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Game Birds
Field Dressing to Freezer

Ducks take flight If you're an avid bird hunter like I am, you have tramped through your share of fields, briars, and sloughs, and cleaned your share of wildfowl. Chances are also pretty good that you have seen a few game birds ruined before they reached the table.

Two classic examples of mishandling are the hunter who stacks his limit of birds together in the closed trunk of a car on a hot day or carries several birds in a hot, rubber-lined game pocket, leaving the birds to "cook" and perhaps spoil by the day's end. Such practices guarantee noticeable changes in the quality of your table fare—all bad.

Fortunately, a modest dash of common sense is all that's required to properly care for any game bird. First, cool the body heat from the birds as quickly as possible and keep that temperature down until the birds are cleaned. Field dressing is relatively simple and doesn't take long. Pull out the feathers from below the breast bone to the anal opening. Then make a cut through the skin and muscle starting below the breast bone, continuing down to the anal opening. Reach in and remove the internal organs, pulling down toward the anal opening. Be sure to take out the windpipe and crop.

Some hunters prefer to pack the empty cavity with dry grass to absorb blood and prevent flies from crawling into the body cavity during warm weather.

Next, we examine the controversial question of whether to hang the birds in a shady nook for a couple of days or so to properly age. I tend to agree with an old hunting buddy of mine who maintains that, "Hanging should be reserved for horse thieves." In the past, hanging game birds to age and tenderize them was a traditional "must". The practice stemmed from lack of refrigeration and liberal limits. I'm sure I would have advocated the use of the aging process during that era if I had faced plucking and cleaning a score or more of grouse and ducks after a day's hunt. Most of the game birds shot by scatter gunners are juveniles or birds of the year and not tough old birds, as many believe. The aging process might have some merit for slightly tenderizing some of the "old-timers" we occasionally bring home, but I've been unable to detect any difference.

A second area of controversy centers around whether to skin or pluck a game bird.

I prefer to dry pluck my birds. Granted, it's faster to skin a game bird than it is to pluck it, but did you ever buy a skinned chicken? When you remove the skin, the fat and much of the flavor go with it. However some birds such as a mature sage grouse "bomber" or some types of waterfowl are more palatable when skinned.

Pluck the game as soon as possible after field dressing. The feathers will come out faster with less chance of tearing the skin. Hold the bird's back firmly with one hand and start picking feathers in the chest region. Pull the feathers toward the head with fast, deliberate jerks to avoid tearing the skin. When you finish the underside of the bird, start on the back and proceed to the legs and neck. The hardest part of the plucking operation is removing wing feathers. If the game bird is in the "small" category, simply cut the wing off flush with the bird's body, using a pair of pruning shears. Also use the shears to cut off the legs and wings at the joints. Finally, remove the head and terminal end of the bird's body.

Singe off remaining pinfeathers over a camp stove or with "farmer" matches. Don't make the mistake of singeing them over your gas burners inside the house—the odor of burnt feathers lingers for a long time.

Rinse the birds in cold water to remove blood clots and fragmentary organs such as lungs and kidneys not properly removed in the field dressing operation. Wipe the birds inside and out with a paper towel before freezing.

Although transparent plastic bags are probably the easiest way to package a game bird for freezing, I prefer to freeze my birds in water to prevent freezer burn. A pheasant or mallard just fits a half gallon milk carton. Put the birds in first, cover with cold water and quick freeze them. Label the package with a marking pencil to identify the kind of bird and the packaging date.

It pays to treat your game birds properly in this day and age. They're well worth it! Not only will they taste better, but if you want to look at the cold economics, just add up the costs of your bird hunting trips for the past season. The price of each bird which ends up on your dining table might be a real persuader to taking better care of your game birds.—Ken Walcheck


1 sage grouse or 2 sharptails
1 tablespoon instant minced onion
1 cup catsup
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard

Combine all ingredients, except grouse, and heat. Prepare cooking bag according to manufacturer's instructions. Place whole grouse in bag and pour in sauce. Puncture bag. Bake in 350° oven 11/2 hours. Split cooking bag. Baste and cook another 1/2 hour.

For a low calorie sauce, substitute Sugar Twin Brown Sugar for the regular brown sugar.



2 grouse
flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup fat
1 cup milk or light cream
2 teaspoons onion flakes
2 teaspoons diced carrots
sour cream

Cut the grouse into serving pieces. Roll in the flour. Brown pieces slowly in a large skillet in the hot fat.

Pour the milk or light cream into the skillet. Cover and cook over low heat about 1 hour, or until tender. Place in a casserole with the onion flakes and carrots. Add enough sour cream to cover. Cook for another hour in medium oven, 325–350°.


2 grouse, quartered and previously soaked in salt water (4 tablespoons salt and enough water to cover grouse. They should be soaked at least 4 hours before cooking.)
1/3 cup water
1 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons garlic salt

Rinse grouse and place in shallow baking pan. Combine ingredients for marinade and blend well; pour over grouse. Cover and allow to stand at room temperature 2–3 hours. Bake in 300 degree oven 2 hours. Remove from oven; place grouse on grill over hot coals. Baste often with reserved marinade, turning at least every 20 minutes. Serves 4–5.


2 ducks, cleaned and soaked in salt water (4 tablespoons salt and enough water to cover ducks. They should be soaked at least 4 hours before cooking.)

41/2 cups soft bread crumbs
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped pecans
salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 cup milk, scalded

Chili Sauce Mixture
1 cup catsup
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup A-1 sauce
1/2 cup pureed mild red chili

Rinse ducks, stuff, and wrap in bacon. Cover with aluminum foil. Roast at 300° for 31/2 hours. Baste with chili sauce mixture during last half hour. When serving, have remaining chili sauce hot in small dish to spoon over. Serves 4.


2 wild ducks, cleaned
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 stick butter or margarine
4 cups dry bread cubes
11/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sage
8 pieces of bacon

Melt butter or margarine in heavy skillet over low heat; add onion and celery and sauté slowly until onion is transparent. Put bread cubes in a large bowl; add salt, pepper, and sage. Add enough water to the onion-celery mixture to make dressing quite moist. Bring to a quick boil and pour over bread cubes; toss. Makes enough stuffing for 2 ducks.

Season ducks generously with salt and pepper, inside and out. Add dressing and close the cavity. Place ducks, breast down, in a large roasting pan, uncovered. Place 4 pieces of bacon across each duck. Roast at 325° for 3–31/2 hours or until skin is crisp and dark brown.


1 wild duck
cooked wild rice
raw apple, diced
orange chunks

Skin the duck. Stuff with a mixture of the wild rice, apple, prunes and orange chunks. Cover and roast in a very hot oven, 500°, for 20–30 minutes. Baste frequently with butter and wine.

Duck is best when quite rarely done. Also, many people do not realize that the oily skin can adversely affect the flavor. In the event your family does not like rare meat, leave the bird in the oven for 45–60 minutes at 450 degrees, basting at intervals.


1 wild duck, cleaned (whole or quartered)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon finely cut up crystallized ginger
dash salt
1/2 tablespoon orange peel, finely shredded
1/8 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 16-ounce can pitted cherries, drained (reserve syrup)
1/8 cup cherry flavored brandy

Preheat oven to 350°. Wash and dry duck. Brown in a small amount of fat in skillet. Place pieces skin side up in baking dish. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, ginger, salt, orange peel, orange juice and 1/3 cup of the reserved cherry syrup. Heat to boiling and pour over the duck. Bake, basting occasionally with sauce, 45–60 minutes. (Duck is done when juices are no longer pink when meat is pricked with a fork.) Place duck on a warmed platter.

In a small saucepan combine remaining cherry syrup with cornstarch. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and clarifies. Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add cherries and brandy to sauce. Heat through and serve over duck. Serves 3–4.


1 large or 2 small ducks, cut into small pieces
8 cups water
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
6 chicken bouillon cubes
thin noodles, rice or barley

Place all ingredients, except noodles, rice or barley, in a large kettle. Simmer gently 2–3 hours. If too thick, add 1 cup water. Add 2–3 ounces thin noodles. Rice or barley is also excellent for thickening the soup. Cook very slowly 1/2 hour longer. Like most soups, this one is improved by reheating.



2 pheasants, plucked and cleaned
flour, seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika
2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
dash freshly ground pepper
soft butter
buttered toast triangles

Cut pheasants into serving pieces. Dust with the seasoned flour and brown in butter. Transfer pheasant pieces to roasting pan.

To remaining butter in skillet, add onion and sauté until transparent. Add vermouth, tomato paste, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes and then pour around the pheasant pieces.

Spread soft butter on pieces of bird and roast for 1 hour at 350°, or until meat is tender. Arrange triangles of buttered toast on hot platter and pour a spoonful of sauce from the roaster on each piece. Place pheasant pieces on top and garnish with watercress.



1 pheasant
2 ounces butter
2 strips bacon
1 wineglass of sherry
1 tablespoon red currant
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 pound sausage meat
1 apple
1 egg
dried parsley
salt and pepper

Mix the sausage meat, apple, egg, parsley, salt, and pepper, and stuff the bird. Wrap bacon around it, dot with butter, and roast in a 350° oven for 45 minutes.

Drain off surplus fat and pour the sherry mixed with the jelly and lemon juice over the bird. Cook another 15 minutes, basting a few times with the sauce.



2 pheasants, cut in serving pieces and soaked in salt water (4 tablespoons salt and enough water to cover pheasants. They should be soaked at least 4 hours before cooking.)

1/4 cup salad oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger or 2 tablespoons grated ginger root
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Rinse pheasant and marinate in mixture of the other ingredients 1/2 hour. Bake uncovered in the marinade in a shallow pan until fork tender, usually 300° for 21/2 hours. Baste occasionally with marinade to keep moist. Serve on a hot platter with fried rice. Serves 4–5.

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By Trevor Herft