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37 responses to “On Plucking Birds”

  1. steve

    I have waited many years to find someone I agreed with on this issue, and we agree because of the same reasons.

    From my early teens on, I have plucked everything I could, in spite of lots of comments. The first time I saw someone step on the wings and pull the feet of a ruffed grouse I had a fit. Yes, it is a quick and easy way to get the breast out, but no, thank you, I get all too few partridge to spare any meat. Yes, I do pick at the backs and drummies, and no, I don’t mind the mess.

    Seeing perfectly plucked little green wing teal used to drive my brother crazy. He always wanted to skin them, but I noticed he was the first guy at the pot when it came time to eat them.

    I became so seriously hung up on this that I would clean the other hunters ducks, a fact they soon took advantage of, but it drove me nuts to see guys waste the best part of a duck.

    The only place we part company is on the waxing. I use a propane torch to get rid of the hair; it is only when we run into some local mallards with a lot of pin feathers that I will resort to wax.

    As a matter of fact, it was on this blog that I first saw the use of a neck as a sausage casing. That column alone has sold you a few books, Hank! Keep up the good work.

  2. Mike at The Big Stick

    I think this would make an excellent video like your last one on how to clean gizzards. I’ve never plucked anything other than ducks and I made a mess of that the last time i shot one.

  3. Rachel Hoff

    We raised ducks (not sure if I’ll ever do that again unless we get a larger property) and when we slaughtered them we wet plucked them. We didn’t use paraffin wax though. Instead we add some Dawn to the water, which helped get the hot water down to the skin then, like Steve, we use a propane torch to burn off any leftover feathers.

  4. Neil H

    Now why didn’t I see this BEFORE a group of guys gifted us three limits of ducks last week? That’s a lot of plucking. They also recommended the torch method. Thoughts on this? Will the meat pick up the singed flavor?

    Chickens I have always plucked wet, these I did dry (cheated… plucking machine) and it wasn’t so bad, but it seems like wet is the way to go?

    Sorry for all the questions, I’m totally new to waterfowl. On the up side, I never had to fire a shot. On the down side, I never fired a shot.

  5. Me

    These are great instructions. My father taught me to wet pluck when I was a kid and it seems to get the job done but Patience is a virtue no matter what technique you use to pluck a bird.
    Thanks Hank for this post.

  6. Rhonda

    I agree with Mike that this would make a great video. I have to admit to this household being lazy and skinning our grouse and pheasant. I’m book marking this page and promise to pluck.

  7. mike

    great read as always, but that doesn’t look like you doing the plucking. 🙂

  8. la domestique

    Great post! Totally agree with the reasoning. Gave me a smile too. My husband grew up in Ireland, and he is “a feather plucker’s son”-say THAT five times fast! Seriously though, his father was a champion feather plucker. Talk about patience and skill!

  9. Steve

    What about spoonies? The fat on them often seems funky (yellow, chunky and off-smelling), but the skinned breasts taste fine.

  10. Kim Graves

    I don’t hunt and so don’t pluck game birds, but I do pluck the chickens we raise. There was a good article in Barkyard Poultry Mag (see: about a year ago. Using his method – wet scald at 140 degrees – I’ve had no trouble plucking the birds and getting clean results. Maybe game birds are different. That said, the next time I pluck I’m going to build a plucker I can power with my drill. I’m thinking a PVC end cap with a nut in the end to attach to the drill chuck and rubber plucking fingers around. Should be cheap – just like me.

  11. Rose

    We raise chickens, ducks, quail, turkeys and geese. We scald the chickens and turkeys at 145 degrees with a little bit of Dawn dishsoap in the water. The ducks and geese do better scalding at 158-160, and they need more soap in the water plus more time (agitating all along) to get the water fully penetrating into the feathers. It takes me about 30 minutes to pluck/gut a goose.
    Our first time with geese (by far, the most difficult for us):
    and our second

  12. Peter Arnold

    One thing you didn’t mention about dry plucking wild ducks, and that is the ease with which a well-fed bird’s plumage can come off just by rubbing your thumb against the lay of the plumage. That is true of all the puddle ducks and of most divers other than ruddies or golden eye (which I refuse to shoot). Not true of the wing feathers, obviously and as you point out.

    Back in earlier days of late winter when the big ducks had laid on that heavy second coat of down I used to double pluck the breasts of mallard, sprig and widgeon, first taking off the outer feathers, Then, into a clean bag in the vacuum cleaner while it was running I’d do a second pluck for the down. In a couple of seasons I collected enough down that way for my wife to make a couple of down vests for our two little kids. Impractical? Sure. But satisfying to know I had got one more thing out of the duck? You bet.

  13. laowai

    Rachel Hoff mentioned that adding Dawn to the water made it get down to the skin. This makes sense scientifically. Adding soap to the water destroys the surface tension that keeps ducks floating and water skippers skipping (a fun way to check this out is put a floaty thing, like a leaf, in a glass of water and then add some soap to it: the leaf will sink). Surface tension depends on the strength water’s mutual molecular bonding. Adding the soap gets in the way of this bonding, making water even more slippery (even to itself), thereby allowing it to slip in between all the feather layers, soaking and scalding the feather roots, loosening them up.

    I have no idea about the amount needed though. I’d guess too much would make the feathers slippery too and make it difficult to get a handle on them.

  14. Eating Oregon

    I’m a dry plucker when it comes to ducks and geese, mostly because I, also, save the down for future use in a pillow and comforter. That is, unless I get down to the breast and see that it’s all lean and no fat, or shot up too badly… then I get what down I can from it and then skin it out.

    I also use the blow-torch method… I find that the smell doesn’t linger if you give the bird a good rinse after (assuming, of course, that you got all of the down burned off… )

    I agree that a bird is best (generally) with the skin on, though. Do you “rest” your birds in the fridge, or hang them before plucking or do you rest them after their plucked and drawn?

  15. Mark Coleman

    I’ve been a skinner for most of my days but you got me convinced to give this plucking thing a try. Calming….calming…calming…..

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  17. Justin Witt

    Just finished plucking four widgeon from the last day of the season down here in Argentina and I must say your wax trick is a godsend! Thanks as always Hank for providing this great resource on the web. Now I’m off to the kitchen!

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  21. Big Onion

    Thank you for the videos on waxing ducks. We’ve been scalding and plucking them for awhile and last night we finally gave it a go with the wax. I had plucked too much of one of them before I saw the video so I had a really hard time getting the wax off, but the other bird was quite impressive.

    Do you ever filter the wax to reuse? We were able to run it through a fine mesh cotton bag and it looks pretty clear. We’ll store it in the freezer and see how it is next time we give it a go.

    We were just approved by our state to sell the poultry we raise and process on our little farm but we have no plucker, so having a way of dealing with ducks is important. For turkeys and chickens I’ve been dry plucking – I haven’t had a single problem with dry plucking and can’t understand why more people don’t do it. Nothing more gross than picking a hot, wet, dirty bird and getting feathers everywhere! Do you think waxing might work for chickens? I think we might be tempted to give it a go, just to make the process go quicker.

    So, many thanks for the video. We know now to leave more feathers on!

  22. Elizabeth

    Can you use the down feathers for anything if you use parowax? I was thinking about using your method to pluck and then reheating the down in boiling water to get rid of the wax.

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  26. Lance Cole

    While I agree a lot with most of the information here (not a fan of dry plucking anything, though, as it is more-difficult with nothing truly gained over wet plucking), the concept of ‘plucking a dove’ is hilarious. At the goading of my grandfather, 5-decades ago, I plucked a dove (after asking him why-not a dozen times), and it took me 10 minutes to pluck this tiny little miniature bird that had less than a thimble of meat on both legs. Then, he showed me the ‘breast-thumb-removal’ technique, where you simply insert thumb into throat cavity, pull down, rip out breast, and move on – total of 4-seconds, and I learned that with doves, it really is about speed and quantity over total mini-body quality, every time.

  27. Steven Palmer

    Every time iv plucked ducks iv dry plucked them its work for sure but not to bad , I was curious about the pin feathers I usually just pull out with tweezers .but sometimes there are a couple that break off at the base besides trimming it out I did not know what to do.
    Also has anyone used the plucker machines with the rubber fingers herd they work well

  28. Ivy Harrison

    I am new to this, but I read that dry plucking is much easier, and the ducks will taste better if you let them air dry in a spot that’s between 35-38 degrees for 4-7 days. I’m going to test this theory when we butcher our second batch of ducks. We already butchered the first 2 and they are hanging in a meat fridge to air dry, the next batch we will try wet plucking maybe. I want to make the dry plucking go as easy as possible so I can save the down feathers!

  29. rick mccombs

    Hey Dawn dish soap started with a commercial back in the 60’s. they showed a mallard swimming in a tank of water, then added Dawn and the mallard started to sink.
    An announcer stated that Dawn was so good at cutting grease that even a duck can’t swim in it. ( a duck preens his feather’s with oil from his oil gland and this is what keeps him water proof and dry and floating)
    The soap washes the oil away and allows the hot water to get through to the skin and scald, thus helping to loosen the feathers.
    This is also why Dawn has donated lots of it to clean unfortunate wild life after major oil spills

  30. Mary Ann

    My questions is a short one, how do you clean up the mess after using wax, is it hard to get it out of your pot etc. Is there any pointers to follow?

  31. Kirby England

    Hello Hank,

    I’ve started plucking birds this year after a lifetime of skinning. I now feel somewhat guilty for all the grouse I’ve breasted out by stepping on the wings and pulling the feet. Alas, I’ve had some trouble while plucking with the little base of the feathers (looks like a PIT tag, if that helps) being left behind in the skin, both after dry plucking and attempts at wet plucking. Do you have any advice that will help me avoid picking out these little feather bases one at a time?

    Thanks and keep up the great work

  32. Andrew

    Have you ever tried the “Fowl Plucker” ( or similar devices? Basically a motor driven head with a bunch of soft rubber fingers that dry pluck a bird. I’m curious as to your thoughts on using something like that to pluck as it is apparently so fast. Expensive for the name brand. Saw some DIY versions that would be cheap enough to try out.

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