How To Clean and Cook Wild Ducks and Geese

A wild pintail duck.
A wild pintail duck.

Cleaning Ducks and Geese For the Table - Part I

Preparing harvested wild ducks and geese for cooking can be a difficult task. The process begins the moment a bird is harvested and ends when a delicious meal is served.

In the field, ducks and geese should be kept cold and as clean as possible. Harvested waterfowl should never handled roughly. In cold weather, wiping the birds off with a towel and storing them in a game bag may be all that's necessary. In warmer conditions, a cooler and ice may be required.

Once a hunting expedition is over, hunters much choose how to process game that has been harvested. Several options exist and methods may vary by location.

When hunting with a guide, it's a good idea to ask in advance. Some guides can provide game cleaning and processing, or refer hunters to a local provider. For private hunters, cleaning wild game is usually done at home.

Once a hunter has returned home, a decision must be made to clean the bird whole (skin on) or to skin the bird and remove the breast and legs.

Part II - Waterfowl Cleaning Methods

Large, mild tasting birds such as Canada geese, black ducks, mallards and pintails may be candidates for whole cleaning while smaller ducks or strong tasting game are sometimes best cleaned by removing the skin and extracting the breast.

Regardless of which cleaning method is chosen, ducks or geese should be rinsed well and kept cool while processing.

When cleaning a whole duck or goose, removing the feathers is by far the most difficult and time consuming task. Some hunters choose to dry pick the entire bird which is a painstaking process. Others will scald the bird which helps with feather removal.

To scald and pick waterfowl, hunters start by heating a large pot of water. Once the water has come to a boil, it is carefully placed outside in an open area. Add a teaspoon or 2 of mild dishwashing detergent, which helps to break the waterproofing ability of the feathers.

Using heavy gloves, dip the waterfowl in the scalding water and move it back and forth. After a moment or 2, remove the bird and begin picking feathers from the skin.

In most cases, beginning this process is difficult as the water cannot penetrate most areas of the bird. At first, only a few feathers will come off. Repeat the process of immersing the bird in hot water and plucking feathers. As the detergent and hot water do their work, more and more feathers will come off. Be careful not to pull too many feathers at once as this can tear the skin. Continue carefully picking until nearly all the feathers are gone.

Next, a fire source is needed. Hunters often use a small propane torch, an outside gas burner or a wood fire. While holding the head and feet of the bird, work it back and forth over the flame, which singes off any small hair-like feathers that remain after the picking process.

At this point, the bird should be free of feathers and all areas where shot has penetrated will be visible. Rinse the bird well before eviscerating it, making sure that any wounds are cleaned.

The next step is to remove the internal organs, head, feet and in some cases wingtips. After evisceration, the bird should again be thoroughly rinsed. Most outdoorsmen choose to apply a liberal amount of salt and refrigerate the bird overnight in a container of water. This will allow any remaining blood to dissolve.

Wild Game Poll

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  • wild ducks
  • wild geese
  • quail
  • pheasant
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Duck soup
Duck soup

How to Cook Wild Ducks and Geese

Depending on the species, condition, local tradition and equipment that is available, wild ducks and geese may be baked, saute'd pan fried, deep fried or hot smoked.

When choosing a cooking method, take into consideration the species, weight and other factors. A large goose may be suitable for baking or deep frying, while smaller game such as teal might require that the breast be filleted and sauted.

A mallard drake
A mallard drake

Which Ducks Taste the Best?

Puddle duck species are highly sought after by hunters for their superior flavor. Grain-fed mallards, black ducks, pintails, teal and wood ducks are said to be among the best ducks for table fare.

A few diving ducks are also highly acclaimed as table fare, including redheads and canvasbacks.

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