In case you missed it, the 2017 hunting season for mourning and white-winged doves opened Sept. 1. Don’t worry if you did because the season is open through Oct. 30 and some of the best hunting is yet to come.
Keep in mind that doves are migratory birds, which means they move seasonally from one place to another. While there are some resident birds in Southern Nevada, hunters can expect to see multiple waves of migrating birds pass through the area in the coming weeks as they make their way south. So, if hunting is slow one day it could be very good the next.
The number of birds one sees on a given day can be very weather dependent. For example, if temperatures in northern Idaho remain a little on the warm side, there is no reason for doves to begin moving south. Likewise, if the weather turns nasty it can push them our direction in a hurry.
However, that doesn’t mean they won’t stop somewhere along their migration route. Oftentimes, a patch of good weather in a place where food is plentiful can be enough to interrupt the travels of migrating doves, and it can sometimes take a sudden drop in temperature or a storm to get them moving again.
While the dove season is timed to coincide with the species’ fall migration, that timing can create some other weather-related challenges for the hunter. Foremost among them is game care, especially for hunters in southern Nevada where daytime temperatures generally remain quite warm well into October.
Imagine, for instance, that you are dove hunting and having a good day. You have bagged eight birds and safely placed them one on top of the other in the game pocket of your hunting vest. As you wait for more birds to fly past your stand in the shade of a mesquite tree, beads of sweat begin rolling down the small of your back. You pull the brim of your hat down low to keep both the sun and the sting of sweat out of your eyes.
Now, picture what is happening to those fully-feathered birds in that pocket of your vest. In that confined area, their natural body heat will take a long time to dissipate. Combine that with the warm air temperature and it won’t be long before those birds aren’t fit to eat.
As with big game, the key to turning game birds into a tasty meal is taking care of them in the field. You want to keep them clean, cool and dry, and can get off to a good start by taking just a few seconds to remove the entrails from a downed game bird before putting it in your vest. That simple step is enough to begin the cooling process, plus it removes a source of bacteria.
If you are lucky enough to hunt in an active agricultural area, you might be able to carry a small cooler to your stand. If so, you can put your birds right on ice. If not, be sure to stop by your vehicle at some point during the morning and get the birds out of your vest. At that point, I recommend breasting the bird before putting them in the cooler. Doing so will remove the insulating feather layer that holds heat in.
The same holds true for other upland game birds like quail or chukar partridge. Some people will breast them as well, but others prefer to use the entire bird. Rather than pluck their feathers, you can skin the birds, a step that takes only a couple of minutes per bird and is less messy. Once the feathers are removed, a bird will cool off quickly and you can put it in a plastic bag before putting it on ice.
For ice, a good option is to freeze your own in a heavy plastic bottle such as those that sports drinks or juice come in. Be sure to leave a gap at the top of the bottle because the ice will expand during the freezing process. If you clean the bottles well before hand, they can be a source of extra drinking water as well as the cold you need to care for your birds. As the ice melts, however, the bottle will keep your birds dry.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at email@example.com