Many of us are making plans for the opener of the first of the fall hunting seasons. Yes, it will soon be time to head to the dove fields. I know of no other state with the diversity of terrain and mourning dove/whitewing options that Texas offers. A couple decades ago, hunters had to head south, way south to the Rio Grande Valley to enjoy good whitewing shooting but during the past couple decades, whitewings have expanded their range to include much of central Texas. I’ve enjoyed good whitewing shooting as far north as Waco and seen occasional whitewings as far north as the Red River.
The big ranch country of west Texas is home to some great dove hunting and many ranches in the region offer dove hunts that include lodging and meals. Scouting a day or so before the hunt is about the only way to insure you will be “in the birds” when you are “hunting on your own”, but for traveling hunters heading to Texas for a dove shoot, there are plenty of outfitters available to remove much of the guesswork of insuring you will be in the birds. Texas is so big with such varied dove hunting options that hunters need to decide which region they wish to hunt. One of my favorite spots that usually produces red hot dove shooting is Ranger Creek Ranch www.rangercreekranch.com up in the ranching and Cedar Break country of Knox County.
In Texas, the opening day cook out with family and friends is as much as part of the overall hunting experience as shooting doves. I’ve hunted large ranches with scores of other hunters and enjoyed huge BBQ feasts, usually at the noon meal. I’ve also opened the season hunting with myself of a family member or two. Regardless, it seems a shame to open the season without a celebratory meal.
Now, as all the veteran camp cooks out there know all too well, outdoor cooking requires a bit of planning! When the moon and planets are properly aligned and the bird’s flight pattern intersects your position on the edge of a dove patch, it’s possible to down a limit of birds on the morning hunt and prepare them for the noon or evening meal. But from past experiences, it’s best to have the makings of the meal tucked away in the ice cooler and ready to cook when the hunt is over.
When I assume culinary duties on a dove hunt, as I often do, I have a main course planned and often cook a few fresh dove breasts to snack on before the meal. Cooking in the field can be challenging and much thought needs to be given to insure all the ingredients and utensils are on hand. There’s two ways to meet the challenge, depending upon the time you have to spend cooking. If you plan to hunt much of the day, better slow smoke a wild hog ham or have several freezer bags full of BBQ in the cooler which can be heated up quickly. A few years ago when hunting near Dublin, I actually brought along my Smokin Tex electric smoker, loaded it with hams and loins from a small wild hog and let it slow smoke all night. But, this turned out to be not so good an idea. After hunting a couple hours the next morning, everyone came back to camp and smelled the slow smoked pork. When I made the mistake of opening my smoker to give them a peek at the tender meat, they talked me into boning the meat in a big aluminum pan. In no time, they were making BBQ sandwiches. In a matter of minutes, our noon meal was gone! We wound up eating a late lunch at Dairy Queen!
Another relatively time efficient option is to serve venison, pork or, dove fajitas. Just make sure and don’t depend too heavily on the dove. I’ve made dove camp fajitas from a wide variety of game meats; everything from venison ham steak to wild turkey breasts. I cut the meat into fajita strips the day before the hunt and season it liberally with my favorite seasoning. I dice a few jalapenos into the meat and squeeze in the juice for three or four limes. The bell pepper and onions are sliced and placed in separate containers. In a big cast iron skillet, I add a few tablespoons of olive oil and sear the meat for a few minutes before adding the onions and peppers. The entire cooking process takes about 15 minutes and dinner is served! All that’s required is a few flour tortillas and a jar of picante sauce. If hunting was good, you can always bone out a few dove breasts and add them to the fajita meat. Regardless, you’ll have plenty of food for all the hungry hunters in your group!
TAKE A YOUNGSTER- Dove hunts are tailor made for exposing youngsters to the overall hunting experience. Dove hunting is really more dove shooting than hunting. Hunting takes place before the outing and equates to proper scouting and locating concentrations of birds, then determining their flight patterns. I used to believe single shot shotguns were tailor made for young shooters and, they do work nicely but autoloaders have a lighter kick. When loaded one shell at a time, a little 20 gauge autoloader makes a great dove harvester for youngsters.
When training youngsters to hunt, I’ve always served as the guide and left my shotgun in the truck. I always position myself directly behind my charge for the day and instruct him or her to keep the shotgun’s barrel pointed in a safe direction. Years ago, this practice proved very helpful on a close to home hunt with my son. A flight of doves came over head just out of range of his 20 gauge. He raised his shotgun and tracked the birds but I advised him not to shoot. He lowered the gun and a few seconds later KA-BOOM, it discharged into the water of the pond we were hunting over. He had taken the safety off and forgotten to put it back on. It was obviously upsetting for a 12 year old but the necessity of keeping the shotgun pointed in a safe direction was engrained in his memory banks forever. Today, Matt remains one of the most safety minded hunters I know.