this purpose.

I often drive straight home from the hunt and have a BBQ with family.  Friends are welcome if I shot for two days and got my limits. In California you're entitled to 10 birds a day, if you can hit them, and since my daughter can eat five, a single limit barely feeds the family.

This year we roasted some in the field after sunset. Good experience, but the flavor is actually better after a drive-time marinade.

So how do the birds of peace taste?

Dove is dense, dark, rich and meaty. The flavor lies between turkey leg and duck breast, sometimes with a note of gaminess, as with duck or any wild bird, reminiscent of liver. The best cure to this is the aforementioned marinade which adds a tart tang, similar to the flavor of teriyaki beef jerky.

I know I may draw some shots from this story. It hadn't occurred to me to write about this, but I happened to talk to my editor on the way to the shoot. ("You can eat dove?  I want a post!")  Even then I wasn't convinced, but he really, really wanted it, so please direct your anger toward W. Blake Gray.

Don't knock it 'til you eat it. My daughter cried the first time she found out I was going to hunt dove. Now, having tasted it, she cries when I don't take her with me.

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I just discovered this website - wonderful! i do alot of gourmet cooking and just read Gray's article on wine. Perfection. My parents are dove hunting this weekend and i'm forwarding this to them.


   Before responding, I talked to my old dove hunting partner and he agreed the little devils were more fun to shoot than clean and eat. But, we always ate what we shot. 71/2 was the load here in Flortida; good for sixty-seventy yards. We're both retired now, and the doves are safe here, and they nest close by.


Insert "Prince song title" joke here.  C'mon, that was too easy!


Thanks for the dove info.  I was chating with my cousin recently about how people have discovered the joys of dining on wild game in part because of the popular interest and discovery of the many beautiful wine pairings that can be formed with wild game. 

W Blake Gray
W Blake Gray

Kellog, that's a great point. Ben also writes about wine. Ben: A wine pairing for dove?

Ben Narasin
Ben Narasin

Because dove is so rich, and somewhat gamey, I prefer red wine with it.  Bordeaux would be my first choice, opening the door to Merlot, as it would be with duck.  Pinot also works.  With the preparation style I prefer (the WIshbone Marinade) you could probably even have some fun with a Zin or a host of Italian possibilities (though those are better with Wild Boar).

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