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Bird! Bird! BIRD!

Dove with sweet potato hashbrowns and eggs.

By Jonathan Bowman

Photos by Jonathan Bowman

Dozens of dove hunters from around the state gather together on public land to continue one of Virginia’s oldest traditions—opening day of dove season. When 12 o’clock arrived (the legal shooting time on opening day), I was transported into some strange mix of a backyard cookout and a Civil War battlefield.

Shotguns explode as these dodgy birds dive bomb sunflower fields scouring the ground for seeds. Bird shot rains down on the brim of your hat from across the field (harmless, but unnerving at first). Grown men shout about the incoming birds as if their life depended on it, and kids grin ear to ear as they shoot their first doves of the season.

Virginia dove hunting has always been about quality time with friends and family, and I imagine that’s part of why I am so deeply drawn to this communal adventure. Dove hunting is a family affair, and it is probably the best “first hunt” out there.

My first dove hunt was at the Amelia Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in 2016. As is usual with new types of hunting, I was hooked before I even fired the first shot.

I went through nearly 200 shells that day. I came home with one dove, and while that is a terrible ratio, I had never had that much fun shooting a shotgun. Dove hunting is at its best when you can’t reload as fast as you need to shoot. Your fellow hunters are constantly yelling across the field to help track the doves flying overhead, and spotting a bird for a friend makes you feel like Russel Westbrook throwing a game-winning assist.

Since 2018, Labor Day weekend dove hunting has become a Bowman family tradition that I hope will continue through my future grandchildren.

Get out there and try hunting opening day on one of Virginia’s many WMAs, or talk to a local farmer about leasing a field!

Now, we hunt to eat after all, so how should you cook these delicious birds? I’m going to provide a few options that just about anyone can handle.

You can easily find videos online that show you how to properly breast or pluck a dove, so we are going to jump straight into cooking! Are you ready for the super uncomplicated and most common way to prepare doves in the world?

  1. Remove the breast (season with a little salt and pepper)
  2. Wrap it in bacon and skewer with a toothpick.
  3. Throw it on the grill, oven, smoker, or fire.
  4. When the bacon is done, the dove is done.

You have successfully cooked dove the way nearly everyone does it.

After a full day of hunting, you may be too tired to try recipes that require more preparation, and bacon-wrapped dove is a crowd-pleaser every time. Add some jalapeños, chives, and/or cream cheese if you want to jazz it up a little.

If you are looking for something more unique, you need to consider whole fried doves. I first heard about this from Steve Rinella on an episode of MeatEater (an episode that actually features Virginia dove hunting in the Shenandoah Valley with Ronnie Boehme). It will only take about two minutes to pluck a whole dove once you are good at it, and the reward is crispy skin surrounding that tender dove meat.

Now if you want to make a delicious breakfast to impress your friends, you could try something like this Dove with Sweet Potato Hashbrowns and Eggs recipe. Don’t overthink it, and feel free to sub out different ingredients. Dove is a versatile meat with an accommodating flavor profile.

Get the recipe

Jonathan Bowman lives in Amelia County, where he spends as much time as possible hunting, fishing, and cooking. Joanthan loves sharing his passions with others, and is determined to one day convince his wife to join him on a turkey hunt.

  • September 1, 2021