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Labor Day Whitewing Hunt! What Do I Do With These Birds?

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Well, it’s Labor Day weekend in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. That means that the Deerslayer (Doveslayer) family has come from far and wide to hunt whitewing doves. It’s an annual event that has taken place for as many years as I’ve been a part of the family. As you all know, the gathering of family is as important as the actual hunt. The younger generation that, as kids, used to play around, gut and pluck birds, and get some lessons in shooting, have become the next generation of hunters and are adults now. It’s hard to believe. I have pictures that show tiny little hands plucking and gutting birds back in the day.

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The little girls thought that smiley faces in dove blood were funny. Ick! Now these young ladies are 19 and 21 years old! Seems like yesterday.

This year it looked like the Labor Day hunt would be washed out. It’s not unusual to get heavy rain around this time of year and inches of rain that had already fallen with more on the way could’ve made it impossible for the hunters to walk through the fields. Strong winds might’ve sent the birds out of the area all together.

Patience paid off, however. Even though it was a muddy mess, the hunt took place. There would be birds to put in the freezer.

Processing the birds takes some care but is definitely worth the effort. First, it’s worth plucking the birds rather than peeling off the skin. In the moment, after a hard and muddy day of hunting, peeling seems like the easiest way to go. The skin, however, provides a protective layer that prevents freezer burn and results in moister meat when cooked. You won’t regret it.

This is purely optional but we absolutely love the giblets (hearts, livers, and gizzards) and always set them aside to save in a plastic zipper top bag. They are always thrown into a batch of Special Occasion Whitewing with Gravy as a special treat.

Packaging and Freezing Birds

After many years of packaging and freezing birds, Deerslayer (doveslayer) and I have come up with a method that not only protects the birds from freezer burn, but also allows them to be stored and stacked in the freezer to make the best use of space.

Rubbermaid makes a 6×10 container that will hold 12 birds and giblets.  I like this size because it fits nicely in the freezer and because 2-3 birds per person is just about right for our family. The plastic bag of giblets is rolled and nestled along one side, among the birds. The next larger size of container, 9×13, will hold about 18 birds.

First, place the birds in the container and freeze for several hours.  Then, add enough water to fill the container up about an inch.  The reason for this is that the birds will float if too much water is added at once.  Return the container to the freezer.  After water has frozen, top off with enough water to cover birds and return to freezer.

bird hunt 9-14 026

 After the birds are covered with ice, place lid on them, label the package with the number of birds and the date.  The containers can then be stacked.

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Generally my OCD wouldn’t allow for a messy label such as this. However, we had a ton of the free address labels that come in the mail. I took advantage. Don’t judge. It won’t happen again. It’s really freakin’ me out!

When you’re ready to cook up a batch of birds, either Special Occasion Whitewing Doves with Gravy, or Dove Breast Crostini, or Dove Ravioli in Browned Butter, or whatever your favorite recipe is, simply allow the container of birds to thaw in the sink until all the ice is completely melted, pouring off water as it melts. Pat the birds dry before browning.

Be pleased knowing that your priceless whitewing will be preserved for your special occasions.

 

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No, I Didn’t forget Whitewing Season!

I know my readers are thinking, “What the heck?  Where’s the post heralding the beginning of Bird Season?”

 Well, fear not!  Bird Season was celebrated with much hoop-la down in these parts.  The sporting goods stores were packed to the gills with hunters, feverishly purchasing all things camo, shotgun shells, decoys and, this year, mud boots.  A tropical disturbance dumped a butt-load of rain in these parts, making the fields almost impenetrable.  Up until the opening day, no one was really sure whether or not the hunts would even take place.

We watched forecasts  with trepidation.  Members of the Deerslayer clan and close friends were scheduled to arrive from far and wide for two days of hunting.  Parts of South Texas received several inches of rain while other parts (just down the road) had considerably less.  Luckily, with mud boots all ’round, the hunt took place.  Birds were plucked and gutted.  Beer was drunk. The traditional meal of whitewing  with rice and peas was served.

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Is it gross that the junior doveslayers thought it was funny to make smiley faces on their hands while they plucked and gutted birds?

 

Plucking and gutting whitewing is a long, tedious, hot, and steamy task in South Texas.  It’s a task that is taught to junior doveslayers for obvious reasons.

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This is a small sample of the birds that had to be cleaned, packaged and frozen.

Packaging and Freezing Birds

After many years of packaging and freezing birds, Deerslayer (doveslayer) and I have come up with a method that not only protects the birds from freezer burn, but also allows them to be stored and stacked in the freezer to make the best use of space.

Rubbermaid makes a 6×10 container that will hold 12 birds and giblets.  I like this size because it fits nicely in the freezer and because 2-3 birds per person is just about right for our family.  The next larger size of container, 9×13, will hold about 18 birds.

First, place the birds in the container and freeze for several hours.  Then, add enough water to fill container up about an inch.  The reason for this is that the birds will float if too much water is added at once.  Return the container to the freezer.  After water has frozen, top off with enough water to cover birds and return to freezer.

bird hunt 9-14 026

 After birds are covered with ice, place lid on them, label the package with number of birds and the date.  The containers can then be stacked.

bird hunt 9-14 023

Generally my OCD wouldn’t allow for a messy label such as this. However, we had a ton of the free address labels that come in the mail. I took advantage. Don’t judge. It won’t happen again. It’s really freakin’ me out!

 Freezing and Reheating Cooked Birds

Each year, Deerslayer’s uncle flies down for the hunt from Colorado.  As a special treat, I make up a batch of whitewing doves and gravy for him to take back home.  After the birds are cooked and are quite tender, I remove them from the gravy and allow them to cool somewhat.  I place them in a Rubbermaid 6×10 container.  After the gravy has also cooled, I pour it into a zip-lock bag and place it into the Rubbermaid container too.  I attach the lid and freeze the whole lot.  Wrapped in newspaper and placed in a zippered, insulated bag, the birds have always made it to Colorado just fine.

To prepare the frozen birds, thaw them out along with the gravy packet.  In a cast iron skillet, pour in the coagulated gravy.  Turn heat to medium, add a little chicken stock and stir with a whisk until smooth and hot.  Add birds.  Continue to heat with a lid on until birds are heated through and gravy bubbles happily.

 

 
 

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