“As an avid outdoorsman, I am always surprised when I head afield with friends that enjoy the sports but aren’t knowledgeable in the field. There is much more to being a true outdoorsman than simply acquiring the proper gear. There is a respect and awe of nature and a commitment to leaving things better than when you found them. This includes fully utilizing all parts of game and not leaving your mark, i.e., leaving trash, un-harvested game, and destruction of natural habitat. By learning and then passing on your knowledge of the outdoors, you’re not only helping further the tradition, but also protecting it from those that might destroy it either willfully or unknowingly. Hopefully throughout this series, I can pass along some tidbits of knowledge or craft that will make your forays into the field more productive and enjoyable while protecting the traditions that I so cherish.
With large game season freshly completed here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, all of our attention is turning to waterfowl and upland game birds. When it comes to filling your pouch with game there are countless guides, videos, and instructional books to help you out, but often times they don’t explain what to do once you make it back to camp with your bounty.
Once you have found a good area outside to dress the bird, the first thing you have to consider is whether you want to harvest just the breast meat or save the entire bird. For any bird larger than a pheasant, I typically like to save the entire bird.
If you want to extract only the breast meat, then turn the bird on its back and using a sharp knife slit the skin down the length of the breastbone. Start the cut where the neck skin meets the chest and slice straight down to the end of the breast bone. Peel the skin away exposing the meat and using your thumb and forefinger to separate the meat from the underlying bone. The meat should be easily extracted from the bird if it’s still warm. If it does not easily pull away, you may have to use the knife to make a few incisions at the top and bottom of the breast.
If you want to save the entire bird you must pluck the bird first. For most birds, simply scalding them in boiling water makes the plucking easier, the exception being waterfowl. Waterfowl requires painstaking plucking, or peeling away the skin and feathers. Peeling off the skin is generally easier, but keep in mind that you cannot roast a skinless bird. The skin is required when roasting to keep the meat moist enough to be enjoyable. To scald, simply drop the bird in boiling water for a few seconds and remove. Once plucked or skinned make sure to remove the innards by making a cut below the breastbone to expose the bowels. Carefully remove the innards saving heart, liver, and gizzards. These are great for gravies, bait or even compost. It’s also recommended that you remove the neck, though this can be done prior to roasting.
In keeping with the tradition of using all parts of a kill, there is even a use for the feathers, regardless of whether or not the bird has been scalded. Pheasant tails are particularly useful for tying up flies for fishing and all feathers can be used as insulation in boots, jackets or to stuff that old camp mattress. To preserve the feathers you should put them in a ziplock bag and store them in the freezer for about 30 days. Remove them, let them air out for a day, then return to the freezer for another 30 days. This will ensure that no parasite or their eggs survive.
The remaining parts of the bird – feet, beak, etc can simply be dispatched in the garbage or far from your camp. Birds of prey, insects and small mammals will find many uses for the discarded remains.”