What do you do with your birds?

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Aged birds ready to go

For the past five years, at the suggestion of a biologist friend of mine who’s been bird hunting since the days of the Ottoman Empire, I’ve been aging my birds in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. I put them in my bag during the hunt, stick them in the garage fridge when I get home, and don’t do anything at all to them until I clean them after they’ve aged. I don’t gut them. And, I’m ashamed to admit, I usually just breast them when I finally set out to clean them. I have two reasons for this: one, I’m lazy, and two, my wife won’t eat the birds if they’re on the bone; since she doesn’t eat red meat and can’t share deer and elk with me, I want her to at least get the game birds into her system. I suppose I could save the legs for my own personal use, but often they’re the  most shot up part of the birds I hit. In any case, I do have a pang of guilt disposing of the legs. I don’t plan on remarrying, so I’ll deal with the guilt unless someone has a brilliant idea to help me out here.

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Irony: a store-bought chicken breast thaws next to truly organic grouse, chukar, Huns, and quail

After I’ve breasted the birds, I put the meat in a colander and rinse them off, getting as much of the embedded feathers from shot, and the shot of course, as well as the bloody parts out of the meat. When cleaning them after they’ve aged, I can tell a big difference between the birds I used to clean immediately: the aged birds’ meat is extremely tender, as it should be. After rinsing, I lay the breasts out on paper towels, pat them dry, and then package them with a vacuum sealer.

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Birds, and a yeast starter for an IPA

I forgot to mention that I almost need an IPA when cleaning birds. Check out my Recipes page for some of the ways we cook these delicious things.

What do you do with your birds?

15 Replies to “What do you do with your birds?”

  1. Interesting. I sometimes would leave my birds on top of the freezer in the garage because I was hunting the next day and I could do all my birds at once but was always worried about more than one day. Doing a full week of birds at once sounds a lot more appealing. Thanks Bob.

  2. Bob, I also like to age birds in the fridge for about the same reasons as you. I did try making a soup out legs and bones and it was great. I used pheasants. I cut most of the breast and thigh meat off and then roasted the bones and what ever was left with some carrots, celery, onions, potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes (a wild game chef said to do this on a podcast) with a little oil so it didn’t stick. Then broke them down and put them in a pot, filled the pot with enough cold water to cover the bones and veggies. Then I brought it to a boil and then backed it off and let it simmer for 4 hours (probably only need 2 hours). I then pulled all bones out and stripped any edible meat i could get and chunked it up. toss the bones and tendons. I didn’t like the texture of the veggies so I strained the broth and chopped up more, fresh veggies and added them and the meat chunks to the broth. I added soup noodles and brought it all up to a boil and then simmered until the veggies were to a good texture. It took all day, but it was my first soup/stock from scratch. It turned our great and I made a lot. So it lasted for several “left over” meals. Give this a try. Its super easy, and you can save the broth for later.

    1. Man, I wish I hadn’t just read this before lunch! Now I’m starving! That sounds great, if a little time-intensive. Home-made stocks are always way better than canned stocks. Thanks for sharing your success story. I promise to try this soon.

  3. My wife takes the legs of all our birds (and the feet from the pheasant) and boils them down to make stock. It is crazy the difference it makes not only in soups, but also in rice or anything where you would normally just use a boullion cube.

  4. Hi Bob. Check out honestfood.net for great recipes and tons of information. Try the confit with the legs. I like the general tso with game birds.
    Ps I tried the thick merino wool socks and my foot problems have gone away. Thanks

  5. Whoa,……I’ve never heard of that approach in handling birds.

    My bacteria fear red flag hit the roof when I read that.. ha

    Seriously, I usually dread even the thought of hauling them home without cleaning out in the field. Never did like the stinky mess most of them become after they have ridden in the hunt pouch through the hunt. Body fluids / gut shot mess has got to go ASAP for me. I’ve even cleaned birds at the turnaround point of the hunt in an effort to get them cooling out quicker. I have no doubt that cleaning quicker let’s you claim more leg meat too. Also might mention I fillet (de bone) the legs off in one swift swing revealing a somewhat square piece of boneless meat. That leg meat adds up to alot actually and being dark is a favorite of my family. Lastly After all meat is taken off carcass if it’s bloodied up much I’ll soak in a pot of water a day or two to get all the blood out. Your sealed bags looked like they were a bit bloody for my liking. Lastly, I think it is a meat that can be overcooked VERY easily but should be very tender if done right.

  6. Bob you just touched on one of my favorite things eating game birds. Years ago I purchased a video Upland, Small Game & Waterfowl Care & cooking by Master Chef Milos Cihelka. He talks about getting the birds cooled as soon as possible then hanging the birds un cleaned in a cool place about 35 deg for up to 2 weeks for tenderness and flavor he mentions if its warm to put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator like you that’s what I do. He talks about how the feathers have a natural preservative in them and not to make any opening to let in bacteria. I load all of my ammo and use nickel plated shot this eliminates almost all of the feathers being pulled into the meat with the shot and is highly lethal more penetration there is factory ammo with nickel shot. I clean and skin my birds and leave them whole then brine for 2 days in a salt & brown sugar brine then rube them with olive oil season with a salt free Bavarian or Italian seasoning put them in a covered glass dish roast at 375 deg. for 25 min. moist & tender. Legs are good to. The video has recipe’s for Chucker, Huns and pheasant.

    1. Thanks, James! Lots of information for me to process on this post. I’ll give your method a shot soon. I don’t shoot enough to justify the cost of reloading, but am interested in your setup.

  7. I load my own shells to add one more dimension to my hunting I’m using my ammo. I load 20ga & 28ga New shells not reloads. New primed hulls / yardage specific wads / copper or nickel plated shot cost about $10 a box +- I use a single stage Mec Size Master Press. Example New primed fiocchi 28ga hull / 28gr Little Gun powder / PT2895 30 to 60 yard range wad / 7/8oz copper #7.5 1295 FPS. Pattern at 30 yards Imp Mod choke showed 70 percent of 306 in 30in circle. This is good for a clean kill at out to 40 yards. I hunted with these loads last week shot my 28ga Ithaca model 37 pump imp mod choke shot one bird at about 30 yards 10 holes two others at about 40 yards 5&6 holes good clean kills. There are opinions that the 28ga is not enough gun for Chuckar these people are just uneducated in what’s out there for ammo especially hand loads. I can go on and on but if you go to the BALLISTIC PRODUCTS web sight you can get all the info on performance Shot Shells this is wear I buy everything. Also a good place for some supplies is Larry’s sporting goods in Napa.

  8. Save em in a gallon ziploc and when filled, cook em overnight on low in a crockpot with a little water and a few chicken bullion cubes. Shred the meat off and make chukar pot pie or chukar noodle soup. Yum!!!

  9. I had a beer with a couple of bird hunters just the other night (at White Bluffs; no, not with your brother). I told them about bringing birds home from ND. They’d been refrigerated then stored on ice. Fully feathered. Not gutted. When I talked about cleaning them 7-10 days after being shot, they simply blanched. Exchanged glances. Asked incredulous questions. There is the misconception about wild stuff going bad like you see with industrial meats. I suppose it could happen, but in my experience a week is nothing. Two to three weeks, I got no problem with that. My uncle Olaf, Norwegian bachelor rancher, would say he wouldn’t eat a duck until he hung it by the neck until it gave way. I might have to try that next.

    1. I like your comment, Jerry. Thanks. It’s nice to know I’m not just lucky. I’m not sure I’d go as far as spontaneous decapitation as a measure of appropriate aging, but let me know how that goes. Do you know my brother?

Chirp away