The soft call of the turtledove on September’s golden mornings seems to stir man’s primitive instincts, reminding a hunter and his dogs it’s time to go afield and watch in frustration the tail feathers of a dove rocketing toward distant lands at speeds to a mile a minute.
September’s opening of dove hunting season suggests ignoring home comforts to endure the biting fly, ravenous mosquitoes, ticks and burrowing chiggers to stumble amid the stubble for an opportunity to pursue a fast, elusive game bird that tests man and his scattergun.
Mankind over the eons has been dependent upon birds for food, bedding and comfort. Doves, being the most abundant and widespread of all North America’s game birds, breed in numbers fit for wildlife authorities to establish strictly enforced seasons and limits. They report that each year about 20 million birds are taken for food nationwide. But the taking must be managed. In the early 1800s, the number of passenger pigeons numbered in the billions, and they traveled in such huge flocks that the naturalist John James Audubon wrote in 1813, “The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse.” But massive hunting and loss of habitat sharply drove the birds to extinction. The last one died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The names of these birds are confusing. Their small heads suggest dimwittedness and place them in the Columb idae family. “Dove,” originating as “innocence” or “peaceful bird,” is of Teutonic origin, while “pigeon” translates from the French, “little bird” or convenient table fare.
A hunter’s goal is to put nature’s finest eating in the pot. The flavor of grain-fed dove breast dusted in seasoned flour, then wrapped in bacon strips, then grilled to a golden brown, rates as a dining delight unchallenged.
Each year sportsmen impatiently await Carolina’s hunting season, which begins with the mourning dove, a bird also known as Carolina turtle dove, rain dove and Carolina pigeon, a common and abundant game bird that by any name reawakens the hunter’s soul.