Welcome back to the podcast! We are resuming Season 2 through the end of the year, after a break due to Miss ‘Rona.
Every episode will dig deep into the life, habits, hunting, lore, myth and of course prepping and cooking of a particular animal. Expect episodes on pheasants, rabbits, every species of quail, every species of grouse, wild turkeys, rails, woodcock, pigeons and doves, and huns. Thanks go out to Filson and Hunt to Eat for sponsoring the show!
In this episode, I talk with Jorge Ramirez of Upland Jitsu and biologist Owen Fitzsimmons of the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife about doves and dove hunting.
Both Jorge and Owen are an avid dove hunters, and we dive deep into hunting tips, gear you might need, habitat, food habits and the ecology of the various species of doves in North America, from the common mourning dove to white-winged doves, Eurasian collared doves and even the elusive white-tipped dove, which lives on the Mexican border in south Texas.
For more information on these topics, here are some helpful links:
- A cool fact sheet on identifying the various species of doves and pigeons.
- Want to buy squab, which is the domestic equivalent of doves? You can, from D’Artagnan.
- A cool article on hunting doves from Project Upland.
- All of my dove and pigeon recipes. Take some time to browse through these. You won’t be sorry!
- The classic way to cook doves on Labor Day: Hank’s Dove Poppers.
I am bringing back Hunt Gather Talk with the hopes that your generosity can help keep it going season after season. Think of this like public radio, only with hunting and fishing and wild food and stuff. No, this won’t be a “pay-to-play” podcast, so you don’t necessarily have to chip in. But I am asking you to consider it. Every little bit helps to pay for editing, servers, and, frankly to keep the lights on here. Thanks in advance for whatever you can contribute!
As a service to those with hearing issues, or for anyone who would rather read our conversation than hear it, here is the transcript of the show. Enjoy!
Welcome back to The Hunt Gather Talk podcast everybody. I know it’s been a little bit of a time since I last recorded an episode. Well, Miss ‘Rona had something to say about that. But, now that we are headed into the fall upland bird seasons, we are back with the second half of season two of the podcast and it’s going to be an amazing one. We’re going to hit a lot of the most iconic upland birds this fall and we’re going to start off with, arguably, one of the most significant and that is doves.
Yep. Dove season starts tomorrow on September 1st, and it is a huge deal for a huge number of people from all across the country. It tends to be a hunt that is celebrated mostly in the hot weather parts of the country. So, from California through Arizona, in Texas, especially, and then on over to the deep south and up into the Virginia area. Doves are the most popular game bird in North America, and they are the foundation of many a Labor Day feast. So, without further ado, let’s take it away.
With me today, I have Jorge Ramirez of UplandJitsu and Owen Fitzsimmons of the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife. Did I get that right? Is it Parks & Wildlife in Texas?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, yeah.
Hank Shaw: There you go. Every fishing game or gaming fish or DNR, they all have different names, but it’s the department in Texas that runs hunting and fishing and other stuff.
Owen Fitzsimmons: You captured the essence of it.
Hank Shaw: Yep. I’m really excited about today’s conversation because we’re going to talk about a game bird that has it all. It has abundance, it has controversy, it has various species, it is easily accessible, it’s challenging, and it’s got all of these things. It is also a bird that has cultural significance in a great big part of the country. And, that would be doves. So, this is going to be a geek out section with all of us talking about not only the biology and habitat, but also tips on hunting, how to actually hit doves, which is an issue, and then we’ll finish up with cooking and prepping and eating because they are immensely delicious, as all three of us know.
Hank Shaw: So, let’s start by introducing ourselves. You know me, if you listen to this podcast, I’m Hank Shaw with Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Jorge, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jorge Ramirez: Sure. So first, I’d like to just thank you for actually pronouncing and getting my name right. A lot of people have trouble with it. A lot of people actually know me by George, so, again, I appreciate that.
Hank Shaw: You know how I learned about Jorge? So, back when I was a kid, there was a great outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, when he first came out, his baseball card said George Bell, and then his baseball cards changed to Jorge. Then, when you watch the Toronto Blue Jays play the Yankees, this is back in the 80s I guess, they would say Jorge Bell. “Oh, okay, so that’s how you get it.” You just have to be exposed to it.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah. Unfortunately, a lot of people, and especially in the industry that don’t have a lot of exposure to Spanish names, Hispanic names, so, yeah, I appreciate that. So, thank you so much. So yeah, a little bit about myself. I run a website called UplandJitsu, The Art of Upland Hunting. My main objective with creating that site was just introducing hunting tactics and just introducing hunting in general as the sport and the art that we all love, to a new generation of hunters. I also hunt without a dog so I also provide tactics and how-to’s on how to hunt upland game out there.
Hank Shaw: I also am a dog-less hunter.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, that’s one of the things I love about you, Mr. Shaw, and it’s one of those clubs that is pretty exclusive in some ways. There aren’t a whole lot of us out there that are in the public eye that will tout that out with some pride.
Hank Shaw: I don’t know if it’s a pride or not, but I’m not ashamed of it, I think is probably the way to put it. There’s a bunch of people who go, “I don’t have a dog.” I travel… well, before Miss ‘Rona changed everyone’s life, I traveled a lot. It would be mean to have a dog because I… Let’s just put it this way, when I go to the airport in Sacramento, at the Southwest counter, they’re, “Mr. Shaw, nice to see you again.” So, that’s super not conducive to a hunting dog. Yeah-
Owen Fitzsimmons: I didn’t even know it was a shameful thing. I’ve never really heard anybody say it like that.
Hank Shaw: It’s not for doves. For this topic of conversation, there’s lots of people who hunt doves without a dog, but if you’re talking about quail-
Owen Fitzsimmons: Oh, yeah.
Hank Shaw: Or, grouse or something like that. Especially quail, and especially rough grouse and things like that. There’s actually quite the controversy between the dog and the dog-less hunter in that particular realm. So Owen, introduce yourself.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I’m Owen Fitzsimmons, I’m the Dove Program Leader with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. As I told you on our phone conversation before, my official title… I say Dove Program Leader because that’s a little easier to digest, but my official title is Webless Migratory Game Bird Program Leader. So, I also cover some of the operations for Sandhill Cranes, Woodcock snipe rails and gallinules in the state of Texas, but been in my position for a few years now. Grew up in northeast Texas, been in Texas pretty much my entire life and my entire career, been lucky enough to do some things that not a lot of people get to do. Managing a game ranch in South Texas. I worked with migratory non-game birds on the Texas coast for several years, which took me to some pretty far off places. I got to visit Northern Quebec. A few other places like that, so pretty cool. Pretty cool work there.
But yeah, now I’m stationed in Central Texas and doves are my life even though I’ve got the other species that I work with. But, does are the 90% of what I spend my time on.
Hank Shaw: The one thing that is interesting and unique about Texas, and we’re going to get into this in a little bit is, to my knowledge, it is the only state where you can hunt four species of doves.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, that’s true. Well, I don’t know if that’s true. It is true that you can in Texas, I don’t know about anywhere else.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, somebody will let us know, once this airs, but there’s a weird dove called the White-tipped dove, which is common in Mexico, but not so common in the United States. We’ll get into that one in a little bit. But, let’s start because there’s a thing about all of us that is significant, in that we are from California or Texas. Now, we could have Arizonans or New Mexicans or Oklahoman’s or South Carolina, but the thing about dove hunting, if you’re listening to this, because some people listening to this might not view doves as a game bird… I want to actually start this conversation with a little bit of controversy.
So, doves are not a game bird in the northeast, and they’re not a game bird in Michigan, and there is a reason for that, and it’s a pretty ugly, dark reason. So, if you go back about 120 years ago, the people who created seasons, the people who created bag limits, the people who ended market hunting, all of these things that they did are a net positive. They created the North American model of wildlife management, which is why we have so much game in North America right now. Well, the ugly side of that, was that they were super, super bigoted. I say this because it has direct reference to the presence or absence of dove hunting in those states. So, they led a campaign and around 1900-ish, give or take 10 years, to classify the dove as not a game, as a songbird strictly to keep black people, Hispanic people and Italians, and poor white trash… was there was their [inaudible 00:09:11] from hunting this thing that they had such a cultural tradition of hunting.
There’s a guy named William Hornaday who wrote a book called Our Vanishing Wildlife. There’s a whole chapter about disparaging dove hunting as something that the lesser people did. So, there’s this crazy, old, really ugly background to why you can’t hunt dogs in certain parts of the country, and it’s been ossified into this attitude in that one part of the world. Whereas in the entire rest of the world, doves are game species, especially their larger cousins, the pigeon. So, I don’t know if you guys knew that, but that’s a little bit of history that underpins the fact that you can’t legally hunt these birds in about 15 states, something like that. The entire upper northeastern region.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I know it was considered a quote, unquote, a gentleman’s sport back in the day. I don’t know that much about the social history of it, but I have read some of that.
Hank Shaw: It’s interesting. You mentioned that it was considered a gentleman sport, and when these movements came in, it was after reconstruction. So, it was also a dig at the ex-members of the Confederacy. So, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff that goes on in the history of that, and it’s one of the things that’s fun about looking into the history of hunting is to see, Oh, that’s why that is. But, the three of us are from areas where dove hunting has always been culturally significant. So, give me an idea of what dove hunting means to you? In terms of growing up and how long have you hunted and all that stuff. Give me some stories or anecdotes or ideas about the cultural significance of dove hunting to the rhythm of your year?
Jorge Ramirez: For myself, I honestly was not a big upland hunter growing up. I grew up, primarily, deer hunting in Southern California. It wasn’t until about when I was in my early to mid-20s when I started getting into upland game. Primarily, I was hunting quail both in Southern California and Arizona. Honestly, with dove, it was something that I didn’t really get into until a couple of years ago and it just blew up for me. Out here in Southern California, I think there’s some pretty good opportunities to get into dove. These days, I primarily hunt Eurasian collared dove which I’ve written about, it feels like, extensively over the past few years.
Yeah, they’re a great bird to hunt. The Mourning dove, they were typically a byproduct of being out hunting sometimes but it’s something that, over the past couple of years, I started to do. It’s something that I’ve grown to enjoy as well. It definitely presents a challenge as a game bird for myself. The empty boxes are testament to a lot more misses than down birds, that’s for sure.
Hank Shaw: We’re definitely going to get into the ammunition manufacturers best friend aspect of dove hunting.
Jorge Ramirez: Absolutely.
Hank Shaw: So Owen, what does dove hunting mean in Texas?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Well in Texas, it’s the sport man. We have 3 to 400,000 people a year participate in dove hunting. For me, personally, I grew up in a very wooded rural area in East Texas, so we didn’t have a lot of doves growing up. I would take potshots at a few here and there, but I grew up in a family where we hunted lots of small game, basically anything we could. There just wasn’t a lot of opportunity for doves. It wasn’t until I went to college in Kingsville, Texas in South Texas, where I spent… Kingsville and Corpus, I spent a lot of my adult years, that’s where I really started picking up on dove hunting, and that became a big thing for me. But, for a lot of people in Texas, it’s the first hunting that they do as a kid, it’s something that they do every single year, it’s a big tradition. People get their families out that first weekend, and it’s something that defines the start of the hunting season.
Hank Shaw: It really is. That holds true in the entire southern tier of the United States, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So, I didn’t know about your dove hunting background, Jorge, but if you go to the Imperial Valley, and Coachella and in that part of Southern California, duck hunting is every bit as much as religion as it is in Texas. Have any of you guys ever been to Yuma?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Still haven’t. One of these days
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, I have not had the opportunity. It’s one of those things where… as a dove hunter, anyone that calls themselves a serious dove hunter needs to go out to Yuma. It’s the mecca for dove hunters, I would say.
Hank Shaw: It really is. So, Yuma and Brownsville would be the other… if there’s points on the cross of pilgrimage to hunt doves, Yuma would be one of them and Brownsville would be the other. Both of them are on the Mexican border. Well, Brownsville’s a little separated from Matamoros. But, both of these places are on the border.
The thing about Yuma that’s special, is, to my knowledge… now, there could be other places and people will let me know after this airs, but to my knowledge, Yuma is the only place where they turn the streets out for everyone for dove season. It’s a big festival of their year and there are signs on every street saying, welcome dove hunters. The JCs club and all the show the social clubs raise money by plucking your ducks for you. You can go to any restaurant and you can bring your doves in and they will cook them for you.
There’s a weird contest for… sounds awful, but it’s perfectly PG… It’s the big breast contest. Yeah, it’s not what you think. It’s a place called Sprague’s, which is the local sporting goods store there. Every year, they say, all right, well, you have a really big old dove, whichever dove has the biggest breast meat on it. It’s an odd thing, but you win a prize and some sporting goods and everything. It’s been done for, I don’t know, a generation, maybe longer. It’s a huge deal. There’s this public land area, it’s like an arroyo, which is a dry creek bed with lots and lots of trees and brush in the center of it, and it goes for miles. Goes for, I don’t know, about two or three miles. There’s parties of dove hunters on either side on this arroyo, and it’s safe, because there’s so much brush in between and everybody’s shooting towards the fields and not at each other, that there’s people on either side of this thing. It goes forever.
There’s parties like, I don’t know, every 100 yards, 200 yards, and you set up in these little pods where like me… it could be the three of us, and we’d be there. So, we’ve got this little angle of where we can shoot, and then the next people would be down there and so on and so forth. It’s this incredibly loud firing line of hundreds of people hunting doves in this big line. Weirdly, everybody has a good shoot. There’s very little bow guarding of each other’s birds because the birds just run the gauntlet. You do end up seeing occasional birds that suffer the fate of Scarface at the end of that movie, which is unfortunate, but it’s, generally, an unbelievably interesting and fun time. It’s very different from duck hunting that I’m used to in California, which is onesies, twosies.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Hmm. I have some places along the Texas border, like you mentioned in Brownsville. There’s some pretty historic pictures of people a century ago or 50, 60 years ago even lined up with the cars basically bumper to bumper on the border, just shooting everything that comes across. Pretty incredible to think how chaotic that must have been, and how everybody made it out alive. I hope they did.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, even a very small portion of that. I punted on a ranch in Brownsville. I think there were probably 50 of us. It was a private ranch and it was a big box too. So, it was like, shoot did with blue sky behind you, and nobody got shot. But, I tell you, the reason why they can do that both in Yuma and in Brownsville, is there are clouds of doves. Clouds of them. I mean, clouds. It’s like the pictures you seen in Argentina.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yep. Yep. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen. It’s pretty incredible.
Jorge Ramirez: I’ve always likened dove hunting to a get-together. Like a tailgate, basically. I think that’s always what has its big appeal to, especially, people that… I guess, the weekend warrior. We would call these types of hunters weekend warriors, just because this is the only time of the year that they go out for any type of hunting or any type of outdoor recreation and it’s a good segue and a good introduction for beginners as well. So yeah, I think that just really has its appeal and it’s really cool just to see these guys lined up and everyone just having a good time. Most people that shoot straight, get a couple of doves in the vest as well. So, yeah.
Hank Shaw: It’s Labor Day. In the southern part of the United States, it’s what you do on Labor Day. There’s always a football game. Yeah, there’s that on the radio, it’s social. You don’t have to be super hidden. I wouldn’t wear blaze orange or anything, but I don’t know that I really ever wear camo unless I happen to have a super lightweight camo shirt that just is comfortable. You sit on a bucket or lean against a fence or under a tree and you can talk to each other. I might miss a bird and be, “Jorge coming to you”, and that birds still going to come to you?
Jorge Ramirez: Absolutely.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, it’s really a gateway sport for a lot of people because it doesn’t take much money. It’s just a shotgun, a bucket, some shells a place to go. You can do it socially, like you said. I think that’s the big attraction for a lot of people. The fact that, like you said, it’s a religion. I’m just guessing here, but I’d say, probably, the majority of people that hunt in Texas, they hunt that first weekend or two and that’s it. But, it’s hug. If that gets compromised in anyway, if they don’t get to do that, it’s like, what are we going to do now kind of thing. It’s one of the most important weekends of the year for most sportsmen.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I think that’s true in every dove state.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, absolutely.
Hank Shaw: Hey, everybody, I’d like to take this time to thank Filson for sponsoring the Hunt Gather Talk podcast. As you may know, I wear their gear in the field all the time, I love their vests, I love their outerwear, their tinned cloth jacket is awesome. As upland game bird seasons are approaching, definitely take a look at their collection of gear. A lot of it is new, a lot of it has been around for decades and all of it is super, super high quality. If you are in the market for something to wear on your upland hunt this fall, absolutely check out Filson, I can totally vouch for them from personal experience.
Filson was founded in Seattle in 1897, when they started outfitting prospectors for the Klondike Gold Rush. Ever since then, they’ve been committed to creating best-in-class gear for the world’s toughest people in the most unforgiving conditions.
So, let’s talk a bit about the biology. So, we can start this part of the conversation by saying that there is no game bird that gets shot as much as a dove, in an artful way of putting it. But, they shoot more doves than any other game bird. So, that also means that there are more doves than any other game birds. So, Owen, tell me a little bit about, first, the Mourning dove and then let’s talk a little bit about the Eurasians and white wings, in terms of, how are they the same and how are they different?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah. So, the morning dove’s a very interesting species. It’s one of the most ubiquitous birds in North America. They breed everywhere from Canada into Mexico and even further south. So, they’re basically found everywhere. They’re the epitome of generalists as far as birds go. They’ll nest on the ground, they’ll nest in pine trees, they’ll nest on your back porch. They’ll nest multiple clutches a year, so they’re really good at pulling off multiple clutches and replenishing the population. They feed on seeds, and basically nothing else. So, they’re very generalist as far as the forage goes. They’ll eat cereal grains, they’ll eat grass seeds, they’ll eat forbs, and other annual weeds and things like that.
What’s interesting is that, if you go back in time, they think… when the passenger pigeon was around, that’s a whole other subject unto itself, thinking about a bird that may have numbered in the billions, and possibly made up 25% of the birdlife in North America… when they were still around, Mourning doves were not thought to be that plentiful. As Europeans colonized the US and marched westward, and with the advent of agriculture and the planting of wind rose, basically, we created the perfect Mourning dove habitat and I think that’s why we have so many around these days. I think the current estimate, at the top of my head, is somewhere like 250 to 300 million in the US. So, a lot.
Hank Shaw: I have seen places like Arizona, where doves are the dominant bird. There’s more doves than any other species of bird just around.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, absolutely, doves are basically a subtropical species. So, they do very, very well in southern climates in the US and of course, New Mexico and Central America and South America as well. That’s why you get those stories about Argentina as well. That’s where they’re from.
Hank Shaw: So, how are they different from the white wing?
Owen Fitzsimmons: So the white wing, historically, the northern extent of their range came up just into the southern US. Just in the four counties in South Texas, just across the border into New Mexico and Arizona. They’re a little bit bigger bird. They’re a little bit more gregarious. In a lot of places, they’re colonial nesters so they nest in these big dense groups, whereas Mourning doves typically nest on their own. They’re more of a dry land bird, a desert bird. They’re able to tolerate those conditions a lot better than Mourning doves. They’re a little bit bigger. In Texas, at least, over the past 30 or 40 years… Well, they’ve expanded range-wide to the north and across. I guess, their range has expanded. They become primarily urban.
I know, at least for us, we estimate that about 80% of the white wing population, which is now found in just about every county in Texas… that we think about 80% of them are associated with urban and suburban areas. So, things are changing rapidly in our state with that species.
Hank Shaw: That’s really interesting. I’ve seen them in Austin, I know that. That’s really interesting. So, let’s just segue right into that. So, in many places, it’s the Eurasian that’s become the urban-suburban bird. How’s that working out with the white wings?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Well, we’ve got Eurasians, too. I think the first record of Eurasians coming to Texas… the first time it was ’96. Of course, now we’ve got them everywhere. I think they’re found throughout the US, from Alaska to Panama, basically, through North America. The few studies that we’ve seen in Texas and around Texas, there’s not a whole lot of competition. There is some competition at an individual level. Some of these birds get aggressive around feed, or maybe for nesting sites, but at the population level, there really doesn’t seem to be any conflict there. One of the biggest concerns for me is disease transmission, because Eurasians do carry some diseases that are a little bit more prevalent in them than they are in the native species. But really, we haven’t seen much of an issue up to this point.
Hank Shaw: That’s weird, because you’d figure that, in the urban or suburban environment, you’re going to have three columbids. You’re going to have an actual pigeon, and then you’re going to have the Eurasian, and then with the white wings, and then Mourning doves. So, what’s interesting is, so four birds and they’re very, very closely related, all living in side by side. So, that suggests that they occupy, either, slightly different niches or that there’s just enough food and place for them to live around for them to coexist.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I think that’s the key, is just food and habitat is not that limiting for species that can nest just about anywhere, and have plenty of backyard feeders, have agriculture fields and native range pastures and stuff, just outside of town. It doesn’t seem to be a factor. I don’t know what the carrying capacity would be in Texas for the species, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
Hank Shaw: I know you can talk about all the different ones at this point. I knew you can even throw in common pigeons. Is there a diet difference to them? I’ve read some studies where white wings prefer more native desert forage than agriculture, but it sounds like that probably has changed.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Well, yeah, historically, they fed… so Mourning doves will feed on hard-coded seeds, usually small seeds, like grass seeds, things like that. White wings are able, and Eurasians too, to consume whole kernels of corn and whole sunflower seeds and much bigger forage. Historically, white wings would feed on fruits and mast of the riparian forests in South Texas. So, berries and nuts and things like that. At this point, I think they’ll feed on just about any seed they can get. But, you do often find, they’ll be eating any kind of fruit or any kind of small fruit or any kind of small nut that they can find on trees and backyards. There’s a lot of ornamental plants and exotic species that people plant in their backyards that those doves will feed on too.
They’re able to find food. I think, in the cities, it’s year-round. They have year-round food and water, and what we’ve seen is, outside of that historical range in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, all these Urban Birds seem to be, for the most part, non-migratory, whereas the historical population, they were very migratory.
Hank Shaw: So, it sounds like the white wings are more fruit-eaters than the other dove species.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah. Of course, we’re talking about the northern extent of their range. The white wings extend all the way down through Mexico and Central America. There’s a lot of fruit bearing plants down there. Of course, they rely heavily on cactus in Arizona.
Hank Shaw: Right, saguaro.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, saguaro’s. Yeah, they’re a subtropical species and that’s what they feed on. Another difference is, Mourning doves does will feed on the ground. They will not perch and feed, whereas, white wings prefer to perch feed. So, a lot of times you see him, when people plant sunflowers for dove fields, you see these white wings come in and land on the sunflower head. The whole thing is bent over there and they’re just hanging on for dear life trying to eat as many seeds as they can before they fall off. So, that’s another difference that you can see pretty readily.
Hank Shaw: I alluded to it before, there’s the White-tipped dove again… again, in those four counties in the southern part of Texas… What’s the story on that one because I had the opportunity to hunt them when I was down in those counties, hunting chachalaca. God, it seems like forever ago. I guess it was only this January, though. It’s a very big dove and it’s a very rosy breast on it. It seems to hang out on the ground more.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, they’re really beautiful birds, and even a lot of Texans don’t really know… I bet, you could go out and pick 10 hunters and I bet 9 of them don’t even know what they look like. They’re typically found just along the border in South Texas. Again, Texas is the northern extent of their range. But, you’re absolutely right. They’re a ground dove. They prefer being in thick brush. They don’t come out in the open a lot. They don’t form up in big flocks or anything like that. So, their behavior just isn’t really conducive to hunting necessarily in the traditional style of dove hunting out in the open. So, you have to go after them. You’ll find them every once in a while flying over, people get them on a pass shot. I think the majority of them are harvested. But, if you really want to go after them, you better put on your thick pants and shirt and start crawling through the brush and try to find them.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, that’s exactly… because we were looking for chachalacas and they’re, “Hey, there’s a White-tipped dove, get it.”
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah. Most of the White-tipped doves I see are from a deer blind. They come out, they’re running around with the quail. They’re really good at running. Whereas, some of the other dove species look like they can barely walk.
Hank Shaw: Oh, I know. Well, we’ll get to that later. But, from a culinary perspective, it makes those legs, a little, tiny, delicious morsel. So, let’s go back to your Eurasians for a bit. So, Jorge, you said that you hunt them a lot. I’ll preface it for everybody. The three of us know, but if you’re listening to this, chances are you may or may not know that Eurasians are, A, not from here. B, they’re a newcomer on the scene. So, like you said, Owen, before, ’96 is the first record of hunting them. I guess they all came from the Florida Keys or somebody decided to let them out down in the South Florida and they expanded from there.
But, there’s no season and no limit on them in virtually every place that they live. There’s even some places where you can hunt Eurasians, but not Mourning doves because they’re viewed as this invader that is very rapidly taken over a lot of different habitats in the United States. I would love to hear from you, okay, if a guy wanted to hunt Eurasians… give me a give me a primer, Jorge.
Jorge Ramirez: Sure. Yeah. So, again, as you touched on, they’ve spread out from… it really depends what story you hear, but the most popular story is that they were released somewhere in the Bahamas and reached Florida shortly thereafter and have spread since then. I think around the late 90s and early 2000s is when they landed here in the good ole California, rather. Yeah, we see a lot of them now. Especially where I live… I live in Southern California. The northern most tip of March, and we see a lot of them out here in town and around a lot of the agricultural fields out here. We see a lot of them.
Again, it’s something that I’ve taken a lot more notice of since I’ve started to hunt them not that long ago. Now, we find them all around the edges of ranches and agriculture fields out here… is probably where we’re finding them. They’re hogs. As it was put earlier is, these things are swallowing almonds and pistachios whole. When we’re cleaning them out, it’s really different than a Mourning dove, that’s for sure.
Hank Shaw: Okay, so I’m out there hunting and how do you tell on the wing a Eurasian versus a Mourning dove?
Jorge Ramirez: For myself, again, hunting them as long as I’ve hunted them… It’s not very long, but just think there’s so many of them that you start to notice the difference between a Mourning dove and an Eurasian. Eurasians are typically pretty large so they’re a bit larger than a Mourning dove. I would say, maybe, a third size bigger than a Mourning dove. They tend to be more of a buff gray rather than the pinkish browns of the Mourning dove. Mourning doves tend to be a lot more agile in the air as well.
Hank Shaw: I was just going to say that. Eurasians are like, “Uh, I’m just going to fly over here.”
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, they’re a bit of a bumbling fool in the air, but don’t let that… they’re also a challenging bird as well. Just shooting a shot at these guys… Living out here in Southern California, and I’m sure there’s other states that have this problem, but we recently… lead is illegal out here so we have to use non-toxic versions of shot now. If you’re using number 7 steel out here on the Eurasians, that stuff just bounces off sometimes. They’re a bit of a tank.
Hank Shaw: Oh, I don’t know about that. I have killed several flocks of Eurasians with steel number 7’s. I’ll tell you who does laugh at them though, are pigeons.
Jorge Ramirez: Oh, yeah, that’s for sure.
Hank Shaw: “Is that all you got? I’m just going to go over here and eat your almonds.”
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, so, it could just be my lousy shooting them, but I tend to see, they just fly through some of the steel shots sometimes. Yeah, we’re finding them out here and just these huge flocks out here in a lot of agriculture areas out here in Southern California. You find them in the backyards and the city out here… and, yeah, you see a lot of them.
Hank Shaw: So, my friend, Jonathan O’Dell… he’s a small game biologist in Arizona, and also a big dove hunter, he has made the point that you will never see a Eurasian collared dove more than a quarter-mile away from a structure. That’s a really great way to add to your identification because there’s no season or limit on Eurasians so you can shoot them all year long, but you don’t want to shoot white wing or a Mourning dove if you’re hunting Eurasians in July. You’re talking about the buff collar is super important, because once you see a dozen or so, you’re, Yeah, that’s a very different color. They fly tend to fly straight-ish. They’re bigger.
If they’re flying in a straight line look for that collar. They’re called Eurasian collared doves and they’ve got this black collar on the back of their neck. It’s almost like they’re wearing a neck gaiter in reverse. So, that’s another identifying mark. Then, the fact that they’re just not going to be in the wilderness. You can see Mourning doves anywhere. I’ve seen them on the tops of mountains in the Sierra. You’ll never see an Eurasian there.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, it’s absolutely true. They colonized Europe, just like they colonized North America a few hundred years ago and that’s exactly what they did there. They’re associated with human habitation just like they are here. They’re found in rural farmhouses in France or whatever, just like they are in rural farmhouses here. So, O’Dell makes a good point, for sure.
Hank Shaw: There’s another really fun way to determine if it’s a Mourning dove or a Eurasian. I watch a lot of nature shows and I spent a lot of time in the Pacific Ocean fishing, a Eurasian collared doves sounds exactly like a murre bird or a dying penguin.
Jorge Ramirez: That’s spot on.
Hank Shaw: None of this coo coo. It does not sound like a dove. It’s like this weird, What the hell is that?
Jorge Ramirez: It has that sound of someone, instead of blowing out a kazoo… They’re sucking in air through a kazoo, basically, is how I put it.
Hank Shaw: I’d liken them to Marge Simpson sister, Selma Bouvier. “Oh, Homer.” They’re talky too. You’ll hear them. They talk when they’re flying. Or, at least, it seems like they talk when they’re flying.
Jorge Ramirez: When it comes to pass shooting, that is, I have a hard time just sitting still, and that’s probably the quail hunter in me, because I primarily hunt quail. What I do is, I sit around and I listen for them in the trees. What I’ll do is, if I feel like there’s a good amount in a particular tree, I’ll make a beeline out there and I’ll just follow the tree line or follow the lines. They tend to hang out on a lot of telephone lines out here, so what I’ll do is, I’ll make my way toward them and once they flush, then I tend to take my jump shots. I prefer to do it that way than just sit around, to be honest.
Hank Shaw: Unless you see a path… and this segues into the hunting part, where a dove hunt is not really what you think it is. So, the hunter in a dove hunt is the person or persons who have discovered the place that they fly. So, the hunting part is all scouting. It’s like figuring out patterning and a deer.
Jorge Ramirez: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Hank Shaw: So, that’s the hunt. Oh, okay, they fly this line, they are going to this field, this is their roost tree, this is their water and to triangulate where a good spot to sit under a tree or wherever it would be, that’s for hunt. That’s the non-shooting portion of a dove hunt. What you invite your friend to, is just a dove shoot, because he’s already done the hard work for you.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, absolutely, I would say there’s a lot of truth to that. Once, you establish where they’re… I think dove, in general, are pretty consistent when it comes to the paths that they take, and then the areas that they feed and eat in, so that doesn’t tend to change a lot. So, once you dial down on an area, or if you have someone that dials down on an area, and they take you out… for most cases, you’re going to find the birds there all the time. So yeah, I would agree with that.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I think so. I think, like you said, it’s 90% scouting and maybe 10% where you sit in the field, to intercept those birds as they come in. I always tell people, doves need food, shelter and water. So, if you can find one of those three things, that they’re going to hit, you’ll probably be pretty successful.
Hank Shaw: I think there’s another piece of this that everybody in the middle of the country has to deal with, and that includes me in Sacramento… Because you live in Ventura, right, Jorge?
Jorge Ramirez: I live in Ventura County. I live in Santa Paula, specifically.
Hank Shaw: Yeah. So, you’re actually in SoCal, and I’m not. A great, funny little story. So, last year… was it last year? It was last year or the year before, I’m caught between the time-space continuum these days. I was out in Utah, and it was September and it was perfect dove habitat. Perfect. There was forbs everywhere, there was small grain, there was a river… Well, a little creek. There were dead trees. You couldn’t draw up better dove habitat on a video game. But, it was late September and there were no doves. Actually there was one, Holly got one. But, there should have been thousands of doves in this thing. But what had happened was, when we talked to the guy later who owned the land, he said, “Oh yeah, they already had three frosts.”
So, the caveat to that is, yeah, they’re going to fly from point A to point B or point C when they’re just hanging out and being there, but, A, these birds can fly like crazy… So, a little side note, Holly used to band doves for the state of California. Side note to the side note, there’s one still alive and she hasn’t done it in three years, so we have, at least, a three year old male dove hanging out in our backyard still, which is pretty cool to see the banded guy. But, one of her banded doves, she banded it, I don’t know, a Tuesday, and then two days later, it was recaptured in Palm Springs, which-
Jorge Ramirez: Oh, wow.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, it’s like, 300 miles south of here. So, they’re really sensitive to cold. I don’t really understand what cold is. Maybe, you do Owen, but they’re out of here. It’s a coin flip if you’re going to have a good opening weekend in Sacramento.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, it’s interesting. Historically, Mourning doves were not really found in the northern half of the US. Again, the changes in land use over the time, as people colonized North America, contributed to that. But, you go back 150 years and there’s records of them saying, hey, we didn’t use to see Mourning doves in Minnesota and all these other states, and now in Canada. Again, most of these doves are sub-tropical birds and they’re also very migratory. Like you said, they can fly. We’ve got band returns from birds banded in Texas that are down in Nicaragua, southern Mexico, places like that, so they can fly long distances. They’re very good at it, and when they catch those fronts, they’re gone, man. A little side note on this is, I have several pictures of people who have found birds that did not leave fast enough, who got caught in a cold front who are missing toes from frostbite.
Hank Shaw: Oh, wow.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, so they’re pretty susceptible to it. They’re not built for the cold at all, so they don’t stick around once the temperature start dropping.
Hank Shaw: But, the Eurasians do.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Oh yeah. I read this a while back in Europe, they’re found… well, of course, they’re seen in Alaska now but in Europe, they’re found all the way up to the Arctic Circle.
Hank Shaw: Hmm. The first time I encountered a cold weather dove like that, I was up on the Oregon border hunting ducks in December, and we were in the little town of Tulelake, and we got back from a duck hunt, and there was that, “Ah”. Like, what the hell? Why is there a dove and it’s zero out. There they were.
Owen Fitzsimmons: What’s also interesting about some of the white wing expansion, is that there are documented records of white wings in Canada. I don’t think they’re breeding up there. I think they’re just lost birds. But, the fact that they’re going that far north is maybe an exploratory, migratory flight. I don’t know, it’s pretty incredible.
Hank Shaw: Hmm. From a hunting perspective… I want to get into the shooting in a second… But from a hunting perspective, we talked about idea of Eurasians. I think the Mourning dove is your default. They have the very distinctive whistling noise that you hear when Mourning doves fly, that’s the sound of their wingtips hitting each other. With white wing, if you’re in white wing country, which would be deep Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and such, you can really see that white band across the wing as they’re flying. It’s very distinctive, at least, to my eye.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, absolutely. They’re a bigger bird. I’m glad to hear somebody else say that Eurasians fly quote, unquote straight. Because, when people ask me what’s the difference in white wings and Mourning doves in flight, I will say Mourning doves are sharp and fast. They have sharp wingtips and sharp tails and they’re very agile and fast. So, white wings tend to fly a lot like Eurasians. They’re a chunkier bird and they catch a straight line and just go.
Owen Fitzsimmons: A lot of times, if they’re not in big groups, you’ll see white wings almost lazily flying. It’s like they’re putting as minimal effort as possible and they’re floating along in front of you and those are the usually shots I miss, are the ones where they’re just sitting out there. But-
Hank Shaw: “It’s a gimme, Owen. It’s a gimme, you guys… Aw, man.”
Owen Fitzsimmons: Exactly.
Jorge Ramirez: That’s the most pressure on those shots, though.
Hank Shaw: Well, it’s the same thing as like a pointed bird, right? So, if you’ve got a pointed bird and the dog is queuing it up for you, I have stage fright more often than not, and then when a bird flushes wild, oh, you’re gone.
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So, let’s talk about shooting. So, Jorge, you talked about a massive amount of shells. I think the national average is seven shells per bird. I’ve heard different numbers on that, but that seems like an awful lot. Holly and I will compete for how many shells per bird that we’ll get for a limit. I think my all-time record is one and a half and Holly’s is either slightly better or similar.
Jorge Ramirez: Pretty good.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, it’s really good.
Hank Shaw: I’m going to tell you my trick with that, and after I want to hear your guys, shooting tips for doves. Jorge, go.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, I think it comes down to practice. Obviously there’s nothing like practicing on a real live wild bird, but it’s familiarizing yourself with the tools that you have, and, just, shooting distances, I would say, comes really close behind that. Judging fast-moving small-feathered object going faster than sound. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, but it makes me feel better when I do tend to miss those shots. But yeah, I would just say practice and just get used to the judging distance and leading a bird rather than shooting directly at it. Putting the bead right over it, is probably the biggest mistake.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I always tell people, if you’re going to miss the bird, miss in front of it.
Jorge Ramirez: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.
Hank Shaw: Have you guys ever seen the dove that does the 180 when you take the first shot at it?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, it’s like a glitch in the matrix.
Hank Shaw: It totally is. I had one do that. I took a shot, it came off a tree line. I’m standing at a tree line and it’s coming into the field, and I took a shot and missed and the thing was [inaudible 00:49:31]. Where was it? Just, 180 degrees, gone. Now that’s a Mourning dove trick.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Uh-huh (affirmative)-
Jorge Ramirez: Yep.
Owen Fitzsimmons: I think the biggest mistake that most people make, is not bring them in close, like you said. I tend to camouflage. I’m not full camera or anything, but I tend to hide in the shade, try to blend in and I want those birds in close. I have a more open choke pattern than most people do and that tends to work for me. If you’re sitting out there in your yellow tank top and your shorts… and you can hit them with that modified choke it at 40 or 50 yards when there’s zooming… Yeah, more power to you. But, if you don’t want to waste as many shells and you want to come out with a limit, to me, I tend to recommend people try to bring them in close and open up your shot pattern a little bit more, and you tend to be more successful that way.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, I think that’s the mistake that a lot of people go into dove hunting, they’re thinking they’re going to make 100 yard shot and they have to be choked up, extra full Turkey choked to get out and shoot these guys.
Hank Shaw: Oh, my god, can you imagine shooting a 20 yard dove with a full choke.
Jorge Ramirez: Well, yeah, that wouldn’t be pretty. So yeah, I would agree that, just getting them in a lot closer. Owen made a great point, just sitting under shade, that tends to help, even if you’re not wearing camouflage. A good method of getting doves to come in closer is, obviously, decoys. I’m not sure if you guys utilize decoys, but those things are a godsend.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I want to just talk about decoys. So, thanks for the segue. We like the MOJO doves, and if it’s not fiendishly hot out, which is only really in the mornings, you can put the dead doves in and among the decoy, and that helps as well. But, once it gets hot, the ants start showing up and, for some reason, ants want to eat dead doves. I don’t understand. It’s like bears and honey. If you don’t protect your strap from random ants, you’re going to have ants all over your dead doves and it’s the weirdest thing. But, I’ve seen this in several states.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Absolutely true. We have fire ants here that just… it’s within seconds, almost. That bird hits the ground, and it’s covered.
Hank Shaw: Weird. I wonder if there’s a scent. It’s just weird.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Doves are like the rabbits of the bird world. They almost fall apart, I feel like. So, I think it’s easier for a lot of things to eat them. Yeah, I don’t know. Ants are pretty good at jumping on stuff like that. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s interesting.
Hank Shaw: They are, in fact, the krill of the sky. I find white wings die pretty easy too, but Mourning doves, if you think hard at them, they die. It’s nothing like a pigeon. I’m sorry, you can hit pigeons with 4’s and they’re, “Ha, ha, ha.”
Jorge Ramirez: They shake it off and scratch their belly and fly away.
Hank Shaw: Right? That’s that. I do love hunting Eurasians and common pigeons. I actually love hunting pin-tail pigeons, but that’s a different story. But, a pigeon shoot… and this is actually a good tip too is, if you live in an agricultural area, try to make the acquaintance of dairy farmers because both pigeons and Eurasians deeply love to hang around dairy barns and they eat the cattle feed. It can be a really good place to shoot. I bet you do this too, Jorge… I bet you try to shoot some Eurasians in August or so as a tune-up for the Mourning dove season, because that’s what we do up here.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, that’s typically what we do. Again, it keeps you frosty if you’re able to hunt, especially year long with Eurasians. They just give you that opportunity to just stay on your toes throughout the year, so we tend to hunt them at the end of the quail season and maybe a couple of months around March, April and then we tune-up around August, obviously. So, yeah, we’re finding them in a lot of areas like the dairies, as you mentioned. They tend to go for a lot of that feed, and obviously that overlaps with a lot of the pigeons out here. But yeah, they present a great opportunity just because you could freely hunt them year-long out here in California and there’s no limits.
Hank Shaw: Let’s touch one more bit on the decoys before we move on. So, MOJO decoys and static decoys are both useful? Is there anything beyond, just stick them out in front of you that you’ve noticed that makes a difference?
Jorge Ramirez: Just finding common areas where they’re picking up grit, or just feeding. I tend to focus on the flyways and just put them in where I know they’re going to either land or fly by. But yeah, we’re using just the static decoys and the MOJO’s are a godsend. There’s, unfortunately, not a Eurasian specific decoy out there yet, but the Mourning dove decoys tend to work pretty well with them as well.
Hank Shaw: Well, you can paint a little black spot on the back of the neck.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, you could always do that, too.
Owen Fitzsimmons: I’ve used the static decoys on the edge of a pool of water, tank or pond to act like they’re watering there. I tend to have a lot of success putting them in a nearby dead tree or snag or something where they’re very visible, and put in six or a dozen over there, 20 or 30 yards away from me. At least here, after the first weekend or two, the birds know what MOJO’s look like and they’re not going to come in. Because, everybody puts them out, right. So, if you take a little more of a subdued approach, and put some static decoys out around you, I find, personally, that that really works for me.
Hank Shaw: Interesting. So yeah, they get like ducks.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yep. Exactly. I’ve seen people who tend to put out 5, 6, 10, a dozen MOJOs out in the field in front of them, which is way overkill.
Jorge Ramirez: Absolutely.
Owen Fitzsimmons: It works for a day, but after that, everything that came in, got shot at and they pretty quickly recognized, that doesn’t look right.
Hank Shaw: I call that array of the Cajun Air Force. So, let’s talk dogs for a second. One of the cool things that I like about dove hunting is you don’t need a dog, because as long as you make a beeline… this is actually a good pro tip as well… when you shoot a dove and it hits the ground, don’t take your eyes off it, walk straight to it.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Hank Shaw: Because, they look exactly the bottom. They look just the ground and you don’t want to lose your bird. They can get surprisingly lost really easily on the ground, so I always find, shoot that bird, follow it to the ground and walk right to the spot. As soon as you spot it, or know where it is, then if another bird flies, you can shoot that one. But, without a dog, that is the one limiting factor is that, you don’t want to lose your birds. Jorge, you don’t hunt with a dog either, but I tend to find that dogs don’t really to pick them up because the feathers fall off. But, what has your experience been?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Oh, so I had a lab, who was a big waterfowl dog and would not pick up a dove after the first one or two. He would pick them up, bring them back and then spit the feathers out and be, I’m done. I am not picking up another dove. My dog passed away a few years ago. The last time I ever took him on was the dove hunt and I took him just to get him out of the house. He was 11 and a half years old and… cool story, I ended up meeting two of my buddies who had been hunting for about an hour already in the field, and before I ever shot a bird… my dog just went out and he was exploring through the field and he brought back somewhere around 9 or 10 birds that had been wounded that they hadn’t found, because they didn’t have a dog. So, yeah, it was pretty cool. I ended up with a limit, shooting five birds.
Hank Shaw: There you go. It’s economical.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, it shows you the value of a dog with a good nose, though.
Hank Shaw: Have you ever hunted doves with dogs, Jorge?
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, so I’ve had the opportunity to go out with a few people and hung with their dogs and, obviously, a dog would be a great tool and you don’t necessarily have to leave the confines of your secluded little area under a tree. Yeah, but I’ve had the opportunity. I think it’s an awesome thing, to have a dog along, especially, just for retrieving, not necessarily locating because, obviously, that’s not what you’re primarily using a dog for when you go dove hunting.
Hank Shaw: I actually prefer a dog that locates and doesn’t retrieve. But then, I’m a cook, right? My perfect dog in the world would be the dog that finds the bird, and says, “It’s right here, boss.” Okay, cool, I’ll pick it up. Yeah, that is a really interesting thing that I have found with… not so much set piece of hunting like we’ve been talking about in Brownsville and Yuma, but that, yeah, I’m just going to go out and see if we can shoot some doves, kind of thing. Where, if you have a dog that can help you find a down bird, that opens up a whole set of habitats and environments that you now can hunt in, because if a dove falls into a little bit thicker brush, that dog is going to find it where you may not.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, also, hunting with a dog, gives you that opportunity… you don’t necessarily have to keep your eye on that particular bird that’s down. It gives you more opportunities to shoot. In a lot of cases, as myself, and I’m sure you might find this as well… downing a bird, if you’re going to be an ethical hunter, at least for myself, I need to retrieve that bird before I shoot anything else, unless I absolutely 100% know where it’s at. Obviously, I don’t always get opportunity to shoot other birds until I actually retrieve that. So, I think, if there’s a big takeaway from having a dog is, it gives you more opportunities to shoot.
Hank Shaw: So, one trick that we have used in the past and we talked about this in the snipe hunt is, you drop your hat on the bird and then you can look up and shoot the next bird. Well, let’s talk about once you have a mass of doves. To start with, I’m going to say that I don’t always pluck all of my birds. Actually, that’s not true. I pluck every dove I hunt, except I don’t always keep them whole. I pluck doves because they are, by far, the easiest bird on the planet to pluck. I can pluck a dove in 90 seconds. So, everybody out there is, “I just breast my doves.” I’m, “For the love of God, just give it a go. It’s not going to take you that long, you can do it while drinking a beer.”
You get two bonuses. One, you can cook your doves whole, which is amazing, we’ll get into that in a second. But, two, even if you’re making poppers, and I want to talk about poppers in a second… even if you’re making poppers, you get the whole rest of that bird, which makes the best stock or broth to cook grits in or rice or make it a soup broth or whatever, whatever. Even if you’re just using the breasts at the moment, you get this extra bit that has a lot of flavor and you spent an extra 90 seconds for it, maybe. So, it’s really worth it. Before I can answer this question that some of you listening out there are thinking, “Oh, well I shoot a lot of doves.” Yeah, you know what? So do I. I shoot a lot of doves. Between me and Holly, we’ve shot limits, three days, four days, five days in a row, and we’re barbecuing them every night. It’s just not that big a deal. So, that’s my little soapbox.
Another little bit of tidbit, then I want to hear you guys talk about poppers, because there’s something about doves and poppers that is just natural. The average plucked, ready to go Mourning dove is about two and a half ounces, the average plucked white-winged is almost four, and the average plucked Eurasian is a bit over four. So, somewhere between four and five. I weigh them a lot just to get this data and it’s just interesting. Sort of, random note.
So, poppers. I used to hate dove poppers. I used to think it was stupid and a waste and blah, blah, blah, and then I came around. I came around, not because I love cream cheese, I actually don’t cream cheese… I came around because a dove popper is to Labor Day what a turkey is to Thanksgiving. It is a symbolic food. It is a food that has more cultural weight than what it is on any other day. So, I fully endorse the making of whatever popper makes you happy on Labor Day weekend. Then, after that, cook it any number of the millions of other ways that I’ve provided on the website. There’s different pieces to poppers, so I want to hear, A, if you guys make them and, B, how you make them.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I think dove poppers are the official Labor Day food. Opening weekend food, anyway. For me, and, I think, probably just about everybody in Texas does it this way is, jalapeno, cream cheese, dove breast and wrapped in bacon. Throw it on a musky fire grill, and that’s all you need… cold beer. Perfect.
Hank Shaw: Does it matter what bacon? Do the soak in Italian dressing on the dove breast?
Owen Fitzsimmons: I don’t. Personally, doves are one of my favorite birds to eat. Just the flavor of a dove is something I really enjoy. So, I don’t do any marinating, anything like that. It’s just straight wrapping in bacon and slice the jalapeno and cream cheese and throw it on the grill. Maybe, a little salt and pepper. When I was in college, it was the cheapest bacon I could get. Now, I spring for the good stuff. A little bit extra flavor.
Hank Shaw: See? I actually disagree on that one. I love bacon more than the next guy but I think with a popper you want the cheapest, thinnest… the thinnest bacon that you can… the real bargain basement stuff, because the only reason it is there, it gives you a little smoky flavor, it holds everything together. But, if you get the really nice bacon, I find, it’s Bacon with some other stuff. Whereas, if it’s a cheap crappy bacon, you can actually taste the dove.
Owen Fitzsimmons: It can overpower it. Yeah, with the better stuff, I tend to use less bacon. I’ll cut it in a third or a half, so it’s not a full wrap. Whereas, the cheap stuff, it’s almost stretchy. The super cheap, thin stuff, you’re got to wrap it four or five times around. Yeah.
Hank Shaw: How about you, Jorge?
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah, it’s pretty similar for myself as well. The interesting thing is, my wife and my daughter… my wife doesn’t come from… her dad never hunted. She was never exposed to hunting until I came along, and it’s been an uphill battle, just trying to get my family to enjoy a little bit of game meat. I think the jalapeno poppers, it was just one of those things that, it sounds inviting. It doesn’t sound super terrifying for someone that has never eaten game meat to sit down and, at least, try. That tends to be… the way that I prepare it out here for my family, for myself… the way that I prepare it is, obviously, I use the jalapeno and the cream cheese and the bacon, but I tend to dab the bits of breast meat in a little bit of olive oil and I sprinkle a little bit of paprika on it. I’ll do what Owen does and I’ll cut the premium bacon in half and I’ll wrap them up with little toothpick. I’ve been baking mine lately and I spread a little bit of cheddar cheese on top of it. I think they come out pretty good.
Hank Shaw: You’re going the double cheese route so [crosstalk 01:06:44].
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: Okay. So, I hate cream cheese on my poppers. I hate it. I think it’s a national character flaw and it’s just [inaudible 01:06:56]. So, I have sexed up the popper a little bit, in the sense that, I still use cheap, crappy, thin bacon, but I’ll lay a half a piece of that bacon out and all my jalapenos or whatever chili I choose, I blister off the skins first, and then lay them out. I see them and take the skins off. So, you put the bacon down and then I will run that roasted jalapeno through some vinegar or Italian dressing or something to give it a little acidity. Then on top of that, I roast just scads of garlic heads. I’ll roast six or eight garlic heads and squeeze that garlic out, and that roasted garlic serves the purpose of the cream cheese. Then, on top of that, goes just a lightly salted dove breast and then you roll that up in toothpick and it’s amazing.
Jorge Ramirez: Sounds good.
Hank Shaw: The cool thing about that, too, is that, you can do all of those chilies in advance, and you can do all of that garlic head in advance. So, you can have a tub of roasted garlic done. You can have all of these chilies done, so that when you come home from the dove hunt on Labor Day, all you got to do is pop open those two tins, go [inaudible 01:08:14]. It doesn’t take any longer than the regular popper if you do that prep work on the 31st.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I’m a cream cheese optional. I usually put the minimum amount because I’m not a huge cream cheese fan anyway. But, I have experimented with some other semi-soft, soft cheeses over the years. Some of them tend to melt into the fire, some of them don’t. But, in the end, I end up with the classic, but I really like the garlic idea. I’m a big garlic fan. I’m going to have to try that.
Hank Shaw: I do one that’s dedicated to Arizona where it’s a date. You cut a date partially in half and you marinate your dove breasts and put the date on it and then you wrap that in bacon. That’s super good, because that’s meaty, sweet, spicy, salty.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Dates and bacon just go together.
Hank Shaw: Right?
Owen Fitzsimmons: It’s so good.
Jorge Ramirez: I’ve got to try that.
Hank Shaw: So, the cool thing about doves, is that they are built for their season. I don’t think there’s any other game animal that is built for their season than doves, because a whole dove, which, like we said, takes seconds to do. One little tip on plucking doves, if you got big ol’ longshoreman fingers, just ease up or have your sister do it. You can manhandle a dove where you can smear that skin right off if you’re really, really ripping on it. Have a little finesse and do it a little bit lighter, and it goes [inaudible 01:09:41], and you’re done. But, if you try to rah, rah rah, you’re going to rip the dove.
I saw this with Andrew Zimmern. We took him dove hunting for his TV show some years ago, and his first one, he just completely manhandle them. Dude, you’re a TV host, you’re not a construction worker, just lighten up a bit. But, whole doves are built for the grill or the barbecue, or even the smoker. So, they’re inherently perfect for outdoor cooking. Because, they sit on the grates really well. They really like hot and fast, they really like slow and low and they really like smoking.
The thing about that is, there are so many ways to go with it. So, what I have done over the years is, I’ve really explored the grilling and barbecue traditions of various countries and cultures, to find really great things to do with doves. I think the big recipe I did last year was, I actually took a couple limits of doves and cured them. So, I brined them with a little bit of curing salt and then I smoked them really, really slow at 165, 170 degrees until the interior of the breast meat had about 145, 150 which is a little hotter than I want, but it’s not too bad. It’s still nice and pink. Then, I served those who with a guajillo sauce from Sonora, Mexico, and it was super good.
This is the fun thing about dove. About any kind of eating of doves. No matter how you cook doves, with a couple exceptions, it’s with your fingers. It’s a party, right?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Hors d’oeuvres.
Jorge Ramirez: You’ve got to get down and dirty.
Hank Shaw: That’s actually a good character thing. So, if you’re out there listening to this, and you’re wondering if your potential boyfriend or your potential girlfriend is worth keeping, serve them whole doves on the grill and if they won’t get after it, yeah, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know that person. I used to have a test question when I used to go on first and second days, back when I was younger. You ask her, “So, you like chicken, right?” Everybody likes chicken. “Well, what kind of chicken do you like? What part? What’s your favorite chicken dish?” If she says skinless, boneless chicken breasts, it’s probably going to be the last date.
Jorge Ramirez: That’s no fun, right?
Hank Shaw: Right. Because, if skinless, boneless chicken breast is the exact wrong answer, it means that person hates food, and they eat to live and they don’t live to eat, and I want to be with somebody who lives to eat.
Jorge Ramirez: Amen.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Amen.
Hank Shaw: Do you guys have any other methods that you cook doves?
Jorge Ramirez: No, that tends… again, I haven’t hunted dove as long as you folks have, but that tends to be the only way. I really want to branch out and try different methods and that’s part of the reason why I picked up your book, obviously. So, I want to utilize some of those recipes in there and try something new. I think the poppers are, again, a great way to segue someone into trying it out for the first time as far as game meat goes. Yeah, I definitely want to try the doves a a Mancha. That seems to be something that I think would be pretty popular here in my household, I think.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, that has become my signature dish, actually. I see people making doves a la Mancha, and they don’t even know where it’s from, but they just know that it’s a classic thing to do with doves. It actually makes me feel proud in the sense that it’s become a thing. It’s become a thing in the dove world and it’s gotten beyond its connection to me, which I think is the mark of a great dish is, that it’s, people forget where it comes from.
Jorge Ramirez: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Hank Shaw: For those of you out there who don’t know what it is, it’s a whole dove that has herbs stuffed in the cavity, rosemary or Sage or parsley or whatever makes you happy, then you paint the dove with melted bacon fat, and then you grill it hot and fast so that the breast meat is about medium, medium-rare. You could do medium well too. You just want it to be pink inside. Then, when it comes off the grill, you hit it with smoked paprika, and a little bit of black pepper and then just go to town.
Jorge Ramirez: I’m already salivating.
Hank Shaw: It’s incredibly simple.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I actually made that last year, because I picked up your book last year. Yeah, it’s good. I can agree with that.
Hank Shaw: Every duck season I do a special new dove recipe and one of the things I’m looking to do is… so the Chinese eat squab a lot, and I’m looking into squab recipes, to see how I can modify it for a dove. Because, if you don’t know what squab is, squab is basically pigeon veal. It’s actually, vaguely cruel in the sense that they raised pigeons, and don’t really let them fly around very much and they get them super fat and then slaughter them and eat them. You can blame the French for that. Well, yeah, they invented the whole squab process. But, there’s a lot of recipes in Southeast Asia and in China for pigeons and that’s where my explorations are looking these days.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of friends that do the teriyaki and stuff like that, but I’m really interested in using doves for something that I’d never would have thought of. I think I might have got this from you, but dove enchiladas and tacos.
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Which is a Texas staple, or southern staple. I guess, Southwest staple. But, I did some of that last year too The enchiladas specifically, and that’s awesome.
Hank Shaw: That’s a whole ‘nother world. If you have a bunch of recipes where… if you are really a dove Hunter. Your family just came home with four limits of dogs or whatever, so you’ve got a lot of dove meat. Yes, I make a really bitchin’ chili [inaudible 01:15:45]. It’s a wok and style, so it’s got a picadillo inside, and not the cheese. It has cheese, but it’s mostly a picadillo. So, I make a really good chili [inaudible 01:15:53] which are hard to make, actually. There’s a reason why most people get them in restaurants, is because they’re a little tricky to make. But, the enchilada are easy. Yeah, I could do a dove taco. That’d be cool. Yeah, [crosstalk 01:16:08].
Owen Fitzsimmons: Yeah, I do tacos a lot.
Hank Shaw: I hadn’t even thought of that. I’ll just make a straight-up Sonoran [inaudible 01:16:12] and just go from there. Home-made flour tortilla.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Talking my language.
Hank Shaw: That’s true, Texas, there is only flour tortillas in Texas. You have to ask for corn.
Owen Fitzsimmons: It depends on where you go. But, yeah, just tacos in general, it’s a several times a week thing for me and, I think, for a lot of people here.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I think all of us live in the Taco Belt.
Jorge Ramirez: Exactly, yeah.
Hank Shaw: I think we’re probably the northern reach of the Taco Belt, will be the interior of the California Central Valley, and it will snake all the way down through Southern California, certainly Arizona and New Mexico and Texas.
Owen Fitzsimmons: That is, for sure.
Hank Shaw: Then, obviously, Mexico.
Owen Fitzsimmons: I’m just thinking about Arizona and our mutual buddy, Jonathan O’Dell… Have you done any green chili dove recipes?
Hank Shaw: Yeah, my enchiladas are green chili enchiladas.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Right. Is there any other hatch inspired dishes, maybe, on the horizon?
Hank Shaw: I mean, sure, they’re just starting to come ripe. I saw my first green hatch chilies in the supermarket actually yesterday. The hatch chilies, when you blister them off and you see them like that, that makes a hell of a substitute for the jalapeno in a popper. They have hot, medium and mild hatch chilies, so if you have roasted hatch chilies as the chili element in your popper, I think that’s the easiest and most accessible way to do that. I think you can do a New Mexico green chili sauce which is different from a Mexican chili verde because chili verde doesn’t have a roux in it. In Arizona and New Mexico, they start with a roux and then they add the green chilies. That’s just a great sauce for anything. You just make the sauce and throw it on a dove and just eat it over rice. That’d be fine. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Owen Fitzsimmons: Mm-mm (negative), not at all.
Hank Shaw: So, do you guys have any plans for this dove season, given that we’re in the time of COVID?
Jorge Ramirez: Well, for myself, it’s still up in the air. The first couple of days of dove seasons is always a little hard for me to get out. My wife’s birthday is actually pretty close to the first, so it’s always, are we going to do something that weekend or if we’re going to do something the prior weekend before we go out before the opener. So, it’s still up in the air for me, but I’m hoping to get out, at least, the second week of the season.
Owen Fitzsimmons: For me, COVID is actually going to help me out a little bit. Typically, our central flyway meeting that we have every August is the last week in August and the past few years it’s been pretty far away so I always end up flying back the night before opening day, and it’s just a struggle for me to get up. I have plans to go, I’ve been gone for a week and tired, and those meetings can be pretty intense. So, this year it’s going to be virtual, our meeting, and so I’ve got all the time in the world. So, yeah, I’m planning to get out as much as I can this September. I didn’t get much hunting last year or the year before, so I told my supervisor already, be prepared for me to be basically gone, the month of September.
Hank Shaw: Nice. I don’t know if you’re privy to this or not in Texas, but have you seen an uptick in license sales?
Owen Fitzsimmons: Well, so I don’t know about license sales yet because usually you’ll see this huge spike in license sales a few days before the season starts. That’s everybody, last minute, Oh, man, I got to get my license. I got to buy shells. That’s when Walmart sells out of all their shells. So, we don’t know about license sales yet. We have some draw hunts that you can apply for online. Those are up from last year, those applications. All the people that I’ve talked to, I get the sense that everybody’s just dying to get out of the house and go do something outside. So, I think this is going to be a huge year for hunting, for sure.
Hank Shaw: I think so too. Are you seeing any increased interest in that stuff in So Cal?
Jorge Ramirez: I would say yes. I’m not really sure where I’ve seen some of the preliminary information coming out. But, I have heard that there has been an uptick in, at least, fishing licenses, so it’s been forecasted that it probably will be a lot more people hunting this year. That’s something that’s in the back of my mind before the season starts and while I’m pre-scouting as well.
Hank Shaw: Yep, for sure. We didn’t really get into it too much, but there are a lot of public land opportunities for doves, at least in the West. We’ve talked about it, but just to sum it up, you are looking for seeds. So, public land near agriculture if possible, and if not, riparian, so riversides. They like riversides because they come to pick up the grit. And, there’s also a lot of dead trees on riversides that they hang out in. So, I’ve had good luck on public lands for doves near rivers with it, whether they’re dry or not. So, if you’re listening to this in, say, Arizona or New Mexico where you have a dry riverbed and arroyo, that’s not a bad place to look.
But clearly, and I think all three of us will agree, if you can get on a grain farm or near a grain farm or sunflower or safflower, that’s money. That and then here, in Northern California, vineyards. Vineyards are also quite good. So, those are a few, parting tips on finding a spot to go. We didn’t really get into the second season and I might actually have you guys back, at some point, to talk about second season doves. Because, the September Labor Day thing is so huge and so much effort, but it’s actually a whole different world hunting pigeons and doves in November and December, which most states have… either the season opens back up again, or it never closes. It’s a different kind of a dove hunter, who figures out how to hunt doves in, say, October, November.
Jorge Ramirez: I would say that they hunker down a bit more, the late season, the follow-up season. I’m probably doing a lot more jump shooting, I would say, around November, when the second season opens up out here in California.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, same here. For me, it’s like a target of opportunity. You’ll go hunting for a bunch of stuff, like quail or rabbits or whatever, and you’ll come home with four doves.
Jorge Ramirez: Yeah. I’m not specifically going out there to hunt dove during the second season, I’m primarily targeting quail around that time. So, again, it’s just a target of opportunity. If they pop up, that’s on them, I guess.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, that’s a one good tip. So, my advice before we wrap it up here, is for that second season, wherever you are, make sure you know the dates of it so that then you actually target the Eurasians at a dairy or some other place where you’re allowed to hunt Eurasians. Because, the regular dove season’s open, it’s anything goes, so you have to be a little bit less careful about your ID.
Jorge Ramirez: Absolutely.
Hank Shaw: So, this has been a pretty good conversation. We’ve been going on for a little over an hour and 20. There’s a lot to talk about with doves. Certain species that we talk about on this show are less culturally relevant, or less hunted. We did a spruce grouse episode which is a fantastic conversation. But yeah, spruce grouse are a marginal upland bird and it was this great conversation, in the sense that, here’s all these really cool things about this particular thing and we can talk about that. Doves, we could have gone and on and on, but I’m cognizant of everybody’s time. So before we go, Jorge and Owen, tell everybody where they can find you on the series of tubes that we call the internet.
Jorge Ramirez: Certainly. So again, if people out there don’t know who I am, I run a website called UplandJitsu and it basically caters to people that are new to upland hunting and it provides tutorials and how-to’s and just how to hunt without a dog when it comes to upland game. You can find me on my website again, and that’s uplandjitsu.com. You can also find me, primarily, on Instagram and that’s upland_jitsu, J-I-T-S-U.
Owen Fitzsimmons: I’m fairly easy to find if you need to contact me about anything dove related in Texas. I’m happy to talk to just about anybody. Probably, the best way is just to Google my name Owen Fitzsimmons, followed by T-P-W-D, and my contact info should pop up. But, otherwise, I can give you my email address [email protected], T-E-X-A-S.gov.
Hank Shaw: Good deal. Well, thank you guys for coming on the show. I hope you guys have a really successful dove season and I definitely want to hear about the ways that you are cooking the doves after the obligatory popper weekend.
Owen Fitzsimmons: All right, same to you.
Jorge Ramirez: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.
Hank Shaw: Well, that’s it for this episode of the Hunt Gather Talk Podcast. I am your host Hank Shaw, and I’d to ask you if you would consider supporting this podcast. It is a little bit public radio where you can support, if you want and at various levels. Certain levels will get you the cookbook that goes along with this podcast season. It is my cookbook, Pheasants, Quail, Cottontail, and it covers everything upland. Everything you would possibly want to know about cooking, prepping, and dealing with all kinds of upland game, ranging from rabbits to every single upland bird there is. If you support the podcast at the $35 level, you will get a signed copy of that book and I will mail it to your door.
Either way, I really appreciate you listening and I will be back with you soon. In the meantime, you can follow me on social media at huntgathercook.com. You can also find me on Instagram and my handle there is huntergathercook as well as on Facebook, where I run a private group called the Hunt Gather Cook forum. You have to answer the questions to get in there, but say that you heard me on my podcast and I will let you in. That’s it for this week, and I will talk to you soon. Take it easy. Bye.