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Handling Game Birds

Processing Upland Birds and Waterfowl

Capt. Clark
October 17th Thursday 1805

Several men and woman offered DogsPheasants
and fish to Sell, we purchased all the dogs we could, the fish being out of Season and dieing in great numbers in the river, we did not think proper to use them, Send out Hunters to Shute the Prarie Cock a large fowl which I have only Seen on this river; Several of which I have killed, they are the Size of a Small turkey, of the pheasant kind, one I killed on the water edge to day measured from the Beek to the end of the toe 2 feet 6 & 3/4 Inches; from the extremities of its wings 3 feet 6 inches; the tale feathers is 13 inches long.

There are a number of ways to process game birds and the method used is primarily a matter of personal preference and how you plan to cook or store the bird. Keep in mind that the fat on the bird may, after some time in the freezer, impart a strong taste to the meat.

Three ways for removing the feathers from the meat are:

Plucking the feathers from the skin
Skinning the bird
Filleting the breast

If the bird is to be cooked within a month and a plucked bird is desired, the feathers may be plucked from the bird dry or after dipping the bird in hot water (145 degrees F).  The scalding relaxes the tissue around the feather making it easier to pluck them.
Feather removal using hot water works best if it is done soon after the bird was harvested otherwise the skin may tear as the feathers are plucked out.

Removing the breast by filleting is the cleanest and fastest way to prepare the meat but some meat will be wasted.  Skinning the bird preserves all the meat but in both cases the meat will have a tendency to dry out during cooking.  The use of baking bags and addition of bacon can help reduce drying.

After dry plucking or scalding, the bird will still contain pinfeathers which can be plucked off with tweezers, singed (burned) off, or scraped off after coating them with paraffin.  The fastest and easiest way is to singe them but this requires an open flame and it must be done carefully.  The paraffin method is suggested if you plan the roast the bird and want a nice appearance.  It is fairly simple:

Melt paraffin in hot water
Brush the melted paraffin on the pinfeathers
Allow the paraffin to harden
Scrape off the paraffin and pinfeathers

After skinning, the bird can be cleaned up by removing errant feathers, shot and blood shot areas and frozen whole in water. It is recommended that the legs and breast be removed from the back, cleaned up and frozen in water in empty, cleaned milk cartons or similar containers.  A second method is to vacuum pack the meat as discussed under Big Game.

Prior to cooking the fresh or thawed meat can be soaked for at least 1 to 2 hours in cold water to remove excess blood.  Another way is to prepare a salt water brine consisting of 1 quart of water, 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of vinegar and place the meat in the solution and let it stand overnight.  Its important to do the soak in the refrigerator where the temperature is less than 40 degrees F.

In general birds are not aged but if you want to age them, hold them at a temperature less than 40 degrees F for 2 to 3 days. The meat can now be cleaned, dried with a paper towel and cut for wrapping/freezing or cooked for immediate use.