Outdoor / Fishing

Thursday, Aug 30 2012 05:10 PM

Steve Merlo: Hunters gear up for dove season opener

By The Bakersfield Californian

Millions of hunters across the U.S. are preparing for the opening volley when dove season opens Saturday morning at one-half-hour before sunrise. This weekend's Saturday opener will allow a lot of people to venture out into the fields, but the overall prognosis remains excellent for good shooting all over the Southern San Joaquin Valley.

Dove season remains the single most anticipated event of the year for all hunters, most believing that the date, Sept. 1, should be a national holiday.

With thousands of birds calling Kern County home, shooting should be fantastic, especially near water, orchards or grain fields.

Once again, this year's daily limit is 10 mourning doves, with 20 in possession after opening day.

There is no limit on Eurasian collared doves. Along with a current hunting license, don't forget to purchase the mandatory upland game bird stamp.

Get written permission before you hunt and watch out for field workers. Stay at least 150 yards from any occupied building and at least ¼-mile from a county owned facility. The city of Bakersfield does not allow any hunting on any of its properties.

And remember, add a little more forward allowance to the birds you're missing -- it's been a long layoff since last season.

Tasty old-era cooking techniques for doves

My Dad took his sons hunting whenever he could. I can still remember standing with him outside the old family house in Buttonwillow plucking dove feathers into an old garbage can when I was only four or five years old. I thought I was helping, but now I know how patient he actually was as he cleaned up every bird after I had man-, er, boy-handled it.

We'd go inside and finish eviscerating the whole birds and my mother would take over from there. We'd eat some of the doves Dad shot, but Mom would usually freeze as many as she could for large family gatherings later in the year. Our Bakersfield aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives would trek out to Buttonwillow when word got out and the Merlos, Ghilarduccis and Antongiovannis would sit down for the special event of eating polenta and doves.

The women of Italian descent living in my hometown while I grew up loved to cook the wild game the men brought home.

I still remember and savor huge, well-attended dinners where polenta and doves were the main course for the dozens of relatives gathered for good food, great wine and lasting family strengths.

Back then, very few people barbecued their birds, because everyone knows that the proper way to grill doves over charcoal means to serve the meat medium rare to medium, and no pioneer of that era would ever do that. Out of necessity and fear of unknown maladies, I suppose, they cooked all their meat well done, basically killing the sweet flesh of the wild birds they over-cooked.

But the girls had a few aces up their sleeves. Armed with backyard victory gardens containing a wide variety of fresh spices and herbs, traditional wild game cooking methods became flavor factories for the Epicurean palate. Inside the nurseries, garlic, sage, onions, rosemary, parsley, thyme and other aromatic and tasty plants grew close to the kitchen's back door, within easy reach of the lady of the house.

Doves and ducks, in particular, seemed the better beneficiaries of the fresh herbs, virgin olive oil and aged wine because they seemed to greedily accept and mingle with the added flavorings. The chefs sometimes cooked the birds for up to three hours at low heat, giving the meat ample time to suck up the aromas, liquids and tastes, leaving the whole birds juicy and succulent and so tender the meat would fall off the bone.

One of these days when you finally get tired of barbecue sauce, try plucking a limit of two of birds; marinate them in a mixture of olive oil, red wine, a handful of fresh rosemary or sage, chopped garlic, button mushrooms and onion for a day or two.

Stuff each bird with a mushroom, onion and garlic from the marinade and place breast up in a pan until they're packed in it like sardines. Cover each bird breast with a one-inch square of bacon, then salt and pepper lightly. Add herbs, and cover with tin foil. Bake for one hour at 375 degrees, then one hour at 325-degrees, basting often with the pan juices.

Uncover and finish cooking at 300 degrees for the last 30-minutes. The birds are done when one can easily pull a leg off any of the birds.

Trust me on this one, folks; they're going to be incredible. Allow at least five per person and don't wimp out with a cheap wine.

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