Cumberland Times-News

September 7, 2013

Dove dreams

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— I have always greatly enjoyed hunting mourning doves, ever since I first tried it in Utah in the late 1960s.

The hunt is a lot of fun and the dove breasts are fine cuisine, though quite a number of them are needed if many people are expected at the dinner table.

As a poor college student at Utah State University who had lost his pump shotgun in a mid-winter boating mishap, I had only a single-shot 20 gauge to use.

I got a few doves that way, but my best maneuver (ethics alert, ethics alert) was crawling through the sage brush until I lined up perfectly with three doves on a wire fence so that I could take all with one shot.

A number of years later I bought a Weatherby Patrician pump and hunted with my buddy (the late) Roger McKeel in the hills near Wenatchee, Wash.

I would hit a dove and miss three. All the while, Roger, using his .410 shotgun, calmly picked single birds and plinked them to the ground. He went 12 for 12.

“That’s all I ever use for doves,” McKeel told me when I asked why he was shooting such a lightweight shotgun.

A few years ago, hunting with Gary Strawn along the South Branch of the Potomac River near River Road, I shot a banded dove. That bird had been captured and banded just two weeks earlier and only a few miles upstream at the South Branch Wildlife Management Area. Locals call it McNeil.

I have had some productive dove hunts on that public land, a scenic location with mountains in the background and juniper studded hills nearby.

In the early 1990s, Sept. 1 always meant a trip with Bob Phillips, Gary Carpenter and (the late) Doug Buckalew to Washington County where we had some barrel melting dove shoots that were followed up with dinner at Park-N-Dine in Hancock.

Once I shot a fast-moving dove that was taking advantage of a tailwind and the bird landed in the back of my pickup truck with a “thonk.”

Another time a group of doves was flying directly toward me. I shot one and swung on another, but my second trigger pull was disrupted when the first bird, quite dead, thumped me on the left shoulder.

A number of years ago, I was killing enough doves to supply appetizers for an annual hunting camp.

The half-breasts were marinated for a day in apricot jam, whiskey and olive oil, with the jam being the main ingredient and the hooch the least.

Each marinated appetizer was wrapped in a half-strip of bacon and cooked slowly over low coals. Many is the nonhunter who ate these and then vowed to take up dove hunting.

My best dove year yielded 61 birds, though 100 would have been put in the freezer by a better shooter.

But I agree with the philosophy that he who shoots the most is the winner.

There was a time that one of my hunting spots was always best at 2:33 p.m. and again at 5:14 p.m.

That’s when the coal trains rumbled through and jumped all the birds off the electric lines.

The mourning dove is a widespread, simple, beautiful bird with irridescent feathers. I think of a dove as an airborne Slinky, an amoeba in flight that can morph, dodge, twist and roll just as I am about to pull the trigger.

There is no doubt that deer and spring gobbler seasons are the lead acts on the hunting stage nowadays.

Mourning doves, though, are a great warm-up band with sounds and sights that only they can provide.

Have a great hunting season, and a safe one.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at