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Of dove hunting and good eats: The communal aspect of opening day for doves at Illinois’ public sites

The communal gathering part of opening day at Illinois’ public sites may be just as important as the dove hunting itself.

The long tunnel through the corn on the way back from the field after opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park. Credit: Dale Bowman
The long tunnel through the corn on the way back from the field after opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park.
Dale Bowman

OGLESBY, Ill.—On a picnic table in the shade, while waiting for dove hunting to begin at Matthiessen State Park Wednesday, Abel Oceguera Sr. grilled thinly sliced skirt steak and warmed bean tacos for family and relatives.

Long-time readers can guess what I did. That’s right, I introduced myself.

Dove hunting in Illinois opened Wednesday. At the draws for public sites, it’s a communal gathering.

Oceguera said they have been doing this for 20 years. Some years at Matthiessen, sometimes at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area or Big Bend State Fish and Wildlife Area.

“When we come here, we do something, it’s a long day,” Oceguera said.

At public sites in the opening days, dove hunting is by draw at numbered stakes in a field, usually of sunflowers, from noon to 5 p.m.

Oceguera insisted I take a smoking hot bean taco. After opening it, he slipped steak off the grill on it, then dressed it with spicy salsa. He offered jalapeno peppers and peppers even hotter. I took a pass. I took a second taco when he insisted.

Considering his culinary skills, I asked how he prepared doves. He does the traditional grilling or deep fry. Most hunters I know do some version of grilling dove breasts wrapped in bacon, sometimes with a cream cheese filling and/or jalapeno slices.

Then he caught me by surprise and said, “We do the whole bird.”

Yes, he meant that they cleaned the whole bird. Nearly all other hunters breast out doves.

When I asked what he does with the tiny legs and wings, he said they deep fry the whole bird to a crisp and “crunch the bones and all.”

Learn something everyday.

Abel Ocequera Sr. grilled skirt steak and bean tacos on opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park. Credit: Dale Bowman
Abel Oceguera Sr. grilled skirt steak and bean tacos on opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park.
Dale Bowman

Their group did well at the draw. Two pairs drew second and third. When I drew in the middle, only one stake was left in Field 3, the best one, so I took an end stake at Field 4.

It was a good long hike, but my stake was on the south side, so the northerly winds kept me cool all day. I see why Matthiessen is generally a top public dove spot in Illinois. The sunflowers were near perfect and doves flew all afternoon.

I shot like, well, not very good.

Field 3 sounded like a war zone. Austan Goolsbee, a faithful reader I ran into at the draw, tweeted after taking a limit there, “It was amazing! It can’t always be like that, can it? In the bucket there were loads of people limited out.”

Harvest reporting cards are dropped in a bucket at each field.

Field 4 produced a few limits, but not by me. All the same, an afternoon enjoyed. I heard sandhill cranes krooing several times and a pheasant crowing once. Goldfinches flashed in the sun.

In the final hour, my shooting improved slightly, in time for groups to flutter in to feed in the sunflowers.

Birds flew thick at 5 p.m. and after.

It was time.

After signing out, for a righteous ending, I crossed the road, then climbed Starved Rock, where Karyn and I were married.

Click here for an opening-day recap of area sites and some Downstate ones.

The fields were largely in good shape for opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park. Credit: Dale Bowman
The fields were largely in good shape for opening day of dove hunting at Matthiessen State Park.
Dale Bowman