Gerald Almy: Techniques for care of gamebirds

Gerald Almy

Last week we looked at some of the important factors in taking care of gamebirds bagged in the Shenandoah Valley or on trips to other areas to ensure that they provide the ultimate table fare. Avoiding deterioration by not piling the birds up in a game vest or leaving them exposed to the sun are some of the main factors to keep in mind. Trying for head and neck shots where possible during the hunt is also best.

Before heading home after the hunt, place birds in a cool place for the drive. If it’s in the 40s or below, placing them in the trunk of a car or pickup truck bed is okay if they’re out of the sun. If you have an SUV and will be using the heater, or if the weather outside is hot, place the birds in a cooler spread out on ice.

As mentioned earlier, do not wrap the birds in plastic bags before doing this. That traps the heat and can cause quick spoilage. Just spread them out on newspapers, paper towels or a piece of freezer paper.

Now let’s look at some of the tools you can use to take care of gamebirds and actual techniques for field dressing.

Tools: You only need a few tools to properly take care of birds. A knife is the basic piece of gear required. It can be either a fixed blade or folding model with a 2½- to 4-inch blade.

If you choose a folder, make sure it’s a model that locks in place for safety’s sake. A built-in gutting tool is optional. Also keep a sharpening tool, whetstone or steel handy. The sharpest knife is the safest knife when used with care.

Snipping shears can be useful for cutting off wings and legs of larger birds like geese, ducks and turkeys, but aren’t essential. You can use garden tree clippers in a pinch or snap the joints and use your knife.

Some people like to use rubber field dressing gloves or dishwashing gloves to reduce cleanup afterwards. Paper towels come in handy and a few moist handy wipes are nice if you’re not near a stream or faucet where you can wash up afterwards.

Plucking: This is best done in the field or soon after the bird has been shot, when the body is still warm. Pull just a few feathers at a time. You can also dip a bird several times in hot water (around 180 degrees) for a few seconds, to loosen the feathers before plucking.

Ducks and geese can be easier to pluck if they are dipped several times in melted canning wax or paraffin. Allow the wax to cool and harden, then peel it off. Use about 8-12 ounces of wax in two or three gallons of hot water.

Remaining down and hair-like feathers can be removed by holding the bird quickly over a gas stove burner or using kitchen matches.

After plucking, cut off the feet, head, tail and wings. Cut below the breast and take out the entrails (see instructions below), then wipe with paper towels or wash in a sink with cold water.

Field Dressing a Bird

1. Using a sharp knife, make a shallow horizontal cut just below the breast bone.

2. Pull the breast forward and the legs back to open the bird.

3. Reach in and pull out the intestines, heart, lungs and gizzard.

4. Wipe the bird inside with a paper towel or clean cloth. Place in a cooler or shady place to dissipate the heat.

Skinning & Cleaning a Bird

1. Snap or cut off wings with a knife or shears at the first joint away from the body.

2. Cut through the legs at the first joint above the foot, leaving drumsticks attached to the body.

3. Make a small vertical cut in skin and pull it away from the breast and sides.

4. Pull as much of the meat out in the open as possible, using fingers to separate the skin from the drumsticks.

5. Cut at the vent and neck to remove skin from bird.

6. Make a horizontal cut below the breast and pull out entrails if you didn’t do so in the field.

7. Wipe the inside with a clean with paper towels.

Now it’s time to wash, wrap and freeze your prize possessions or prepare them for one of the greatest meals you’ve ever enjoyed.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.