Where does time go? The older I get, the faster it goes by. It seems like only a few months ago that I was shooting the dove opening day with two of my sons, and one grandson.
I remember having a column that morning in the paper. Well, it's time again. So, let's get some of the basics you should be thinking about out of the way.
The best thing about Sept. 1 is being the first day of five months of hunting seasons including dove, quail, pheasants, ducks and geese. It just keeps getting better. And, opening day is on a Saturday so you can expect crowds.
HUNTING LICENSE: Don't forget to renew your hunting license that ended in July. You may think that is a silly statement, but one time many years ago I was with a group on opening day when one of the guys suddenly stopped shooting and started walking to the car.
I asked what the problem was, and he replied, "I just remembered that I did not buy a new license for the year."
Really!! And, be sure to include the upland game stamp that is an additional cost. Get duck stamps too, if you hunt waterfowl. Total cost for all this is around $100 now. I remember when it was less than $10.
HUNTING GROUNDS: You need to do some scouting before taking the field. It is so important to get permission on any of the lands you hunt. Best fields are harvested grain and milo.
Orchards can be exciting, too. Just remember to be with someone who has permission, or get permission yourself. Nothing more humbling then being chased off by a landowner.
GUNS AND AMMO: Always try and shoot an open choke gun. Skeet choke or improved cylinder are the best. If you are in a good shoot with a lot of birds, try taking birds at 20 yards or less, with shot size 7 1/2 or 8's.
And don't infringe on other shooter's 40-yard space.
You should also take the time to get in a few rounds of skeet at the Kern County Gun Club. A little practice will fine tune you.
Remember, most shots for doves are taken under 20 yards, and require only 1-to-2 feet of lead. And the key to bagging doubles or triples is staying firmly on the stock after the first shot.
SEASONS AND LIMITS: Sept. 1-15 and Nov. 10-Dec. 24. Bag limit is 15 per day with triple possession limit. No limit on spotted doves, ringed turtle doves, and eurasian collared doves.
It's still OK to used lead shot this season, but all other upland game requires non-lead this year. I cannot do a dove column without giving you Steve Merlo's recipe for cooking these winged delights. This is directly from his book titled, "The Official, Can't Live Without It, EASY, Wild Game And Fish Cookbook."
INGREDIENTS FOR DOVE DINNER FOR EIGHT:
40 Plucked and drawn doves
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
40-1" sq. strips of bacon
2 med. onions cut into 3/4" squares
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp. dried, bottled Italian seasoning
A handful each of fresh sage and rosemary
20 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
2 cups red wine
1 cup olive oil
40 canned whole button mushrooms
Dump the birds into a large pot. Add all the ingredients onto the birds except for the bacon. Stir and mix, let set for a while, then stir and mix again. This is basically a marinade and can be done hours or even several days in advance. It should be turned every so often so all the birds are done equally. (Keep it refrigerated.)
To prepare, take a single bird and stuff a piece of onion and a whole mushroom from the marinade into the cavity. Lay the bird breast side up in a flat baking pan with at least two-inch sides. Aluminum cake pans are perfect for the job. Take a second bird, repeat the stuffing procedure, but face the opposite direction as the first. Repeat this procedure, one bird one way, one the other, all breast side up, until the pan is full. All the birds should touch, crammed into the pan like sardines. If they don't, then use a smaller pan or add more birds until the container is full. I normally add more birds.
Finally, add about a quarter-inch of the marinade to the pan and sprinkle some of the marinated garlic and parsley from the bottom of the container over the birds.
Place a single 1-inch square of bacon atop each bird. Chop the marinated rosemary and sage together and sprinkle a moderate amount over the doves. Don't be stingy, but don't overdo it either ... a quarter-cup or slightly more of mixture per pan of birds is about right.
Season them again with a little salt and pepper, cover with a nicely fitting lid or aluminum foil, then place into a preheated 375-degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then baste with the pan juices. Cook for another hour at 350 degrees, basting every 30 minutes. You might have to remove some of the accumulated stock from the pan to prevent the birds from boiling, but save it if you do. Eventually you'll run low on basting juices and will have to rely on the stock you removed earlier.
Lower the heat to 325 degrees for 30 more minutes, basting often, then lower the temp one more time to 300 degrees, cooking uncovered for the last 30 minutes but still basting. Two-and-a-half hours seems to be a long time, but when you taste the finished product, you'll see why. The whole secret's in the cookin'. Thank you Mom, Dad, and Betty Fanucchi.