You know, our vegetarian readers yank their computer cords out of the wall, sanitize their keyboards and monitors, and write their congressmen when we get a question like this. Even some of our omnivorous readers may not enjoy the following answer, and we’re thinking of taking tomorrow off to recuperate. But here goes….
In warm weather, the birds should be gutted right after they’re shot. You should have a cooler filled with ice to store the birds as soon as they’re gutted. Plucking can wait till the end of the day, but you’ll find the feathers come out more easily while the birds are still warm. Pigeons and doves do not need hanging, but as with all game, will become more tender with a little aging. If you choose to do this, store them in a refrigerator, unplucked, for a couple of days.
Removing the innards essentially takes care of the blood, unless the flesh is saturated around the shot. If that is the case, once the bird has been dressed, you can soak it in milk or a solution of 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of baking soda for an hour. Rinse the meat thoroughly after soaking.
If the skin has been badly shot up, it may tear when you pluck the bird and you may wind up skinning it instead. That saves time, but the skin helps keep the meat from drying out as it cooks. There are dry and wet plucking methods. With such small birds, start with the dry method and move to the wet if you need to. In the dry method, you pluck the feathers, a few at a time, in the direction in which they grow. Start at the breast and move toward the neck. They turn the bird around and start plucking away from you toward the tail feathers. Turn the bird breast down and pluck the back and wings. After plucking, you may need to singe the bird over a gas flame to burn off any remaining downy feathers or hair.
In the wet plucking method, wet the bird thoroughly under running water, then dip it several times in simmering water (not hotter than 180°F; 80°C). The body feathers should come off easily as you rub them with your thumb. If they don’t, dip the bird in the hot water again.
Generally, the head and feet are removed after the bird is plucked. Examine the bird to find any shot lodged in the flesh, or any bits of feathers that were driven in by the shot. Because much of the meat on such a small bird is translucent, you should be able to hold it up to a light and see any embedded shot. Remove this with tweezers or a sharp knife, if necessary. Make sure the inside of the bird is clean, and dry it with paper towels.