When Doves Cry

I’ve eaten a few doves in my time, and frankly, I wasn’t impressed

By Rob Breeding

Walking to work the other morning I came upon a young dove sitting on a car. It seemed big enough to fly, but instead of flushing, allowed me to come close enough to snap a photo with my phone.

The dove appeared to be of the Eurasian collared variety and had probably fallen out of its nest. Sadly, the chick’s probable destiny was to become cat food. One non-native species eating another, so I suppose the tragedy was an ecologically neutral event.

Doves are amazing birds. Not the squawky, invasive Eurasians so much, but native mourning doves. I was introduced to the bird’s haunting “coo-oo coo coo” call as a kid delivering newspapers on my bicycle. The doves cooed from their perch on transmission lines above the road.

But cat food? I’m afraid so. I’ve eaten a few doves in my time, and frankly, I wasn’t impressed. The birds have a livery taste, to put it mildly. Some years back, when my pal, Uncle Bill, had a bunch of extra dove breasts in the freezer, we lightly poached them and then put the dark meat in the food processor, mixing it with cream, thyme and a touch of cognac. This dove hunter’s pâté was a step up from the traditional version made with chicken livers, but it still tasted like what I imagined was fancied up cat food.

You may like dove, and that’s great, but I think my culinary dismissal of the bird is on solid ground. As evidence I note that in the weeks leading up to the traditional Sept. 1 opener, my news feed was filled with recipes for dove poppers. Popper recipes always include one telling clue: the breasts are wrapped with bacon.

Bacon is a magic ingredient, usually enlisted so that it’s salty, smokey deliciousness — carried to your taste buds by lip-smacking pork fat — will cover the offending flavors of the items it’s wrapped around.

Like dove breasts.

Those Eurasian doves have been spreading across the northern Rockies for some time. This is an impressively adaptable species. The birds are native to the east Asian tropics, but gained a foothold in Florida after some captive doves escaped in the Bahamas in 1974. The Eurasians made it across the ocean to the mainland and have since spread across the United States, including very untropic-like Montana.

Opening day in Montana is also Sept. 1, but that’s just for the native mourning doves. There’s no season or limit on Eurasians, however, as both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks do not consider them protected species. You can shoot Eurasians year round, but since they tend to hang out in towns and cities opportunities to hunt them are limited.

The mourning dove season in Montana is brief. Unlike Eurasians, mourning doves are migratory, and once the weather cools, they head south. You only get a week or two of shooting before the weather turns.

I’ve only hunted dove a few times. The most memorable was on a winter evening in the desert near Tucson, Arizona. We set up around what’s referred to in Arizona as a water tank — essentially a shallow dugout and earthen berm in a low-lying drainage where runoff was collected to water cattle.

The tank also watered doves.

In the last hour of shooting light, doves came in waves, swooping in for water. This was shooting unlike the upland bird hunting I’m used to as mourning doves hit speeds up to 55 mph. I killed about 10 birds that day, while emptying five boxes of shells.

By the time I’d eaten my way through the bounty I was done with dove hunting. The shooting was unreal, but my pet cat had to finish off the last of the birds.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.