There's more to waterfowl than the breast meat, including tenders, wings, legs, giblets, and yes, even the feet. (Jonathan Wilkins/)
Just about everything involved in waterfowling is designed to separate your money from your bank account. It’s a gear-heavy pursuit, with equipment like boats and waders that spend a ton of time partially submerged and subject to any number of hazards. Beaver stumps, branches, and the gnarled roots of long-forgotten trees tear and snag and disrupt. Gasoline, hotels, food, guns, shells, decoys, and licenses all conspire to make every outing cost a little more than you’d planned. That’s to say nothing of the amount of time and thought invested throughout your year—especially in punctuated burst of insanity during season. Waterfowlers spend days slogging in difficult conditions with heavy gear. We trek through the woods and the bayous and the fields, all in pursuit of a quack.
Those costs and those efforts will not change. We endure this because we are forced to, by love or compulsion. We can mitigate the expenditure, to some degree, by taking care of our gear to prolong its usefulness, repairing it when we are able. Beyond that, our best and most effective means of keeping costs in check is to maximize the yield from each bird. That means moving beyond only taking the breast meat. When you realize that you can pretty easily get multiple meals from a big mallard or a reasonably-sized specklebelly, a limit of birds suddenly becomes not just a snack, but a windfall.
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Simply put, if you’re only breasting out ducks and geese after a successful hunt, you’re letting a ton of flavor, and several potentially phenomenal meals, fall by the wayside. You’re also letting the price per pound of that bird skyrocket to the caviar and champagne stratosphere. You can bring the cost back down to terrestrial levels by approaching the cleaning process differently.
Generally, with ducks, I pluck dabblers and I skin divers. With geese, it’s more species specific: I normally pluck white fronted geese and skin light geese. Obviously, plucking birds is more labor intensive, but I find that the extra flavor and cooking options the skin and fat provide are absolutely worth the effort. Diving ducks can carry a lot of that off-putting “fishy” taste in their skin and fat; skinning them first removes most of that unwelcome flavor, with the added bonus of being a super-fast way to process a whole bird.