Dear Writing Huntress,
I’m trying to get away from store-bought meat and only eat what I kill, but I miss whole-roasting birds. I’ve heard you can roast whole ducks, but I’m not sure about the butchering aspect. How do you pluck a duck or goose? Is it easy?
Pining for Roast Pintail in Plattsburg
Dear Pining for Pintail,
I’ll have you know that, before today, I had never plucked a whole duck or goose. I’ve thought about it, surely, but never actually plucked one. I’ve seen glorious recipes call for entire, feather-free waterfowl and thought to myself, “Hey, that sounds good!” But, I’ve never gone the extra mile to take hand-to-bird, until, because of your letter, today.
My hands are scrubbed and my kitchen faintly smells of freshly killed duck. The dogs have ceased chasing thousands of feathers that have scattered around the yard like the confetti aftermath of a parade. Two stunning mallards and 2 tiny teal are currently resting in the fridge in a bath of sea salt, quietly being cleansed while awaiting a hot oven, some stuffing and a couple of apples. Is your mouth watering, yet, Pining? Well, I’m going to have to put in some grunt work before enjoying the fruits of my waterfowl labor.
The adventure begins in the blind. Pick your feathered preference, shoot it, have a great time in the process, then take them to the nearest outdoor table. According to my “Guide to All Things Waterfowl,” here’s how to pluck a duck:
Duck, duck, goose!
Depending on what you were lucky enough to harvest that day, choose the ducks or geese with head shots or the least amount of body shots possible. Whole-roast birds are much more delicious when not riddled with bits of steel shot.
Roll up your camo sleeves and start ridding that bird of its feathers. This step is made exponentially easier if you pluck dry birds. Ducks and geese are covered with down that soaks in water, making plucking when wet difficult and messy. Feel free to pluck with or against the grain, either way works just fine.
Use your thumbs to pull any pinfeathers from the duck’s skin. The resulting bird should be bare from mid-neck to tail and wing joint to wing joint.
Please note: The easiest way to pluck a duck or goose is to use a machine that is specifically created to remove feathers from birds. They are pricy, but are worth it if you plan on roasting a lot of ducks during the season.
In order to rid the bird of any leftover feathers or extraneous hair, utilize any fire source you have at your disposal. I used a small propane tank with a single burner today, but a hand torch with a nozzle works best. If propane isn’t on hand, you can use a campfire or even a piece of rolled up paper.
Cut the wings, legs and yes, the head, with tin snips or scissors. The bones take a little work to crack, so for best results, use tin snips to cut the bones and scissors to cut through the skin.
Hopefully you’re still with me, Pining. Next, you’ll use scissors to cut an incision at the base of the chest cavity going in a downward V shape toward the legs. Using 2 fingers, reach into the V to clean out the majority of the innards. Then, cut the bottom off the bird and continue cleaning the interior of the cavity. Keep in mind to clean with caution; if the duck acquired any broken bones during your hunt, you’ll be the first to know when it comes time to clean it.
Cook it – finally!
Pining, I applaud you for sticking with it because the worst is over! Once you’ve cleaned the inside of the bird, set it in a bowl of salt water. Change the water 2 to 3 times, or until the blood has completely drained.
Once it’s cleaned, the rest is up to you! Use your favorite chicken-roast recipe and simply replace your poultry with hand-harvested and hand-processed duck!
Although the process isn’t the easiest, it is certainly worth it because nothing compares to the taste of duck when it makes its way from the sky to your butchering table and to your plate — all in the same day.
Good luck, Pining, and do let us know how your plucking experience goes!