The end of summer is marked by more than just tax-free weekends and last-minute family trips before the dreaded school bell awakens after a three-month slumber. Empty – or rapidly thinning – game-freezers remind Lowcountry outdoorsmen that hunting season is on the horizon. Some are not so willing to offer to cook burgers for friends and family as they once were in late winter or early spring. The deer tenderloins and backstraps are long gone, and the venison jalapeno and cheddar snack sticks are reserved for a select few.
While some spent Labor Day weekend in the wedding chapel or grilling with the family, many Lowcountry sportsmen gathered at a hunting lodge, tractor shed or on a logging road, discussing where they will sit on a field of sunflowers or browntop millet for the opening day of dove season. Some sat idly in the heat awaiting that first bird while sipping bottled water and scanning the horizon, while others worked on shooting their limit “inside the box,” or within 25 shells, which is a badge of honor among wing shooters.
Those that sat on a productive field – and had properly knocked the rust off of their shooting skills during the off-season – proudly displayed their harvest on the tailgate of their truck or SUV, while drinking an ice cold beverage awaiting their fellow hunters to re-join them at the meeting spot. Some came back with big smiles, spent shells and full game pouches, while others were sunburned and empty-handed, or quickly offered their small harvests to other hunters to add to their bags. Cold drinks flowed as did the tall tales of the expert shooting skills required that day to harvest those little grey-winged acrobats.
Recipe-swapping is not the normal topic of conversation at the local watering hole or tailgate, but it is commonplace post-dove hunt. Dove poppers are a favorite, consisting of small dove breasts sprinkled with salt and pepper or a favorite secret spice, filled with cheese and jalapeno, wrapped in bacon and cooked to perfection. Debates over marinating, types of cheeses, rubs and grilling or baking techniques circulate among the crowd, with the occasional mention of a purlieu or bog-type recipe where those little dark meat breasts will accompany rice and sausage. Regardless of the recipe, one thing is for certain, the small size of the dove breasts requires several birds for a satisfying meal.
One dove recipe sets itself apart from the rest for the crowd-pleasing sportsman. The recipe can be found in the classic cookbook “300 Years of Carolina Cooking.” Serve them atop a bed of wild rice with a side of fresh okra and be prepared for the compliments and a well-deserved nap.
White-tailed deer season overlaps dove season (which comes and goes from September through January) and stays until New Year’s Day, except for some youth days designated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Unlike many states, South Carolina experiences approximately four-and-a-half months of hunting, though refer to the SCDNR Big Game Rules and Regulations for specific local and state laws, dates and restrictions. Deer harvests are highly regulated to preserve the white-tailed deer population. Hunters enjoy a variety of hunting techniques, which employ a range of skills, equipment and preparation, all focused on preserving the quality of the meat when harvested.
Local wild game processors are busy from August through December filling orders and providing a plethora of prepared venison such as burgers, sausages, whole or butterflied tenderloins and backstraps, cube steaks, smoked hams and many other fine delicacies. There are those with the skill, time, desire and equipment to process their own harvests. Many find it quite satisfying in closing the circle of scouting, hunting, harvesting and processing their own deer.
Recently, we prepared one of our last venison tenderloins for guests. The recipe for the bacon-wrapped venison tenderloin was simple, but most enjoyable.
Many fine venison recipes can be found at the Quality Deer Management Association’s website, QDMA.com, as well as in “300 Years of Carolina Cooking.” Hunting during the fall and winter in the Lowcountry offers a wide variety of small and big game options for the sporting enthusiast: dove, quail, deer, duck and alligator are just a few.
For more information on South Carolina hunting options and rules and regulations, please visit dnr.sc.gov.
Happy (and safe) hunting, and fine dining!
300 Years of Carolina CookingDoves
- 6-12 doves
- Olive oil
- Dry mustard
- Curry powder
- Celery salt
- Garlic salt
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Juice of 2 oranges
- Juice of 1 lemon
Grease doves well in olive oil. Sprinkle with curry powder, dry mustard, celery salt, garlic salt and pepper. Place in Dutch oven, add a little water and cover. Cook in preheated oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours at 250F. Add Worcestershire sauce, orange juice and lemon juice. Cook for 15 minutes or longer until they are tender.
Recipe provided by Mrs. L. Jerome Alexandre (Margot Edwards).
Published by The Junior League of Greenville, 1970.
Bacon-Wrapped Venison Tenderloin
- 1 venison tenderloin
- Moore’s Marinade
- Black pepper
- South African smoked paprika
- Sea salt
- 10 thin slices bacon
Marinate the tenderloin in Moore’s Marinade for 30 minutes. While marinating, preheat pellet smoker or conventional oven to 375F. Coat meat with spices to taste. Wrap seasoned tenderloin in bacon, looping them along the entire tenderloin. Cook until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 135F to 140F and the bacon is crisp. Remove and let rest before slicing into ½ inch – ¾” inch-thick medallions.
Serve atop Caesar salad.
By Michael Cochran1