how to defeather a bird

When Not to Pluck Your Game Bird

Tears in the skin are the biggest hindrance to a perfectly plucked bird. When you tug at the feathers, the skin that already has holes or rips in it is more likely to tear even more. This occurs when a bird gets shot fairly severely (I refer to those birds as “hamburgers”) or when a bird dog has a hard mouth (leaving gaping teeth marks in meat). For the same reason, you should hold off on gutting your birds until after they have been plucked. In general, it may be time to skin a bird if you discover that its skin is quite damaged and rips easily when you attempt to pluck it.

To pluck or not to pluck? Learn how to decide when a bird is worth the extra effort

First, let’s address the obvious: is the time spent plucking worth it?

Probably depending on the type of hunter you are So, let’s assess: do you look for and purchase the best equipment? Do you think that having a hunting dog that is “finished” or well-trained enhances the experience out in the field? If the answer to either question is “yes,” then it seems obvious to me that plucking is worthwhile because settling for less isn’t your style.

Why pluck, exactly? Flavor resides in that skin. In addition to taste, a pluck bird will hold onto its moisture better than a skinned bird and will be far less likely to dry out. Therefore, you owe it to yourself to at least try to give a pluck (a hashtag that is currently trending thanks to Hank Shaw) if you’re the kind of hunter who thinks that you get what you put into it as opposed to picking a gun dog bloodline from a game of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” or grabbing the first box of shells you find on the shelf.

This is the biggest excuse: “I don’t have time. Perhaps you don’t, but some people contend that making time is more important than having time. Once you’re proficient at plucking, it might only take you 20 minutes for each bird. We are limited to four cocks per pheasant in my state of Kansas. That is a maximum of one hour and twenty minutes needed to produce a wonderful final product. Since quail and doves have higher daily limits, it makes sense that they require significantly less time.

Bottom line: You can carve out the time. Spend less time sipping that beer—chug then pluck. Or, rather than watching on TV, turn to the radio to hear the ball game. Get an hour less sleep. Whatever it takes. Even if you decide it’s not worth your time to enjoy the flavor and crispy skin that come with a job well done, at least you tried.

Wet-plucking is the way to go, only with a twist. I use paraffin, also known as canning wax, to pluck all of my ducks. We use a lot of blocks of it every year, so keep plenty on hand. The secret is to melt wax in a large pot of steaming water (not boiling), then submerge your birds in it. After setting the wax, place the waxed birds in another basin of ice water, allow them to cool slightly, and then remove them. The down and upper feathers are grabbed by the wax, giving you a neatly plucked duck.

Hunters, you owe it to yourself to pluck your birds. Eating a beautifully plucked pheasant, quail, or duck is one of life’s great pleasures at the table, and it really is worth the effort. I don’t mean to sound scolding or holier-than-thou.

When plucking, wear an apron or something similar because it’s a messy, wet process. Start with the wings, as they are the hardest part. To remove the wax, you might need to crack the wax seal on some of the bird. Once more, use one hand to hold the skin in place while the other peels. Frequently, you are essentially holding the wax in one spot while carefully removing the skin from it; this is particularly crucial when working near shotgun pellet holes.

After plucking the birds roughly and melting the wax, take the bird by the head and submerge it up to its neck in the water. Additionally, give the surface a little swirl to ensure that it is evenly coated. We use our slop sink in the garage. Let it drip a little over the pot, then place the waxed bird in a basin of cold water. After allowing the bird to cool for a few minutes, place it somewhere to drain.

After I do the wings, I go to the tail, then the back, then the legs. Finally, I do the neck and breast. The neck skin is loose, and this is the most likely place for a tear. The breast is the most prized part of the bird, so you will want your full attention here. It’s like opening a present: The breast gives you the best look at whether you have a fat bird or a skinny one. (Here’s a video of our wet-plucking process.)


Do you gut the bird before plucking it?

For this same reason, you’ll also want to wait to gut your birds until after plucking. Basically, if you find that a bird’s skin is pretty beat up and tears badly when you try to pluck, it might be time to skin.

How do you pluck feathers without damaging them?

Boiling hot water. Dip the chicken in hot water a couple of times and lay it on a table covered with newspaper. The feathers will pluck right out. Even the wing and tail feathers.

How do you pluck and clean a bird?

Hang the bird by the neck. Work slowly and carefully, removing just pinchfuls of feathers at a time by tugging upward and away from the bird. Be careful not to tear the skin, especially in the vicinity of the breast, where it’s most fragile. Keep plucking!

What to do if your bird is plucking?

no this is not a self-remedied problem. You need to take this bird to the vet. This is a neurological condition called “feather-picking”. Something in the environment is causing him/her to become neurotic and thus resort to plucking his own feathers to reassure him/herself.