There’s something about small game hunting that makes me especially happy. Some of it is the knowledge that with even a little luck, you will be coming home with meat for the table. Part of it is the homeyness of hunting in little woodlots, farm fields or even old barns. A bit of the appeal is the do-it-yourself nature of small game hunting – no spendy guides or fancy equipment here. There is also an element of surprise: What tasty critter will appear around the next bend? But most of all, it’s because I absolutely love eating small game.
Yesterday morning I went to Amador County with my friend Evan to see what we could find. Our prize was to be some giant Canada geese that hang out in a pond up there, but we failed to bring one down when we jumped them. We’d killed a few ducks over at the Yolo Bypass the day before – I got myself a nice little green-winged teal and a scaup – so we didn’t hang out at the pond all day.
The day’s journey took us to some ground where Evan knew quail would be, but as we were going there, we spotted a quartet of Western gray squirrels. I love hunting and eating squirrels, but almost no one does it around here. I guess it’s an East Coast thing. I managed to get one of the four, and we moved on to the quail. We tromped around a while and flushed a couple coveys, but they wily little birds eluded us. On to rabbits! Cottontails are fantastic eating, and tend to loiter around old farm equipment, abandoned buildings or randon piles of crap. And Evan knew of a particularly excellent collection of all three at his ranch, and reckoned we’d find rabbits there: His guess was on target, and we bagged three in short order.
On the way home, we spotted a flock of barnyard pigeons! I know, I know. You’re saying, “Eeeew!” But these are not the trash-eating city pigeons you’re thinking of. Yes, they are the same species, but remember the axiom: You are what you eat. And barnyard pigeons eat seeds from haystacks or farm fields, sometimes even fallen corn. They will be as delicious as the doves the rest of the hunting world so adores, only twice the size. Cleaned and dressed, the trio of pigeons we shot each weighed a half-pound, about the weight of the teal I’d shot the day before.
Done by noon, we stopped for lunch with what would prove, cleaned and dressed, to be 3 pounds of rabbit, a squirrel that weighed almost a full pound, and the three pigeons. Five and 1/2 pounds of tasty meat is not a bad result for some good times, easy walking and soaking up the scenery on a bright winter’s morning.
Now to the cooking! First up will be a Greek rabbit stew with some artichoke hearts I froze from last season, fennel from the garden and a few of the Meyer lemons from the tree in my back yard. I know just the wine to go with it…