Hunting season begins at different times for different people.
For some that’s Saturday of the 9-day gun deer season, while for others it’s the start of pheasant, grouse, duck, or bow. And for many NWTF members, it’s not really hunting season until their turkey permit says so.
While these may be openers for traditionalists, a host of migratory gamebird seasons begins September 1. These seasons give hunters additional opportunities. And surveys show that hunter opportunity is key in a world of plummeting license sales, where only enhanced recruitment, retention, and reactivation can save the day.
Mourning doves, teal, and Canada geese—the legal species that open on September 1—may seek out different habitats and may carry with them different hunting strategies and regulations. But these gamebirds, which are largely local-raised and young-of-the-year, have one thing in common: they make for great eating.
Another unique opportunity that presents itself during the warm, waning days of summer is fresh garden produce. Ripe tomatoes and piquant peppers. Crispy green and wax beans. Sweet corn. Fresh herbs. And then there are apples, pears, raspberries, and blackberries waiting to be made into pies, cobblers, and sauces.
As with many things in life, the motto “simplest is best” also applies to game cooking. For teal and mourning doves, that means a quick plucking or breasting followed by a one-hour soak in cold salted water to draw out the blood and shot.
After soaking, drain and dry the birds, put a clove of garlic and some herbs in the cavity, brush with your favorite oil (I like olive or grapeseed), salt and pepper liberally inside and out. Let them sit for an hour and they’re ready for a hot charcoal or gas grill. Three minutes per side will do for doves. Allow five or six for teal. The birds are done when the outside is nice and brown and the legs begin to break loose from the body; allow half this amount of time for breasted birds.
The meat of Canada goose is dark and rich, closer to steak than fowl, and is best breasted. (Save the legs for a soup or stew.) Because geese can be tough, give the breast a longer soak (2 to 4 hours) in your favorite marinade. Teriyaki sauce, Italian or Greek salad dressing, or a 4-to-1 mixture of red wine and oil enhanced with your favorite seasoning all work well. More time is required on the grill, about 10 minutes per side.
Leave your birds pink and juicy in the middle. Gamebirds, like steak, are best when rare or medium. Serve them with a simple green—or tomato-basil—salad, fresh sweet corn, and crusty bread.
Chill your favorite summer beverage and enjoy the fruits of your early-season hunt!