Hunt For The Mourning Dove

For many in Southern California, the passing of fall is barely noticed. However, the hunter has a different perspective. He always marks the beginning of fall on September 1 with a “dove hunt” over Labor Day Weekend. The Mourning Dove (Paloma in Spanish) populates Southern California year round and become legal game birds the first 15 days of September and then again for about 45 days in mid-November. The 10-inch bird has a grayish-brown back with a pale buff-brown on the head, neck, and breast with purple and green iridescent neck. The tail is long with white tips on the outer feathers. The wings seem to “squeak” upon early flight giving some warning of its arrival. It is a fast flyer, sometimes soaring to great heights and can suddenly swoop down low to the ground, darting among the oaks. The dove is a real challenge to the shotgun enthusiast. Many hunters shoot skeet to prepare for this swift-flying game bird. The limit is 10 per day and 20 in possession—if you can hit them.

I joined seven hunting friends, five of us from Santa Barbara, to hunt dove in nearby Kern County in the Tehachapi Mountains at about 2500 to 3700 elevation. We hunted rolling grass and oak meadows. This year, doves were not present in large numbers and so a smaller harvest than usual was taken. Not to mention the many birds that zoomed past us untouched by our birdshot to the safety of distant higher trees. Their speed and agility make them an exciting moving target and most birds we saw only for a brief moment as they vanished over a ridge or treetop. I do not know if video games would have helped me.

As hunters gathered at the end of the day, numbers were compared, stories of the most exciting shots shared, talk of better hunts surfaced and then talk of the good times just to be out here. In cleaning the bird, it is “breasted” not plucked, as the relatively small size and anatomy lends itself to this technique for the cooking pot. The breast meat is all dark. It is a dense meat with a nutty flavor. Those that do not particularly care for its slightly earthy flavor will stew the meat in sauce and serve over wild rice. I prefer to taste this game bird delicacy and sauté it in olive oil, garlic & spices then simmer with onion, sliced mushrooms, sherry and add sour cream at the end making “dove stroganoff” over wild rice, a Burk specialty.

The true hunter and sportsman admires the grace, beauty, elegance and stealth of all animals, be they doves, quail, or deer. So, “How can you shoot them?” a friend asks. Some say for the healthy lean meat that has “no hormones added,” is totally organic, and causes all who eat it to become handsome and virile–this latter my personal commentary). Others say it is to compete in the woods against our canny brethren who move effortlessly amongst nature: a kind of contest to match our weak senses and advanced technology against a worthy animal with senses that we either never possessed or lost many years ago.

I do not know how one can ever adequately answer a non-hunter’s queries about why we hunters do it. But, let me assure you, we have our reasons. It could be in the genes of “man the hunter” or the native American in all of us; or to feel a sense of self-sufficiency and to provide for the table; or in the need to assert oneself in contest and use one’s wits in the wild and sometimes receive a reward, and if not an award an experience and a story.

So, for many of the hunters in our community, let me toast a welcome to the fall hunt of ’07 and hopes for a fruitful harvest.

If anyone is interested in a good recipe for dove stroganoff, e-mail me at And, if you have a good one for quail, please let me know.