Monday, September 8, 2008

The perfect end to an imperfect dove hunt

Boyfriend and I finally went dove hunting on Sunday. We’d been so busy on opening day last week (check out Boyfriend’s story about preparing a feast for 40-50 of Michael Riddle’s guests at Native Hunt) that we didn’t get around to hunting at all that day.

This weekend, though, we would make up for it. Only not in the way we expected.

The plan was to meet our friend Evan at his dad’s cattle ranch up in Amador County around 5 p.m. We would stake out a spring – a blessed water source in an arid land – and wait for the doves to come in for an evening drink.

Boyfriend and I knew it was a bad sign when we didn’t see a single dove on our way to Amador. Even worse, when we got out of our trucks, Evan discovered a problem with his gun: He couldn’t load it.

“I’ll just hang out,” he said resignedly, cursing the gunsmith who had apparently made a problem worse, not better.

Hmm, not a good start. We took our positions around the spring and waited.

And waited and waited. The action was exactly as we expected: nil. Unless you count blackbirds and killdeer, of which there were plenty. And, oh yeah, cattle.

I’d been sitting for a while with my back pressed against a thorny blackberry bush (I know – fun!) when I noticed a couple cows heading down a trail toward Boyfriend.

It was like a very, very slow-motion standoff. Boyfriend stared off into the distance looking for doves. The cows stared at him. I stared at the cows. None of us moved.


Oh for the love of Pete. It had flown practically right over me. I noticed it as it just zipped out of my range. It dropped down for a landing in the grass near Evan’s hangout.


Guess he fixed the gun.

And good thing, because that was literally the only dove that flew near us for the whole evening.

I’m starting my third season as a hunter and I’ve never brought home a dove. I think I hit one last year, but I never did find it, so I can’t be sure. I was really hoping to bring one home this night, but it didn’t look like that would be in the cards.

Far be it from Evan, though, not to show us a good time. We changed locations, moving to a spot on the ranch with a barn and corral. No doves there, but there were plenty of cottontails and barn pigeons, and if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that Boyfriend and I can and will eat anything.

So, we had at it, and by the time we were done, we had two cottontails (my first rabbit!), two pigeons and Evan’s dove.

Now here comes my favorite part. When you’ve got all those critters in your ice chest, that means you’ve got some work to do when you get home.

We started with the rabbits in the house. When they were done, I put the birds in a plastic bag and took them out on the back porch to do some plucking, and that’s when my friend Harlequin, the beautiful neighborhood huntress, showed up.

You may remember Harlequin from this spring, when we watched as she nearly caught an unsuspecting sparrow before our very eyes. Since then, we’ve watched her hunt voraciously: voles, sparrows even a hummingbird that she ate whole.

So, yeah, she loves birds. And I love watching her hunt them, because it gives me that little feeling of kinship that I’ve shared with other predators since I started hunting.

Harlequin immediately knew something was up. She started purring and rubbing up against me ecstatically. I set the bag down on the porch for a fraction of a second, and before you know it, she’d reached in, grabbed the dove and trotted off across the lawn with it.

“Hey!” I yelled at her.

She was not concerned with me anymore.

I chased after her. Pounced. Missed. Pounced. Missed. Pounced.

Got her! I extracted the dove from her jaws, feeling like I was training a lab puppy for duck season.

I went back to plucking, but she was just going nuts. She wanted some.

“OK, OK,” I said, tossing her a pigeon wing.

She batted it around for a bit and came back to the growing bag of feathers. She wanted more. Something of quality.

How could I refuse her? I grabbed the scissors, cut off a pigeon’s head and tossed it to her. Hell, I wouldn’t be needing it.

Harlequin grabbed it, dragged it to the lawn and happily settled in.

Peace at last!

So there we sat under the yellow glare of the porch light, enjoying the silent camaraderie that hunters share. The only sounds you could hear were me plucking, and Harlequin gnawing vigorously on the bird skull.

So what if I didn’t get a dove. It was a perfect end to a perfectly fun day.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Live to Hunt.... said...

OMG Holly, that is hysterical! I'm curious how the rabbits looked/smelled when they were cleaned. My dad always said that you shouldn't eat them before the first frost. Something about fleas or bacteria or something like that. Could be a wives' tale. Anyone ever heard of that?? Great post.

NorCal Cazadora said...

These rabbits were in great shape.

From what I've heard, there are two things to worry about: 1) Tularemia. You can get it from handling them, which is why we always wear gloves. You can tell they have it if they have white stripes on their liver, I think. We've never seen it. And 2) bot flies. Jacks apparently get botfly - something horses get too. It looks, I'm told, like a boil. you cut away the affected area and it's fine - it's not a disease, just an insect.

I probably got half that wrong, but that's what Boyfriend's always told me about wild rabbits - I'll ask him to come back and correct me if I've botched it.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Botflies are nasty. I've seen what they can do to a mouse and it isn't pretty. I also had a relative come home with one from a South American country. That wasn't pretty either.

Anyway, this post was awesome. I enjoyed every word of it.

Phillip said...

Great story about making something out of nothing, but my favorite part of the whole thing...?

Scrolling down after reading the part about how you and Hank will eat "anything", and seeing the picture of the cat!

Hmm.. maybe it's just me, but that cracked me up.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ha! Never thought about that. I could definitely eat cat in general. And horse. And dog. If you eat meat, you eat meat.

But eat my kitties? No way. Who would be left to wake me up by nibbling on my feet in the morning?

Yeah, I definitely draw the line at pets. That's why that Hogzilla story was so sad - that pig was someone's PET!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun hunt. I think the story about the cat when you got home is my favorite though. We all think our kitties are so sweet and docile and they're really waiting to pounce on birds. Just goes to show that you can't go by appearances.

ironman said...

next year you need to come back to the central valley Holly, I limited out by 10:00 am opening morning and twice since in the evenings. any old ditch bank will do around here!!!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Damn. It's a shame dove season will be over by the time I get down there for the O.H.S reunion. I don't suppose anything else will be in season... Wait! Bunnies!

Tom Sorenson said...

We've always hunted doves by walking through fields with lots of thistles and dry weeds - see a lot of them that way, but I've never been much of a shot when it comes to doves, so I usually have a grand ol' time wasting shells...then I reap the benefit of eating what everyone else shoots!

ironman said...

Mountain Quail will be open as of 9 /13. up near the park there were lots last year. I would love to see what the bf would do with a covey of those big beaut's

Native said...

Yes Holly!
And you saw all those Mt. Quail at the Jolon Ranch just waiting for you and Hank to get to!

I once had a sweet little Manx which turned into a ravenous beast when I brought my Wild Turkey kill home.
Unfortunately, she somehow snuck and carted away the 10" beard that I was so proud of and ate it into little pieces, I was quite angry but, my fault for not having put it completely out of her reach!

kindred spirit said...

Okay Holly, in several spots you ask people to voice their differences of opinion, so, at the risk of stepping on toes ...
It is widely regarded by the scientific and ornitholgic community that domestic cats are serious threats to birds throughout the country.
Cats are natural hunters and nature should be allowed to run iots course, but the species in North America did not evolve alongside anything like the domestic cat and therefore are ill-equipped to deal with the massive predation that goes along with the presence of outdoor and feral cats. The domestic cat lives in much higher densities than native predators, and thus put much more strain on bird populations than say, foxes, bobcats, mink, etc. etc.
Take this example: Here on the NC coast, feral cat colonies are quite commonplace. In the little town of Emerald Isle, the local pro-cat group(take care of the colonies by putting out food, vaccinating, spay/neuter etc. etc.)called Island Cat Allies estimates between 100 and 300 feral cats living at the end of Bogue Banks (a barrier island). Let's be conservative and assume there are 100 cats. Let's be conservative again and assume that each of those cats kills and eats one bird per day (some kill fewer, some kill more). Over the course of a year, in the little town of Emerald Isle, around 36,500 birds are killed and eaten by outdoor cats. Most of these will be neotropical migrants in the spring and fall and these are some of the most threatened species on earth.
My long, roundabout point is, cat owners (including me) would be doing the environment a big favor by keeping their cats indoors. Train your next kitten to be an indoor cat. They live longer and have fewer health problems and, as a bonus, they don't decimate the local quail population or munch the birds you are luring into the backyard with seeds and sugar water.
Here comes the argument that cats are born hunters and to keep them from doing so is cruel. I'm ready. Fire away.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, I'm a big fan of keeping cats indoors - keeps them safer and healthier too.

But Harlequin doesn't belong to us - she is the neighbors' cat. It's just that she has decided she owns our yard. Mercifully, the neighbors had her spayed, which is more than they do for most of their cats. They like keeping a huge colony to eat the rodents in their enormous garden. I think they have about two litters a year there. Yikes. LOTS of borderline ferals in our neighborhood.

Harlequin's sister, Giblet, and Boyfriend's cat Paka, are already indoor-only cats, and they stick to stalking spiders, flies and my toes when I wiggle them under the covers.

And thanks for commenting - all opinions, when expressed civilly, are welcome here, whether I agree or not.


kindred spirit said...

How can I argue with that? My apologies for assuming too much from your original blog entry.


NorCal Cazadora said...

No worries! None of my opinions on the matter were really evident in this post.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oops, none WAS evident. Must watch my grammar!

Native said...

Ditto for me as well, Sasha was also an indoor and spayed Manx kitty.
Just couldn't get completely rid of that enormous prey drive she had deeply embedded within her genetic make up.

I also agree that there are way too many feral cats which are currently decimating the song bird populations in certain areas.
Luckily, most Californians have become aware of this in the past decade or so and, have made admirable efforts to decrease the feral cat populations. We have succeeded in many areas which were once thick with these feral animals and statistics have shown that the songbird populations have made a nice comeback.

Awareness, is the key to success!

Brandon Darnell said...

Isn't it amazing how animals who can't fly can still hunt those who can? Even my sister's dog caught a bird and ate it whole (to my mother's horror). My dog used to be a fantastic huntress of rats, but she has grown old and hasn't the eyesight or the energy for the hunt.

Brenda said...

Great story! My favorite was with the cat but that's probably because I've seen my kitty hunting so many times that I could really picture her response to birds in a bag

Ortega said...

Love the kitty camaraderie! I've been waiting for the follow up blog - Boyfriend's reaction to you squandering a pigeon head. I was thinking he must have a recipe for pigeon head sausage or beak consomme which is now lacking a key ingredient...

Love your blog (boyfriend's too)!

NorCal Cazadora said...

He didn't have any such recipes. Until YOU said something. Now he's working on it. Thanks!

Seriously, though, I'm surprised I didn't get guff for tossing the feet. He usually uses duck and pheasant feet to make broth - it really adds depth, and yes, you get to take them out before you consume the broth. (I tried chicken feet at a dim sum place one time, and while I'm normally very adventurous, I found them to be truly revolting.)