In North America, the mourning dove is the most-hunted migratory game bird, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To prepare a dove for the table, you must clean and dress it in a manner that preserves the edible meat on the carcass. Even if you've never handled a bird carcass before, you can fearlessly clean a dove in less than 30 minutes.
Pluck the feathers immediately surrounding the vent, located at the base of the dove's tail between its legs. Make a cut from the vent to the ribcage using a sharp thin knife or shears. Pull out the dove's entrails, lungs and other parts in the body cavity.
Cut a small opening up the base of the dove's neck to remove the windpipe and crop. The crop is a small pouch just below the dove's throat. Removing the crop allows air to circulate through the body cavity, expediting cooling.
Wipe the body cavity clean with paper towels to remove any blood and entrail bits.
Pluck the feathers off the dove. Grasp a few at a time, near their bases, and tug in the direction of growth. Repeat this process until no feathers remain on the skin. Use a lighter or matches to singe off any fuzz and smaller feathers. If you would like to skin your dove, skip this step.
Slice through the ribs and up to the wing joints to free the breast of the dove. Pull the breast directly up and then cut it off the dove's body completely. Skip this step if you would like to cook your dove whole and if you would like to skin the dove.
Cut off the wings of the dove. Leave only the bone before the first joint on either side. Cut off the feet at the bottom of the drumsticks.
Insert your fingers in the slit used to remove the windpipe and tear the dove's skin in half, down the breast and to the vent. Peel the skin off the breast, drumsticks, wing joints and back, in that order. This should leave the skin attached only at the base of the dove's head.
Chop the dove's head off, making the cut below where the skin is attached.
Place the bird over ice until you get home if you are in the field. Resist the urge to place the bird in a bag, as this will quickly spoil the meat. If you are at home, place the plucked, breasted or skinned dove in a sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate or freeze the doves until you are ready to cook them.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Dove Hunting and Baiting
- Field and Stream: To Dress a Dove
- Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove; Thomas S. Baskett et al.
- The Great Outdoorsman Cookbook: How We Catch It and How We Cook It; Jimmy Holt
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Game from Farm to Table
- Dove breasts are flavorful when wrapped in bacon and cooked on the grill. If you want to cook a whole dove, try it roasted in the oven smothered with a blend of lemon juice, water, flour, Worcestershire sauce and your favorite seasonings.
- Some states require each bird carcass you remove from the field to have its head or wings attached for identification purposes. Check local regulations and work around these requirements when field dressing your doves.
- To dispose of remains, seal them in a plastic bag on the field and place them in the trash.
- Cook the dove to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
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