So you had a banger of a day and shot your limits of bird. Now what? It’s time to clean your bids and prep them for consumption or saving for a later date.
Here are three different ways you can clean and break down your birds. The options that we will touch on are:
1. Plucked Full Body
2. Breasted with Skin
3. Skinned and Breasted
Success is in the preparation…
Personally, I like to leave my birds sitting breast up in the fridge for 1-3 days. I have learned over the years that this allows the bird to “age” and the fats to firm up a bit. This is the method I use for birds that one would consider top-tier table fare.
When working with your Mallards, Pintails and Widgeon, I prefer to “full body” these birds. It makes for a great centerpiece on the plate but also helps keep the meat tender and juicy and let’s face it; EVERYONE loves a good crispy skin!
Tools Needed to accomplish the perfect full body.
- Rubber Gloves
- Very Sharp Knife
- Blow Torch
Wear your rubbers…
I use rubber gloves for several reasons when cleaning birds but mainly for the extra grip they give me on hard-to-get-down feathers.
Starting by grabbing fingers full of feathers, I prefer to work my way from the neck area down to the tail feathers. It’s essential for your early-season birds to “go with the grain” and pull feathers toward the feet. This will help with getting the annoying pin feathers out of juvenile birds. Once you have as much of the bird plucked from an inch up the neck to the base of the tail, you can either take a bit more time and rub the tiny down feathers off with the gloves or strike the torch and quickly move around the bird. This will remove any of the small leftover feathers.
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Tail Feathers…
After this, take the shears and remove the head. It’s best to find the space between the vertebrae. Remember to cut about an inch above the body, as you can easily remove the rest of the neck from the body once the head is out of the way. I then use the sharp knife to cut the tendons at the knees and leave the legs.
You will do the same for removing the wings, finding the shoulder joint, and going through the tendons. This will leave you with a nice clean body to work with. After this, run the knife around the base of the tail. There is a trick here; over time, you will learn just how much to take off to allow you to pull most of the innards out with the tail and tail feathers.
Take your time here, as it’s essential to make sure you clean the cavity out to the best of your ability. Make sure to remove everything you can see, rinse the cavity and then investigate again. Repeat this as needed. Taking your time here will increase the quality of your birds and help them taste better.
“Full Bodying” your birds by hand may be the most time-consuming way to process your game, but in my opinion, it gives your birds the best appearance, taste, and most versatility for cooking. Just look at it!
Tasty, Tiny, Morsels…
So what about your smaller birds that don’t tip the scales but still make great eats all by their lonesome? You can still enjoy the same crispy skin and deliciously tender meat without going to all that work.
We’re talking Teal, Woodies, and your smaller varieties of delectable dabbling ducks.
Like above, you will want to pluck your birds to a point. You won’t need to go the distance on these, though; only remove the feathers on the breast. Once you have removed the feathers on the breast, you will take the same step with the blow torch. Fire it up and take a few QUICK swipes on what you have plucked.
At this point, you are ready to start your knife work.
Take your finger and feel down the center of the bird. You will notice a thin vertical breast bone or separation plate between each side of the breast. It runs right down the middle of the breast.
Run your knife lightly down this plate to split the skin. It would be best if you went from the top of the breast to the bottom. Once you reach the bottom of the breast, you will need to cut from one side of the breastplate to the other along the bottom. You will feel the bottom of the breastplate that runs from one leg to the other.
After this, roll the bird to the side and run the knife down the outside edge of the breastplate. It is better to place your hand on the bird and use your fingers to pull the meat and skin toward the bird’s center. You will run from the wing joint to the lateral cut across the bottom of the breastplate.
At this point, you have essentially cut the outer edges and the bottom of the breast from the bird, and now we’re ready to remove the breast.
Find the center plate again and run the knife straight down the side of this plate, parallel to the bone. Make sure you go all the way to the breastplate. You will see now that the meat and skin will start to pull away from the plate. Use your fingers to help lift the meat and continue using the knife to remove the meat from the container, lifting it from the bottom of the bird to the top.
Once you make it to the collar bone on the bird, use the knife to cut around the bone and altogether remove the breast from the bird!
This is what a properly breasted bird will look like once thoroughly cleaned:
What to do with your less desirables.
So we’ve covered all the big bullet points on what to do with your best birds. So what about your less desirable table fare birds? You know what I’m talking about! Your Spoonies, Canvasbacks, Bluebills, and other assorted diver ducks also include MOST Geese. We use this for our Sausages, snack sticks, and other mixed meat options.
A couple of options…
There are two ways I like to breast out my birds that I’m using for the mixed meat treats.
Following portions of the above instructions minus the intensive plucking part, you cut the meat of the breastplate, which is a great way to achieve a clean skinless breast. Instead of plucking the whole breast, you pluck a line down that separation plate between the sides of the breast.
Take your knife and score the skin and then grab the skin with your fingers and pull it to the side. This will remove the skin and expose lovely clean meat. This also allows you to inspect the meat for “Rice Breast” and discard any infected meat. At this point, you would fillet the meat off the breastplate and go!
Giver er a good tug, bud…
A grizzled old diver duck captain showed me the second and favorite way to prepare birds for the sausage pile.
I was amazed at how fast we cleaned all the birds from the shoot that day.
This is also a great way to transport your shoot home legally and not take up a ton of room in a cooler with stinky ducks.
Take the bird and hold its backbone to your chest.
Yes, hear me out and follow along.
Take your hands and find the breast separation plate we spoke about above. Get a good grip and PULL the skin apart, exposing the breast meat.
This is the point where it gets interesting. Lay the bird on its back on the ground. Its wings spread out straight to the side, away from the body.
Place your feet, yes, your feet on the neck of the bird AND the feet and tail feathers of the bird.
Take one hand and grab tight to the top of the breastplate and the other and grab tight to the bottom of the breastplate. Pull up on the breastplate from the bottom to the top of the bird with a slight rocking motion. You will start to see the breastplate separate from the bird’s body. Keep pulling until the breastplate is free and clear, and go further.
You will find that the WINGS, in their entirety, will follow suit and leave you with a breastplate with wings in your hand and a body and entrails lying neatly inside the bird on the ground.
We have a great video here that will show you step-by-step how to breast your birds in this manner.
At the end of the day, we hunt for many different reasons, but the one reason we ALL share is to put food in the freezer.
New hunters are coming to the boat, blind and tanks throughout the world. Over the years of duck hunting, you will encounter many people who share their tips and tricks on cleaning and preparing the game. We just thought we would give you a running start, so you aren’t overwhelmed when it comes time to complete your day and clean your birds the first time you bring home a heavy strap!
Got first gun, 410 single, on 12th birthday, 1946. Shot limit of 4, 1 scaup, 1 buff, 2 ruddys, walking along the bay. Thousands of birds later, still learned a lot from this. Thanks. BTW, in this house we treat cans, redheads and ringnecks with the same respect due sprig and mallards.