September is dove hunting season. I’m telling y’all this because dove hunting is almost as sacred to Texans as deer season. In fact, I’d venture to say that real Texans would equate it with deer hunting. I’ve heard Texas has the most doves in the country and Central Texas is the favorite roosting spot.
I remember going dove hunting once with my father. I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old at the time. I don’t remember much except Daddy collecting a bird he’d killed. It was a slightly disturbing moment in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way, so I’ll spare y’all the details.
One Thanksgiving at my paternal grandmother’s house, we had doves for breakfast. It was the coolest thing ever in my kid mind. And tasty. I think Gammy roasted them. I remember her bacon breakfast gravy served with it.
Excuse me while I mop the drool off my computer keyboard…
I once went on a dove hunt with a fella I dated in college. It must’ve been true love. I sat out in the sweltering heat with this guy, 12-gauge shotgun across my knees, waiting for birds. When they finally did fly by, it was almost at the speed of sound. Doves are fast in a Chuck Yeager/Bell X-1 kind of way. The trick in hittin’ ‘em is to lead ‘em with the gun. Aim where you think the bird’s gonna fly, not where it actually is. It’s a peculiar physics equation which rests on the theory that it’s better to have the bird fly into the shot instead of actually shooting the bird. Did the shot hit the bird? Or did the bird hit the shot?
I didn’t hit squat. I haven’t hunted since.
Mostly, I don’t go because you have to get up at an indecent hour, it’s hot and you have to be really still while waiting on the birds. This girly-cowgirl does not consider standing still, pouring sweat and holding a shotgun any kind of fun.
Fort Hood Sentinel news editor, Heather Graham-Ashley, however is way better at the hunt than I am.
She had real success a while back. She managed to hit a bird. Of course, it was sitting on a power line and it took five shots to get the thing. Her hunting buddy said Heather actually scared the thing to death, rather than shot it.
Heather is undaunted. She’s been practicing with skeet and managed to annihilate two of them. If I ever take up skeet hunting, she’s my first choice of partner.
I read this in Texas Monthly and laughed: “When the birds fall, immediately find your way to them (or send a retrieving dog if you have one trained).”
The sentence, read aloud, sounds positively hoity-toity.
I’m trying to picture my grandfather’s mutt, Ruff, on a dove hunt out in the pasture by the tank. GP’s dog was part collie, part German shepherd, part goat and all hairy canine macho bravado. He’d have had the bird eaten before it hit the ground. Ruff was a dog with which to be reckoned, as one hapless driver along the stretch of dirt road in front of GP and Gammy’s house learned.
This fella was driving a red, convertible something…a Corvair, probably. He was not going fast and Ruff took out after him, barking. The guy clearly did not acknowledge the dog to the dog’s satisfaction, so Ruff jumped up on the driver’s side, front paws on the door and introduced himself with a resolute, “RAWR!RAWR!RAWR!” in the driver’s face.
That the man and his car did not end up in a ditch is still a mystery.
I can’t really imagine hunting with dogs. Some of the fathers of my high school friends trained retrievers and used them with a great deal of success. Their fathers could wax intelligently about their dogs’ bloodlines and the training techniques that worked best with them. My father was just happy none of our dogs bit the electric meter readers on their monthly visits.
Beyond doves, there are other game birds to be hunted in Texas. Turkey, duck, goose, prairie chickens, moorhens, purple gallinules, pheasant, quail, sandhill cranes, rails, Wilson’s snipe (yes, by golly, a real snipe hunt can be had!) and something called a plain chachalaca are all available at various times of the year.
While writing this column, I just had to look up chachalacas to satisfy my curiosity. In the U.S., they are found only in South Texas (far South, by the way) and they look like a cross between a dove and a chicken. The bird’s name comes from their horrible call. Look the bird up online sometime and listen. The call is described as sounding like “CHAK-A-LAK! CHAK-A-LAK! CHAK-A-LAK!” I think it sounds more like Phyllis Diller hollering, “ROB A BANK! ROB A BANK! ROB A BANK!”
I can’t imagine them making good eating and I couldn’t find recipes online.
Speaking of eating, if you do not hunt but you do like eating game birds, find a Texas hunter and make friends. The accomplished dove hunter will always bag more than he (or she) can eat and sharing is a tradition. Try grilled dove stuffed with jalapeno peppers. It’ll change your life.
First printed in Tex Messages, The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.