The doves were mostly mournings and a few white-tips and grays thrown in. Doves generally are mutts, I think all the distinct groups can interbreed and they do quite often. This results in quite an array of plumage and makes the birds actually quite beautiful. Doves only require a month from the laying of an egg to having their young flying, so they multiply like mad. The birds will typically lay two eggs in the wild, but I've come across nests with 3 or 4 in environments where nothing hunts the doves. In Philadelphia, for instance, I've seen pigeons and doves which would cup nicely in two hands. Typically the doves lay two eggs and will fit comfortably into a single hand out here.
We were firmly in view of new construction, and I have to say it feels a little bit weird to have BMW SUVs driving past the lot where the cars were parked while I sort out my chokes. We were in suburbia. I got a bit of a kick out of having children watch the show from their windows, I don't know if they were looking on in horror or enjoying seeing a bunch of adults being outsmarted by a bird. But man, the show from the windows would have been great. When you hit a bird, it looks like God used a flyswatter to stop them mid-flight. There's a small poof of feathers, and the bird drops. Sometimes they helicopter down, but for the most part they stop flapping and smash into the ground like World War 2 aircraft. You can almost hear the WRRRRRRRR of the engine as the dead bird comes to terms with the planet.
On the other hand, birds don't generally enjoy being shot at, and after a few minutes all the birds in the area know your game. Anyone who says birds aren't smart needs to go wing-shooting. I've had birds I've been pulling across put on the brakes mid-flight right before I fired. I have a bird see me, change course behind trees, and fly through branches for cover. I even witnessed a bird do a barrel roll around the wadding from the shotgun. Think about that next time you see a pigeon stealing your french-fries: These guys have moves that will make a fighter pilot jealous.
I brought along my Baikal, which is sold as a Remington SPR 310 locally. They're quite a value and usually end up on the "off brand" gun racks despite being just a straight rebrand. If you're looking for a decent, entry level over-under shotgun, they're the ticket. Why over-under? It's like having two shotguns. There was the ever popular Remington 870 in a few different configurations, but I'm in the school of thought that having two different chokes is preferred to having double the ammo. Basically, the choke defines how much spread the pellets have at what distance. Tighter chokes mean the pellets spread out less, looser chokes give more spread. Since doves can be flying any direction, I had my first barrel shooting improved (loose) and the second barrel firing modified (tighter). This particular over-under is typical of many others and has a fire selector. The 870 guys happened to be using modified. It's fine if you're a good shot, but being new to wing-shooting, I preferred having doubles. I think next time I go out, I will probably go for modified followed by full - the doves were smart enough to keep their distance, which is the enemy of a shotgun. If the lead goes 75 yards, it's quite a long shot. Usually by 50, it's done.
Someone always has to show off, our resident hunting specialist who had been doing it since God created doves brought out a krieghoff. The gun is simply beautiful to behold, well balanced, has wonderful wood and fantastic etching. It also comes with a price tag that makes the national debt of any nation look cheap. However, this guy knew what he was doing. He shot modified/full, and when that gun fired, the bird dropped. I don't think he used his second barrel all day. I asked what he was shooting and he said "WalMart #8 Winchesters". Which just goes to show that buying a nice gun and feeding it crap ammo still drops birds with shotguns.
Opinion varied on shot from hand-loading shotshell hulls to special steel magic shot to wal-mart crap. The guy with the most expensive gun was shooting the crap in #8. My buddy with the most birds was hand-loading shells with #7, and had a middle of the road gun. I was using walmart crap on an entry level gun and still hit 9 birds. I will probably do better once I learn to trust the gun and stop leading the birds as much. So long as the bird is touching the ramp in the right direction, the shot will hit. The bead is only for comings and goings. But, out of a set of "winchester crap", I had 9 birds, the other two guys had 7 with the Remington 870s, and the guy with the Krieg had 10. Ammo doesn't seem to play a role as much as the quality of the choke set and gun. Of course, knowing how to aim really helps too. Clays only prepare you so much.
Downing and Retrieval
Most birds mercifully die in mid-flight when they're hit with the Flyswatter of the Gods. These birds are easy to find and it's usually a matter of just watching where they go down, finding a landmark to walk towards behind them, and being cognizant of your location as it relates to everything. Look for feathers pointing to the area the bird went down, usually the shot knocked quite a few pin feathers loose. Fresh feathers are well preened and downy, old feathers look haggard and flat. Usually finding feathers along the final flight path of the bird will point you to the birds location. Birds have a weird tendency to "hang up", so they're not always on the ground. A few times I found a bird resting on top of the grassy tops of the corn. Thankfully hunting over corn means well regulated rows, which are easy to look down.
Part two of that is sometimes the birds don't die in mid-flight. The more maneuverable birds or the worse shots in the group only hit the birds with a single pellet. Unfortunately this results in broken wings at worst. At best, that single pellet penetrates the bird and brings it down. When the birds come down live, it's best to make things quick. Picking up the bird (which is almost always in shock enough that it won't try to resist) and quickly snapping it's neck is the only way to go. Death comes quickly. Like a chicken, a broken neck doesn't always kill the bird immediately. For this situation, I found it's best to cover the birds head until it calms down, then quickly and firmly twist the neck to cut off circulation and breathing. The bird will pass into the good night with only a moment of this and will continue to look like it's sleeping, minus no signs of breathing.
At no time at all is it acceptable to leave a bird downed in the field. Every hunter hopes the bird falls to the earth dead, but sometimes this isn't the case. Just because of this, a good effort needs to be made to always recover the birds. I was fairly angry with the next group over which had rationalized the shooting with "We recover the birds at the end of the day" (last light) which is hard, and then again with "the corn is too hard to push through". I personally fished through a sweetbrier patch for a bird because I knew it went down wounded and wasn't going to let one suffer, it really pisses me off to no end when I'm filled with thorns and these two guys are too lazy to push through corn.
Stories From the Shot
Sometimes things just don't go right. Its considered poor form to shoot birds which aren't in flight. The rule stems directly from the fact that people don't appreciate you shooting all the leaves out of their trees. In these modern times, this rule also became even more important since birds like to land on power lines and other utilities. Unfortunately, the #8 shot I was using left a little less than a quarter of the birds wounded, compared to the #7 which would always down the birds DOA (at the risk of blowing largish holes in them for their size). One of the birds I shot, I saw the tell-tale poof of feathers and the bird stop flapping, which means the bird is probably dead. To my amazement, the bird came back to life after a tumble and landed on a power line. This is the first time, all day, I have seen a bird do this. My guess was that he's either been shot at before and smart enough to play dead, or I wounded him. Unfortunately for him, this was the power line that went right over my little pile of rocks I was using as a stool. I waited, and waited, and waited... I opened the shotgun and reloaded it. I yelled at the bird. I flashed light at it off the barrel. Nothing. This bird was going to sit on this power line until it either died of radiation or a hawk got it. One of the other guys finally said "If you're using #8, you're probably not going to cut the wire". I still walked a bit of ways for good distance to spread the shot out, selected my improved barrel, and fired.
I stood there in disbelief when nothing happened. No poof of feathers, the line didn't move, and the bird was still up there cleaning himself. I was thinking that this was one of those movies when someone is shooting animals and then you find out at the end that it's really Furry Jesus and they try to guilt trip you into joining their church. Sure enough, the gun had gone off, so I lined up, squeezed the trigger again and this time there was an immense poof of feathers, which a bird flew out of, and the power lines were swinging threateningly. I made my peace with God in a short moment as I watched the 220v wire swing back and forth. It didn't come down, but it was certainly scary. Upon examining the bird (now dead), I saw I had cleanly shot his tail feathers off. It looked clean as if someone had taken some scissors and just cut them off an inch after the bird. It was pretty impressive shooting, but its a good example of why it's so terribly important to make sure game is either OK or DOA.
Later that day, more birds had flown in over the corn. The way the birds were playing it was that they flew under the wires through the via created from the brush being cut back and could approach the corn without fear of being bounced by a hawk. The hawks wouldn't try to fly between the power lines, so the birds could enter and exit the field safely. Well, safe as possible, I later took an accidental shot at a hawk which had figured out the game and while I had a clean miss on the hawk, the hawk managed to get the dove as it tried to evade the talons. The birds followed this pattern, and would fly low over the corn, which also protected them from the shot. Another in our party managed to wing a bird, which made an abrupt evasive turn towards the creek.
Going back to the idea that all animals must be retrieved, I offered to help find the evaded dove since I too had shot at it. I was using #8 and knew my shot, he was using handloads of sawdust packed #7. His birds were easy to identify from the color of the wounds against the feathers and the size of the holes. We wandered down to the creek, and through those gnarled briers with their fragrant rose-hips. One of the sorriest sights is a bird down in the thorns, so I wanted to find this one. We split up, he wanted to walk along the water and over the rocks - away from the brush - and I was going to follow a hunch. Sure enough, I happened upon the bird on the ground, dead, but it had made it completely under the knot and took me a bit to work the branches apart. Once I had gotten the bird out, I heard yelling from up the creek followed by a blast. It sounded remarkably like a late Nirvana song, which wasn't good. Walking up the bank, I happen across the other hunter, scrambling up the bank himself. He pointed to a marred part of his boot. Apparently, in the search for the bird, he walked up the creek and stepped on a water snake. The snake, not being happy about this, turned around and bit him right on the steel-toed boot. The shotgun blast was him trying to shoot the snake. I'm not sure who ruined the boot more: The snakebite or him trying to shoot his toes off. I'm sure up in heaven flying around with his new wings, there is a dove laughing at the silly people down there with the boomsticks who can see doves against the sky, but occasionally forget to look down on the rest of nature.
I think the snake was put up to it, personally.
Doves in the Pan, Doves in the Oven
Doves can be used in substitute for chicken in many recipes, and they enjoy the distinction of being both dark and light meat. The lighter meat is central to the breast, the darker meat is over that as the flight muscles. Cleaning them is simple: Pull off the head, slip a finger in the crop (neck), feel under the breastbone and push your thumb in and pull apart. The breast will come out cleanly on the wishbone and the skin should pull off. The dove looks a lot like a chicken breast. Because doves are fairly fit, there's little point in eating the wings or legs, those can be discarded and what little meat is on them should have come out with the breast.
I suggest boiling the birds twice: The first boil is in heavily salted water and will get the blood out. Throw the salt into the water (give a shaker a shake for each dove in the pot) with enough to cover the birds and bring to a boil. Discard the water when it finally comes to a boil, it should be fairly cloudy. Cover the doves again in lightly seasoned water (traditional bird seasoning is salt, pepper, and some rosemary sprigs). Boil again until the doves are soft to the fork. Finally fry the doves lightly in butter enough to brown the side. Maybe a squeeze of lemon across them all. Be careful of shot still in the birds, but each side of the breast should freely come off the bone for a morsel. Wild bird is a delight to have, and is a feast for the senses in taste, smell, and the beauty of the feathers.