Picking feathers…It’s all about the skin and bones and hidden gems inside! Closing out the season.
If you are a dove hunter, you know the feeling of anticipation for every hunt. Not all hunts are fast and exciting, and we often come home with just a few birds, so we are grateful for every dove we get, and very little goes to waste. I am not judging anybody for how they choose to clean their birds, but for us, making the most of the harvest is what we love best, whether we kill two birds or limit out. There are many ways to clean doves—skinning being the most popular—and some hunters prefer boneless methods.
When we first started hunting together many years ago, Trippett would always clean the birds by breasting them, and we would prepare the skinless breasts by wrapping them with bacon, since they would dry out if cooked without the skin. It didn’t take me long to return to my roots when I learned how to clean game as a young girl. I have since spoiled my hubby by picking the feathers, allowing us to use the entire bird and the hidden gems inside: those tasty innards!
At first, he was grumpy about assisting me, but now, he helps out happily, especially if we bring home many birds. I promise there is an unmistakable difference in the taste between a skinless bird and one with the skin intact! I have written about the taste and nutritional value of the skin and bones, and I can’t stress these enough. The big plus of picking the feathers is that you can quickly harvest the dove’s heart, gizzard, and liver.
Option One: Picking the entire bird
You will need only a pair of game shears, a sharp knife, a cutting board, and a bowl for the cleaned birds. And running water is always a plus.
When we’re lucky enough to get a good number of birds, we form an assembly line, first with both of us picking feathers. Next, Tripp cuts off the feet, wings, and heads with the game shears. I cut the birds’ bottoms and then up their entire backs, which enables me to remove the entrails and concentrate on harvesting the gizzards, livers, and hearts. I carefully remove the seeds—typically corn and sunflower seeds, depending on the time of dove season—from each bird’s crop, which is an expanded, muscular pouch near the gullet or throat. I then cut into the gizzards with a sharp knife to clean out the grit and remove the koilin lining, exposing the meat. The proper way to cut into the gizzard is through the middle, not lengthwise. It is necessary to remove this yellow membrane, and it will peel off very easily.
The cycle of life goes on, with all the unwanted parts going into the creek for the crabs to feast on. With two of us working, the process goes quickly, and then it’s time for the final rinsing and quality control. Once the birds and innards are cleaned, I brine them in a bath of clean water with plenty of salt and store them overnight in a glass container in the refrigerator. Brining wild game removes any blood and helps to retain the moisture in the meat. This process is the most essential step when preparing wild game meat.
Preparing the whole dove:
If you are going for the most beautiful presentation, there is nothing more impressive than roasting the entire bird and pairing it with wild rice and exciting greens. Check out my number one favorite recipe!
Option Two: Breasting the bird with skin intact
If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to pick the entire dove, here’s a shortcut that works very well. Pick the breast feathers to expose the whole breast. Using your thumb, push up from the bottom of the bird’s breast to force it apart from the back of the bird. Be careful to keep the skin intact. Clip off the wings, head, and back. Make sure you clean any seeds from the bird’s crop. In this process, you can harvest the heart and gizzard—if you’re careful, you can also take the liver. This method requires just one third as much time as feathering the entire bird, but you retain the skin and the keel bone, which makes the breast meat very tasty.
Preparing the breasted dove
Always give the birds a good rinse when you remove them from the brine, and then pat them dry with paper towels. Interestingly, even after brining they will still need some salt, and I also sprinkle pepper on the birds.We like to wrap the birds with bacon, with a jalapeño pepper tucked inside the shallow cavity. We prefer not to overwhelm the dove’s delicate flavor with too much bacon, so a half strip per bird is all that is needed, since the skin is left on. We then braise the birds in a hot cast iron pan, add the extra peppers and innards, and roast them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees. I love using the little jalapeño pepper “boats” to cook the hearts and gizzards.
My best advice is do not, I repeat, do not make this a first-date dinner! It gets messy—it’s necessary to eat doves with your fingers. Oh yes, remember to have plenty of napkins on hand. As always, take your time, savor every bite, and be careful not to crunch down on a shotgun pellet! Hunting is our passion, and we are so happy to honor the game with careful preparation and beautiful presentation.
Goodbye to our 2023–2024 dove seasons. We are thankful for the harvest and the beautiful and delicious meals!