When life gives you wild game…

UPDATE:
Wow. It’s definitely been a very interesting 48 hours.

First off, I’d like to thank the multitude of people who have reached out to me with well-wishes and support. Your kindness is indicative of the people I know this great country houses.

I contacted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department today, and explained the situation. Everyone I dealt with was very understanding and polite. I respect the important work that they do for all Texans, and do not begrudge them at all for carrying out said job.

This whole mess is being chalked up as a learning moment, and I’ll ensure that going forward any wild game that comes into my possession will be done in accordance with the law. As a matter of fact I still need to cook a woodcock, and there is lots of time for me to attend a hunters safety course before the season starts. I’m pretty sure they are not native to my area, so don’t expect any “woodcock flew into my house” stories in the upcoming months.

And that–hopefully–is that.

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A few weeks ago, my wife and I were relaxing on the couch watching Project Runway—what?—when a loud “BAM” startled us and sent our pups into fits of barking.  Initially we assumed that a stray baseball from a neighbor’s yard was the cause, but once outside we discovered this poor little guy.  For whatever reason a White-winged Dove had gone kamikaze, breaking his neck in the process.

Coincidentally, dove season in Texas had started not twenty four hours earlier.  Here in Texas, the dove hunting season is very popular. In 1999 alone an estimated 607,000 white-wings were harvested by hunters during the month of September.  People travel long distances and pay big bucks to hunt these birds, and one had just been dropped into my hands.

A lot of people would either bury or throw away a dead animal under these circumstances.

I am not one of them.

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Hank Shaw’s “Hunt,Gather,Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” was pulled from my cookbook library and flipped through until I reached the game bird section.  Hank has laid out excellent instructions on feather plucking and cleaning, so with this knowledge I began to prep the dove for cooking.

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At the very beginning of the process I asked my wife to time how long it took me to remove all of the plumage.  It just so happens that the skin on this dove—and all doves—is rice paper thin, and can rip easily. Since I was going in half-blind, every feather was fretted over and carefully discarded. Hank is an experienced and accomplished hunter, and has done this so many times that he can pluck a bird clean in about a minute. I took an hour and forty minutes.

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And here’s the dove naked.  There are still a few feathers around the head, but that’s okay.

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Moments later, they were all removed along with the dove’s head and feet. The most shocking thing to me was the total absence of blood. I was expecting there to be some blood since this bird was living not two hours prior, but there was none to speak of. I also disemboweled and gutted it, which took less than a minute. Now it looked like something I might have picked up at a farmer’s market or supermarket. With the evening turning into night, the dove was washed and patted dry before being placed in the fridge overnight.

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The next morning I started to prepare the dove for grilling “La Mancha” style. I rubbed the dove with olive oil and salted it well. Then the cavity was stuffed with a sage and a bay leaf.

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On to a medium-high grill the dove went, breast side up. Hank instructs that only six to eight minutes are needed, and to not let them char.

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Next up was painting the dove with bacon grease, which is done to keep the meat from drying out—and it’s tasty. You can also see a bit of a duck I was grilling at the same time. The duck had not flown into my house, in case you were wondering.

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After a few more turns, and lots of bacon grease, the dove was finished. A quick dusting of sweet smoked paprika and black pepper later, it was done.

Now, I’ve had a version of Hank’s Grilled Doves a La Mancha before.  During his first book tour, different restaurants in the cities he visited made various dishes from his books. In Austin, Fino did an excellent job recreating the recipe using local Quail instead.  They were so wonderful that I made them for myself and a few friends a month later.

The spice of the paprika works fantastically with the tender dove meat, making each bite an intoxicating event.  You just want to keep eating, which is why about half-way though I verbalized my wishes that more doves might find their way into my backyard.

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So there you go. When life throws amazingly delicious wild game at you, don’t discard it. Eat it.

29 thoughts on “When life gives you wild game…

    • One can hope! Oh, and I might be heading your way come mid-November. I’ll let you know when everything is in stone.

      • A young pheasant happened to get entangled in the net I put over the strawberry field in my backyard. Looked quite similar to your dove (unfeathered), maybe just a little bigger.

    • Oh wow, I bet those sea spiders were fantastic grilled. They taste just like lobster, right? I could be thinking of something else.

  1. I’m surprised by the lack of blood too. I was kind of hoping for some photos of the gutting process. Not because I’m sadistic but just wanting to learn more!

  2. The State of Texas is being ridiculous… if you did not eat the dove, it’s meat would have decayed and maggots would have gotten to it. The laws need to be written intelligently..not by various arses.

  3. Don’t let them harass you. This is an example of government totally out of control.

  4. Our government is truly out of control. There’s no way I would come back with a guilty verdict if I were on a jury. Cannot not say what some other yahoo might do about it. This country has certainly went down the crapper.

  5. Ryan, best wishes with the State. This is a ridiculous charge, and a huge waste of the State’s time and resources not to mention yours.

  6. And people wonder why this country is in such a hole financially. How much time and money is Texas going to throw away on something that may be wrong if you go by the letter of the law but an incident that should have been looked at and dismissed for the non-issue it is.

    This is just another example of a government that is way too big and out of control in this country.

    Glad you enjoyed the Dove and thanks for the step by step tutorial… You have inspired me and I am now patiently waiting for dinner to plow into my abode…. I’m sort of hoping for a pheasant though, I have a guest coming over and the dove might be a little too small for two.

  7. This publicity will bring your blog a lot of new traffic! The govt is completely out of control. Fight this battle all the way to a win for all of us please. The next time a delicious piece of wild game jumps out and commits suicide in front of my vehicle, it’s road kill for dinner! Don’t waste perfectly good food – period. The story I read said you should have given it to the game warden. BS. That dead dove is not govt property and it was on your private property when it killed itself. The govt has no right to take it away from you, especially on your own property. I am a proud member of PETA People Eating Tasty Animals by the way, and I will now proceed to enjoy your blog, which the publicity helped me locate.

  8. Good job! And thanks for showing us the finished morsel! We often look at the Mourning Doves feeding with our horses and know they have to be decidedly plump from all the grain they find in the hay, but the only hunting done here is by the kitties.
    I am astounded by the waste of funds to investigate this situation…not that I would expect less these days! Glad someone with the know-how got to have a tasty treat!

  9. Create a link on your site for us citizens to contribute to a defense fund should you need it.

  10. Good luck.I hope someone involved with the state has a brain at least the size of the birds.

  11. Run for your life, I read an article on drudge that the state is coming after you for not having a license. I wonder if you were homeless and the bird dive bombed into the sidewalk in your view and you ate it, thanking God the entire time, if they would think the same opinion that it is not a right to eat that bird but something that requires a license!

  12. Push back, don’t let them assholes get away with persecuting you. You have support. It is time to fight these fucking assholes that think they own us, and the world around us.

  13. Ryan:

    As a former Alaskan trapper, I am very impressed with your plucking and butchering efforts. Lots of folks get an idea they want to butcher, cook and eat a wild animal just for the experience, but I can’t think of any novices that went through with it, especially with the gusto you showed. As far as the law is concerned, don’t you remember me mailing you that dove, after I had shot it on a private game farm? I don’t know why you came up with that story about a thump. I don’t need protection because it wasn’t a wild animal, but one raised on a game farm.

    I’d be happy to send you a notarized statement detailing these facts, if you think it would do you some good!

    Peace,

    DM

  14. Don’t let the bureaucrats bring you down. It seems hard and daunting but if you stand up for yourself you will be vindicated. Have faith, you have many people who support you. Do not give in to their threats and do not pay the tyrants one red cent!

  15. The only positive that would happen if the state does come down on you is that the people of Texas would benefit from the fine and fee collected. :)

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