Outdoor Articles

Safe Handling of Wild Game – Game Birds

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in General Cooking

Handling Small Game Carcasses

It is best to dress and cool small game as soon as possible. Many hunters prefer to draw small game in the field. Wipe out the cavity with clean paper towels or cloth and hang or lay the game in a well ventilated place to cool. Hanging close together or stacking game in a mass may cause heating. Skinning game in the field and then placing the carcasses in an insulated cooler between layers of dry ice is an excellent way to rapidly chill carcasses.

If a game bird (except waterfowl) can be lifted by the lower bill without the bill breaking, it is a mature bird and is considered less tender. The outer end of the breast bone is rather flexible in any young bird.

Field Dressing

  1. Field dress the bird immediately. Remove the entrails and avoid breaking the gall bladder sac on the liver–bile destroys meat flavor. The shape of the bird’s bill tells you about his diet–broad and flat billed ducks are plant eaters; pointed and serrated bills indicate fish eaters.
  2. Wipe the body cavity with a dry cloth, paper towel or dry grass. Moisture spreads bacteria which causes spoilage.
  3. Cool the bird by allowing air to circulate in the body cavity. Hold the cavity open with a small stick to speed cooling. When the weather isn’t cold, bring a cooler in the car to transport birds.

  4. When you get home, finish dressing the birds. A fully dressed bird can be more safely aged by refrigerating at 35ºF for four hours to tenderize and develop flavor. Many experts recommend that birds be plucked rather than skinned, since the skin helps retain flavor and moisture during cooking. However, many hunters do skin birds because it is easier than plucking. Use bacon strips to add moisture during cooking. Dry pluck. If you don’t remove all pin feathers and down, use a paraffin treatment. For four ducks or pheasants, place two cakes of paraffin in 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil and dip birds in, one at a time. Cool the bird to harden the paraffin and scrape off wax, down and pin fathers with a small, dull knife.


Do not freeze birds without plucking and cleaning them first. Immediately after cleaning the birds, wrap them in moisture-vapor-proof material. Freeze immediately and store no longer than 9 to 10 months. Thaw by placing the package in the refrigerator for 12 to 18 hours. This slow thaw will tenderize the meat.

To Prepare for Cooking

Fish-eating ducks may need soaking or marinating in vinegar, mild wine or buttermilk. You may soak older ducks and geese in a solution of ½; teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon vinegar per quart of cold water for 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.


Wild duck meat is darker and somewhat dryer than domestic duck. To retain or add moisture when roasting skinned birds, cover the breast with strips of bacon or side pork and roast in a covered pan. In roasting or broiling ducks use a rack to keep them free of their own fat, and do not baste with the fat.

Birds may be baked, barbecued, breaded, broiled, fried, combined in casseroles, chop suey, creoles, gumbos and gravies.


Diedrichsen, E. Care and cooking of game meats.

E.C. 70-923. Cooperative Extension Service,

University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Field, R.A., 1983. You and Your Wild Game, Ag

Extension Bulletin B-613, University of Wyoming,

Laramie, WY.

Gaida, U. and Marchello, M. 1987. “Going Wild. A

Guide to Field Dressing, Butchering, Sausage-

Making, and Cooking Wild Game and Fish.”

Watab Marketing, Inc.: Sartell, MN.

  1. This document is EHE-730, a publication of the
    Cooperative Extension Service of the University
    of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  2. Susan Brewer, Ph.D., Foods and Nutrition Specialist,
    Illinois Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois
    at Urbana-Champaign.

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