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Field Dressing and Care of Game Birds

Washington Pictures taken by HuntWashingtonState staff

  Proper care of your harvested birds is essential.  We've provided some information here to help you care for your game bird.

  • Be prepared for your hunt.  Bring a knife, stringers or game pouches, water (or hand cleaner) and most of all! don't forget your license.  Ensure that you have a separate cooler available to place your birds to keep them cool in hot weather, isolate them from other animals and insects, and to keep them separated from the rest of your food.
  • Immediately after you've retrieved your bird... gut it.  You do not want a stunned bird coming to life on your stringer or in your game pouch. Also, gutting the bird immediately will ensure that your bird is completely dead.  It is essential to cool off your bird.  Birds are warm blooded and well insulated.  It can take quite some time for a non gutted bird to cool down.
  • You can gut your bird finding the lower part of the breast bone and making a small incision with either your finger or a knife.  Make sure that you do not puncture the intestines.  Take your hand or your fingers (depending on the size of the bird) and reach into the body cavity and feel for the hard crop.  Grab a hold of it and pull, this should remove most of the entrails in one piece.  Then reach up and feel for any remaining organs such as the heart or lungs.  Remove those as well.  Dispose of properly.  Some people like to retain the heart and liver for giblets, but, sometimes those organs are a little difficult to keep track of.  Bring a ziploc bag to keep the edible organs in.
  • The areas around Washington State have ample raptor, predator and gull populations and will readily dispose of any discarded guts.  Place them in an area where the animals can get to them.  Be courteous, however, in disposing of entrails in public areas. 
  • Clean the cavity of all remaining blood, entrails, or bone.  Do not wash out with water or use grass or snow.  You will want to limit the amount of contaminants on the bird
  • Place the bird in your pouch or get it on your stringer.
  • WASH YOUR HANDS! either with available water, Purell hand sanitizers, wet ones, anything.  The Gastrointestinal tract of any animal is filled with bacteria which could make you sick if ingested or finds a way into your body.
  • Do not breast out your birds in the field as you must keep the feathered head attached to any bird you shoot as evidence of species and sex.  It is Washington State law.
  • Try not to pile birds in a mass as this does not allow for the birds to remain cool or ventilated.
  • Keep the birds on ice when you get them back to camp, truck, or home.
  • How you dress out the bird will depend on the species, size, and what the birds have been eating.
  • A lot of opinion is available on whether or not birds she be allowed to hang for a few days to tenderize.  The only important thing is that the birds remain below 40 degrees F.
  • You should never freeze an entire bird, you must butcher the bird if you intend to store it for any length of time.
  • To prepare bigger ducks, pheasants, turkeys, and some grouse, cut off the wings, head, legs at the knees.  Then pluck as many feathers as possible with either your hand or an electric plucker available through Bass Pro or Cabelas.  You can then either scald the carcass in water of 150 degrees or coat the carcass in paraffin to get the rest of the feathers off.
  • For smaller ducks and upland birds, breast out the birds by cutting down into the middle of the breast.  Cut all the way down until you hit the rib cage.  then carefully remove the breasts from the ribs by pulling the meat back while slicing the connecting tissue.  You should receive two nice breast steaks with each bird.  The more you practice, the better and faster you will get.
  • Dispose of the discarded carcasses appropriately.
  • Check the breasts or birds for shot.  Either use a magnet or by pressing on the meat to see if any shot is present.  It is much easier to remove shot on a fresh game bird than on a frozen one.  Removal of shot is essential to preserve the teeth of those being served the game meat.
  • If you are going to freeze the game birds, use a vacuum sealer or ensure that as little air remains in the freezer bag as possible.  Trapped air is meat's worst enemy.
  • Once in the container, label it and date it.  Eat it within 6 months.
  • For a quick, easy way to field dress grouse, Immediately after retrieving your bird, simply place one foot on each wing at the sides of your bird and pull straight up on each foot. Stop when the skin reaches the neck of the bird to keep the feathers intact to the carcass. This must be done before rigor mortis begins to set in or you will end up pulling limbs off. Follow normal procedures for gutting your skin and feather free bird. Sorry, this doesn't work on most other game birds as they are either too tough (Pheasants, Ducks, Geese) or too fragile (Quail, Chukar, Huns).   -Scott V. Colville, WA
  • Remember! it is unconscionable to allow game meat to go to waste.  If you shoot it, eat it.

  

 

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