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Scott Rall: Dove education and recipes

By Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors writer 

The time of year has come around again to write about a subject that gets me more mail and comments both positive and negative than any other column that I write in a year’s time.

The subject matter is dove hunting. The dove season opens on Sept. 1 and is no longer a new thing in Minnesota.

I write about dove hunting not to fan the fire but to continue to educate hunters and non-hunters alike to the biology and science that is used to manage these abundant birds.

The law was passed that allowed dove hunting about six or seven years ago. The mourning dove is the most hunted game bird in North America. It is a kind of ho-hum game bird in Minnesota as not many hunters pursue them. I think the reason for this is the fact that although the season lasts for about two months there has never been two months of hunting opportunity in Minnesota.

Doves are just plain wusses when it comes to cold weather. They will inhabit southwest Minnesota right up to the time when we get two or three hard frosts. These birds can be here one day and almost completely gone the next.

A good frost can cause an exit of 90 percent of the doves almost overnight. Other factors can also chase doves to other more southern locations. One year we had a great opening day of hunting a few years back and on day two the wind blew about 50 miles per hour. The wind only lasted for one day, but literally all of the doves were gone by the morning of day three.

There was little to no dove hunting that year. So even if the season lasts nine weeks, the hunting usually lasts for about three of those in a normal year.

If you are anti-dove hunting, just wish for a hard early frost. This will move them out of the state and limit their harvest in Minnesota but will increase their harvest in the states that really rally around dove hunting. Controlled hunting of doves, like hunting almost every other animal, is proven not to adversely effect their populations.

Proper game management allows for the harvest of a percentage of the population without harming the species long-term. This is no different than deer hunting or pheasant hunting. Seasons and limits are designed to allow participation without endangering long-term wildlife goals.

Doves can have as many as six reproduction cycles in one year. This might be because their normal life expectancy in the wild is just a little over a year in length.

Some will say that doves are so pretty when visiting their bird feeders in town, and this is true. Pheasants and waterfowl are also beautiful as are deer. These are all hunted without the same controversy that doves receive. Banding studies have shown that these city birds rarely end up in a hunter’s bag. City doves are pretty well insulated from hunting pressure.

Dove hunting is not a haphazard effort. There is sound biology and science behind their seasons and regulated harvest.

If you have not been out driving around and scouting potential hunting sites, you might be a little late by the time this column runs. Good spots are pretty rare in our area and many of those good spots will be sewed up by now. I have been contacting land owners over the past month and have received permission for a few spots. Small grain fields like wheat or oats are prime spots and, for whatever reason, I am seeing more of them this year than in years past.

It takes very little equipment to hunt doves other than a shot gun and a few boxes of shells and the proper license. Get situated between water sources and the feed and pass shoot them as they travel back and forth. You can set up on a wetland edge in just about any public hunting area and get some shooting even if it isn’t fast and furious. The low water helps and the shallower the water the better.

I use a few motorized spinning wing decoys that help a lot, but they do have a measurable cost and might not be worth it for the occasional dove hunter. They mimic a dove that is landing and that movement attracts other doves to that spot. It helps get the bird in closer so good, solid shots can be made. I have on occasion seen doves come from over a quarter of a mile away as a result of their use.

If your dog is a little fat and out of shape from sitting on the couch or in the kennel since last hunting season, dove hunting is a good way to start that conditioning effort needed by the pheasant opener in October.

The season opens on the first of September every year and this year that date is a Sunday. I am in meetings on the third and fourth so I will not get much opportunity after opening day till the next weekend.

You can clean a dove in about 30 seconds, and I freeze the breasts in water until I am ready to grill them. Bacon-wrapped is good. Smothered and baked in sour cream is another great choice.

Regardless of how you cook them, the key is low and slow. High heat dries them out in no time and makes great eating into shoe leather. My favorite is wrapped in bacon and secured with a toothpick. Sprinkle with Lowry’s season salt and place on aluminum foil over low heat on a gas grill. When the bacon is done, the dove is too.

Adding a little jalapeño pepper or a water chestnut helps keep them moist and adds a little kick.

I love when people who have never tried them state that there is no way they are ever going to like them but they will give a try. After seconds or thirds they change their tune.

Another convert from dove hunting is bad to dove hunting is acceptable, and that is all an avid dove hunter could ever hope for.