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62 responses to “On Breasting Out Birds”

  1. Sam

    Pheasant legs are awesome, and it only takes another minute to butcher out the leg when otherwise breasting a pheasant. I think the old southern European cooking methods, which undoubtedly evolved on game birds as well as domestic, are perfect for preparing leg meat.

    My go-to for pheasant legs is a slow-cooker Bourguignon. This isn’t simply a toss-in-the-cooker dish, but a real preparation in the morning. When serving guests, I will typically pull the legs out, remove bones and tendons myself, and return the meat the cooker about 30 minutes before serving. Doing so is easy if you know the anatomy, which I don’t expect my guests to know.

    I also find pheasant legs beautiful when presented in a Cassoulet. I simply use pheasant in place of chicken in this recipe.

  2. Al Webster

    Well said.

  3. Michigander

    Very well said. I can’t imagine throwing away any part of a duck. At the very least, you can use it in sausage, confit, soup (I love duck soup). I think some people are just not adventurous in the kitchen. At the very least, I would make dog food, but never feed it to coyotes.

  4. Sam Carlson

    Right on x 1,000,000,000

    Great post.

  5. Seth

    I’m with you on this one. I even keep the feathers! it disgusts me when people mistreat their game by just breasting it. it’s so wasteful and the animal deserves better than that.

  6. River Mud

    Ha ha. I linked to HAGC on Thanksgiving, which found me grilling up goose legs. I thought you and Holly would be proud – I’m a rehabilitated breaster, thanks in no small part to your blog and recipes.

    I still have no interest in organ meats, tongues, or body parts that are 5% meat and 95% sinew. And with a 3 year old running amok, I don’t have time to prepare that stuff anyway…

  7. Kris

    Whatever happened to giving away the meats that you don’t like? I’ll gladly take anyone’s unwanted pheasant legs or deer hearts off their hands.

  8. Joel

    Nailed it, Hank. Use it or don’t shoot it. Any hunter that doesn’t want the fat from the bird, the bones for stock, or the legs for confit are missing out and wasting a natural resource.

  9. Mark Preston

    Jacques Pepin (famous chef) gave 5 recipes for 1 duck. All get used. That idea can be found in his: Cooking With Claudine (Jacques Pepin’s Kitchen) starting at page 95. I have made all the recipes from one duck and each was/is a delight to eat.

  10. Melissa

    Another idea if you REALLY don’t like something, is to feed it to pets. I made dog treats out of some deer kidney I was given and my dog really enjoyed them.

  11. mike rivera

    I’ve seen many hunters just breast out birds and also look at me in amazement when I tell them that I use the legs and as much as I can. I truly believe they have no idea of how to use them. This , I believe, is true of most game, not just ducks. That’s why your website is so helpful.
    As someone who cooks professionally, I’ve also seen the rise of the nose to tail and how it has become a gimmick and a trend to try and draw attention to some chef’s “genius” and drive sales. Being of Mexican descent I can tell you that this way of cooking is nothing new, like most other aspects of cooking. I believe as cooks/chefs/writers etc. we hold influence over how and what people eat and that there are many excited to learn. Teaching cooking fundamentals and taking away the gimmick aspect of whole animal cookery will help . I applaud your efforts and wait for the day when total usage is more the norm than a food trend. Mike.

  12. Hannah Giddens

    I completely agree and am becoming more adventurous in the kitchen. Here is my question and I guess there is no easy answer: Typically after hunting my significant other brings me 1 or maybe 2 wood ducks. Hand plucking has proven to be pretty tough (although I am just learning) and while my grandparents suggest parafin they say that they only did that when they had a large number of birds and that is a lot of work for one bird. I want to use the whole animal, and I want to be able to use the skin, but plucking seems to be the dilemma. Any easy way out?

  13. Rachel

    Excellent article and thank you so much for the work you do Hank! This fall I served pheasant pot pies, deviled duck hearts, and gizzard confits to guests. As they delighted in the flavors, they kept asking who this “Hank-guy” was. I’ll be sure to share more recipes (and also jewelry made from the feathers) with even more friends this year!

  14. Josh Thigpen

    Well said. As an aside, if you’re throwing away feathers, you need to befriend some fly fishermen…we have excellent ways of making pretty things from unwanted fur and feathers….

  15. Rachel Hoff

    Great post. We take the “undesirable” muscle and turn it into sausage. I’m a liver ‘n’ onions girl so that’s a no-brainer. :)

  16. Phillip

    I’ll reply to this with a cautious, “yeah. Maybe.”

    And this is as much for the other commenters here as it is for Hank.

    First and foremost, I don’t get along with the holier-than-thou, evangelical approach. Didn’t work for me with organized religion, and it doesn’t work for me with hunting ethics. If you want to preach to the choir, feel free (they’re already singing along). But if you want someone to change their ways or at least to consider alternative ways of seeing things, then there needs to be another approach that doesn’t alienate the intended audience.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about HAGC is that there’s an air of encouraging folks by modeling a positive behavior, rather than preaching some arbitrary ideal or by passing judgement on other hunters. This is how you change people’s minds.

    I think it’s important to look past the justifications people use for behavior, and realize that the reason they’re so common (and usually so weak) is because most people have never had their norms challenged before. They’re often unprepared to explain their actions beyond, “well, I don’t know much different. This is how we always did it,” and then they fall back to some vague rationalization. It’s simply defending something they didn’t realize they needed to defend.

    It’s no different than asking most hunters why they think it’s OK to hunt. You want to talk about falling back on weak platitudes? Try arguing for hunting with the statement that “we eat what we kill.” Try as you might, you can’t leave out the reality that a large percentage of modern sport hunting has nothing to do with food. Maybe that’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the truth, and regardless of personal attitudes, varmint and predator hunters are as much a part of modern sport hunting as the Hank Shaws and Tovar Cerullis. When you say, “I only kill what I’m going to eat,” it doesn’t defend Hunting. It only defends YOU.

    I also think it’s worth keeping in perspective, that the “tradition” of utilizing as much as possible from the animal stems more from necessity and practicality than any special sense of reverence for the animals. It wasn’t about showing respect, but about getting everything you could from it in order to meet the needs of the household or the community. Only recently has the idea of eating “nose-to-tail” come into vogue with the sport hunting community, and while it’s a great approach, it’s still a tiny niche in the bigger picture.

    Another reality is that, even in the world of “nose-to-tail”, there’s a lot of waste and a lot of picking and choosing. The disposal of a perfectly good mammal skin should be every bit as “sinful” as breasting out a teal. What about all those intestines that would make wonderful sausage casings? The truth is that we all pick and choose what we want to utilize off of an animal with varying levels of discrepancy. It’s best not to start tossing around judgements unless we’re willing to follow that track all the way to ground.

    As far as the lack of waste in the modern food processing industry, that’s pure profitability there. If there weren’t a half-penny in it, it wouldn’t happen. The chicken processors back in NC used to give the feet to local houndsmen for dog food. If the houndsmen didn’t come claim them, they went in the dumpsters out back. Then someone figured out an efficient way that the feet could be productized and just like that, there was nothing left but the cluck, the cackle, and the stink. It’s all about efficiencies.

    Back to breasting birds…

    For many hunters, it simply isn’t worth the extra work to pluck a bird, or to save the back and legs… much less the offal. They’re not great cooks and they never will be, no matter how many books or blogs they read. For them, a cooked duck leg will always be that shiny bone with a little knot of tough meat at the joint. A pheasant leg will always be that tendon-laced, tough-as-leather part that not even the kids will eat. It’s going in the trash one way or the other.

    It doesn’t make them bad hunters or bad people. And I expect most of them would be just like Hank’s example of the duck hunter with the canvasback. “I don’t want this part, but if you do, please take it. Glad to see it going to use.”

  17. Sarah G

    Amen. I just learned about breasting pheasants this year when I was given a few. I couldn’t believe people wold be so lazy and wasteful. I love using the entire bird. And when the bones are left over after cutting the cooked meat, it becomes the nicest consomme.

  18. mike rivera

    I am kind of lost on the point that Phillip was trying to make since he said his comment was “as much for the commenters as Hank”. I looked through the comments and I didn’t see anyone condemning others for using more or less of the animal. I did see that they were in general agreement with the post and shared some of the things they did with their game. I am in agreement with you that the “holier than thou” attitude hurts the efforts to enlighten and share. It is also my personal belief that labeling those that go the extra mile and strive to educate themselves as pretentious and snobby is equally unfair. I think we all know that some will do more than others in everything we do. Will you “convert” everyone? No. But the information is there for those that want it. When we get into a contest of who is more “nose to tail”or more of a “localvore” than the point is lost. We all need food to survive but to break bread with loved ones is an intangible need that far outweighs any past,current or future food trend.

  19. Seth

    I don’t really do the “blog thing” but I find myself here almost daily and have made numerous recipes from HAGC and your book over the past couple of weeks. I refer to “Hank” around around my kitchen as if he is a buddy, trying to entice my wife to eat critters from afield with limited success, baby-steps but we are getting there.

    I think your work deserves awards and many of them I am a huge fan.

    That said I think I am with Phillip on this one, I have been thinking alot about this topic lately, and the discussion even came up over a pile of collared-doves last week as me a couple friends field plucked our critters. I agree with the sentiment of everything you said, I pluck when I can, and feel bad when I do not. My first snow goose hunt in the NoDak back in the 90’s ended with me excited and saying “How do we cook them?” only to be met with laughter, they were cut open and fed to the barn cats. Appalled doesn’t get close to the emotion i felt, not to mention they were feeding cats, feral CATS! arguably the most ecologically destructive critter out on the landscape (at least if your a bird guy like me, any good cat recipes?).

    I understand and sympathize with the argument, but i submit that the sporting community has bigger fish to fry, like habitat, and recruitment issues, I am not for waste, but where and how do we draw the line? I don’t save my feathers to tie flies? People already have an uneasiness about the sporting community even people within the sporting community, “Well i’m not like those guys” but folks we need to keep it together here, there are real threats to hunting. I live a state where trapping is illegal, i had a colleague post the day of the CT tragedy that I, as all gun owners do, have “blood on there hands today” regardless of the reason we chose to own guns even if justified by the “reptilian desire to hunt” as it was put. Yea that happened, and I’ve bit my tongue until now. Again appalled does not come close.

    I guess Hank for what you do maybe this is the sword you choose to fall on, I just hope that the stigma of someone not using everything keeps them from getting out and hunting at all? Especially folks new to the lifestyle, I’d rather see more people Hunt, Angle, Garden and Cook and not do it up to the utmost highest ethical and moral standards then not at all. Is a wasted duck wing worse then a factory rotisserie chicken from a box store that comes over packaged on a semi from hundreds of miles away, only to get half eaten, the thrown in the trash? Thanks as always for the thought provoking discussion and Happy New Year all!

  20. David Walbert

    My first reaction to the idea of breasting out a canvasback was to be horrified by the waste of animal life. Five minutes later, I’m remembering the amount of grocery-store meat (grass-fed, humanely raised, free range, etc., etc.) I’ve had to throw away over the years because it was already rancid when I bought it. I’m recalling that we waste 30 million tons of food in this country every year. We Americans are, as a whole, incredibly cavalier about our food and our resources generally. And so I appreciate your nudging anybody in the direction of using more of what they’ve taken. I also appreciate that what hunters waste is a drop in the bucket of what apartment-dwelling fast-food eaters waste, personally and vicariously. So even though I don’t hunt I’m taking this as a reminder to use up the chicken hearts and the scraps of bacon.

  21. Chip Van Krevelen

    Can you recommmend a link(s)for recommended “how to” videos on the skinning, plucking, preparing of game birds?
    I truly appreciated the comments as I have never felt comfortable with how I have gotten the birds from the field to the kitchen.
    Thanks in advance,

  22. SusieQT

    Right on, Hank. I have only been hunting for about a dozen years, but my husband has been hunting his whole life. After my first successful turkey hunt, I was taken quite aback when my husband (a German butcher who makes his own sausage and lunchmeat every day at work) proceeded to breast it out and cut off the legs. We threw the rest of the carcass back in the woods. Since I had never killed anything before I was surprised that we “weren’t supposed to” cook a wild turkey like a Thanksgiving turkey.

    Let me now state for the record that after that incident, we have never done that again. We do make the whole bird and use the carcass for stock. It was just the tradition of not eating the “tough” parts of the bird that had been passed down through his family.

    And now that tradition has been broken- my kids understand that you need to respect the animals you kill for food and do not let valuable parts go to waste (we even save the feathers for archery shafts). That goes for the store-bought rotisserie chicken and pork loin and everything else, too. You can say what you will about nose-to-tail and trendy eating, but I think if we can just change a few attitudes we’re on the right path.

  23. Phillip

    Let’s see Mike.

    Should I quote Seth? “it disgusts me when people mistreat their game by just breasting it. it’s so wasteful and the animal deserves better than that”

    Or Joel? “Use it or don’t shoot it. Any hunter that doesn’t want the fat from the bird, the bones for stock, or the legs for confit are missing out and wasting a natural resource.”

    And then right after I posted, there’s Sarah. “I couldn’t believe people wold be so lazy and wasteful.”

    Or I could quote the verbal comments I’ve heard for years from other people… but that probably doesn’t count since it’s not on the blog.

    Point is that there’s a two-way street here, and Hank’s blog has for the most part managed to stay in the middle. I don’t think Hank is particularly “holier than thou”, much less pretentious or snobby (I think I know him well enough to say that). But a couple of these comments certainly do cross that line.

    I don’t think people who are trying to learn more about using more of the animal are a bad thing. Learning is good. I’ve certainly picked up a thing or two from Hank, and I’ve changed some of my own behaviors as a result… which is exactly what I think he’s trying to accomplish here. But I do think folks need to go easy on the judgements.

    And Hank. Thanks for the kudos. I’ve a tendency to say nothing or say everything that’s on my mind. Lucky you, today you got the everything. No need to get defensive, though. This isn’t the attack it may appear to be.

    I don’t really want to go point-by-point through your rant, but it was you that brought up the defense of hunting argument when you wrote: “Consider this: As hunters, one of our strongest arguments when we’re trying to convince non- or anti-hunters that we are not in fact callous killers is that we eat what we bring home. Breasting out birds and tossing the legs, wings and giblets in the trash damages – some would say destroys – that argument.”

    What destroys that argument is not some duck hunters tossing giblets in the garbage, but the legions of guys out there shooting prairie dogs, ground squirrels, coyotes, and so on. So sure, you eat what you kill, but every hunter doesn’t. You’re propping up an argument on a fallacy. Of course I realize that this blog post isn’t about building pro-hunting arguments, but this is a pet peeve and you trampled it. I’m a hunter who happens to cook. How people defend our sport is far more important to me than whether or not they toss the duck legs in the crock pot. Sorry for the aside… and that’s all I’ll say about that.

    Last, I’ll point out that you travelled the country promoting a book about eating what you kill to people who were interested in the topic. Of course you found lots of hunters who agreed with you. Nevertheless, I’ve never said that there haven’t always been people who use everything. I’ve known some of them my whole life, and I deeply respect their commitment. The ones I respect most are the ones like yourself, who aren’t overly preachy about it but simply say, “this is how I do it and it’s good. You should try it too.”

    But you can’t argue that the trend has only recently come into vogue, along with the locavore thing. It’s fashionable now. For better or worse, you’re in the vanguard of a “movement”. That’s not a judgement of you or anyone else, but a reminder that folks are still learning what you’re trying to teach. I think you’re doing a fine job of it, but the moment this begins to look like an elitist party, folks are going to start to tune out. Keep it grounded.

  24. Tina

    Hank, as a non-hunter, but serious gardener(and a serious lover of duck,), I’d be appalled at the idea of wasting so much of something that I’d work so hard to get. It seems to me that breasting out a duck or goose is sort of like growing 10 bushels of tomatoes and throwing out 5 because I already had enough of them canned. It just doesn’t make sense to me. If any hunters out there want to send me their unwanted legs, I’ll be happy to take them off their hands!

  25. Michael Jones

    40 years of hunting and I still don’t get why they do that. Here in NY I hear turkey hunters say the same thing

  26. steve

    I breast out my ducks…..but I have saved legs from great big flight Mallards. They are delicious. I have always thought I was wasting something when I threw out the rest of my ducks. I will reconsider. Here is another tip. I harvest the “CDC” or oil gland feathers off of all my waterfoul. If you tie trout fly’s and buy commercial “CDC” wait till you try the real stuff.


  27. Phillip

    Hank, Amen.

    And heart is about the only organ meat I regularly enjoy… so I’m all over that jaeger schnitzel. We just need to make it happen.

  28. mike rivera

    I can’t believe I have to write this again because of Hanks’s CAPTCHA code thing but here goes:
    I was lost on the point you were trying to make in your original post but now I think I’m hearing you. Some of those comments were judgemental and overlooked by me and some I don’t believe were so harsh as to turn someone away from the site. Maybe I’m wrong. Food is a subject many people have strong feelings and opinions about. So is hunting. Saying that you shouldn’t tell people they are wasting food because they might quit hunting is not a good enough reason(IN MY OPINION). Honestly there are some I’d rather not see hunting because I believe them to be poor examples of hunters. I know many persons of Asian and Latin descent that would say you were wasteful as well if you didn’t use all you knew to be of use. And they are not hunters at all. Just makes sense to us.
    I guess in the end I didn’t see the post as you saw it but I am grateful for your insight. When I try and teach someone, hunter or not, to use more than the breast, backstrap etc. I will choose my words more carefully. This has been very helpful to me.

  29. River Mud

    Hank, honestly, your URL reads “wanton waste breasting birds” and not “this is how I do it, you should try,” so I cannot imagine that you were caught unaware that such a reaction would occur here. I, too, found that several of the comments above are pretentious at best, though I wouldn’t have mentioned it if you hadn’t sort of disagreed with that fact.

    I can see your frustration in this issue – once a bird is in hand, 99.9% of the effort has been completed-successfully!!! Why throw away significant meat just to save a few minutes? I get it. I, myself, am growing to appreciate the “other cuts” such as they are.

    But there are many other factors at play…namely TIME. TIME to prepare special dishes. TIME to break legs off of the hip, and TIME cut off the feet with heavy duty loppers. I don’t take my deer to the butcher because I’m lazy or because I’m scared of blood. It’s because I don’t have time to process it all myself, and myself is all I’ve got.

  30. Sarah G

    Actually, I have saved the heart and liver of my pheasants. I am hoping the livers might make a nice pate.

  31. Ryan Sabalow

    I’d never begrudge someone for breasting out their birds, especially waterfowl. Breasts are quick and easy to cook. The other parts, not so much.

    And let’s face it, when poorly prepared, legs and thighs and whole birds can be an outright gag-o-rama, the kind of meals that make you never want to try them that way again — or any wild-game meal for that matter.

    Hank, maybe someone with your culinary background hasn’t had this experience, but I sure have.

    I’ll never forget my first goose I shot with my dad when I was 12. It was opening morning and I knocked down a beautiful speck. When I got home, my dad and I spent what felt like three hours plucking it and gutting it, giving it the royalty treatment. We wanted my first bird to be something really special.

    My mom, who’s normally a great cook, baked it just like she would a store-bought chicken. Of course, she overcooked the living beejeebers out of it, probably giving it a few extra minutes in the oven to kill all the swamp microbes she conjured up in her well-meaning mind. She turned the rib-eye of the sky into a livery, chalky, sinewy hunk of shoeleather. I’ll never forget trying to pretend like I wasn’t about to gag as I gnawed on a hunk of speck vinyl.

    That’s what I thought all whole ducks and geese and their legs and thighs were like up until just a few years ago. And it’s why up until then I breasted out my birds for things like jerky, bacon-wrapped barbecued poppers and stir-fry, stuff that even the most inept cook could make taste OK. Cutting the breasts and tossing the rest also was what my hunting buddies did. Like me, a few had bad experiences with plucked birds. But, for most, the only cooking they’d ever really done was tossing steaks on a grill. Breasts are the closest thing to a steak on a duck. I can’t imagine what some of my redneck friends would have tried to do with sinewy leggy bits. No doubt, they’d have ended up in the trash one way or the other.

    It was only when I really started to become a confident cook that I began experimenting with whole birds and their legs and thighs. I confess I still only really like whole ducks smoked (canvasbacks are pure bliss). But whenever I try to do them whole any other way (including some of your recipes), they’re either bloody raw, way too strong tasting or dreadfully overcooked. I just don’t have a knack for it.

    And I hate — HATE — killing something and spending all that time prepping it for the table only to feed it to the dog or throw it away because I ruined it.

    Now, if I don’t plan on smoking my birds, I still go for the easy stuff. But I no longer toss the legs and thighs. They most likely get tossed into the meat grinder for burgers, soups, meatballs or chili. Either that, or they head to the crock pot for a nice overnight beer braise.

    I try to encourage my hillbilly friends to do the same.

  32. semiswede

    First of all, I’m not a hunter, but have family members that are so I get to benefit from their love and work when I go home to visit them. My family tend to be the “breasting out” crowd, so I read this article with interest since I would love to make stock, use the legs and fat for confit, etc. if I didn’t live 3,000 miles away from them. They have no interest in that level of cooking and have done enough plucking in the past to determine it’s a bit too much work for the bits they use and haven’t pursued it further. I was hoping to be able to send this article to them as a prompter to try something different, but as some have pointed out, the tone of the post is a bit unusual for HGAC. There is a definite edge to the writing which I think is hard to curb when you are so passionate about a subject. I felt the disbelief and horror of breasting out, rather than the inspiration to change behavior, so I didn’t feel like it was something I could pass on to them without them being offended. But I did find the link in the comments to plucking and using parrafin, which was really interesting, so I will send them that video link, and continue to send them links to various recipes hoping to inspire them to change. Thanks for all that you do with your blog. Overall, I do find it inspirational and of great interest, even as a non-hunter. Happy New Year!

  33. E. Nassar

    I agree with you 100% Hank, but IMHO what it really boils down to is learning how to cook. You touched on it a bit by mentioning those who eat the game as an “obligation” and from my (limited) experience and exposure to hunters these nice folks constitute the majority of the hunting crowd. Basically get the breast (or backstrap or whatever) wrap it in bacon with a slice of jalapeno and cream cheese maybe and grill or bake it. A couple of hunters I was on a guided trip with recently were shocked that I planned on taking the whole ducks home and pluck most of them! Although the younger of the two was very intrigued of what I would do with cooking a whole one or the legs (I pointed him to this site, so who knows…).

    Of course the fact that many Americans are so out of touch with the importance of food and cooking to most of what we do in life is a much bigger topic and education starts at home. I “preach” to my two kids and try to ingrain in them early on the principles of good food, proper cooking and respect to the animals we eat. Hopefully that sticks :)

  34. Seth

    A couple of points, I’ll try to be brief:

    Mike: You mention “Saying that you shouldn’t tell people they are wasting food because they might quit hunting is not a good enough reason(IN MY OPINION)” I assume was directed at my post. And perhaps I did not articulate my point well enough. I think we should be informing people, and there is no one that I know, better suited then Hank, to do that, so I think it is a great post and topic, but we need to stop short of shaming people.

    I agree not everyone should be a hunter, (most of the place I hunt are already over used, so selfishly I’d like to see less hunters), and as to Coyote and PD shooters, I don’t even think mentioning them in this string is appropriate, that is shooting in my opinion, and in most cases no doubt “wanton waste”.

    Phillip mentioned the “locavore”/hunting movement becoming trendy , I guess that is what I was referring to when I mentioned people becoming involved with an “uneasiness”. They are already not sure if this is a good fit on many levels, but feel it is the right thing to do. So my point is let people get out, get a feel for it before we insist on eating hearts, livers and wing-tips, and insist that anything short of that is wasteful. I’ll even for conversations sake put myself in the hunting is trendy category, I started over a decade ago, took a break and now I am back, I have a lot of friends who want to start for all the right reasons, if that’s trendy so be it. These folks are respectful, ecologically minded, and the exact kind of people we want to see hunting! And the ones that will feel guilty enough about not eating a wing that it will stop them from doing it all!

    Maybe it is a crappy analogy, but if your neighbor planted a garden, but heaven forbid used some herbicide or even wasted some tomatoes, would us trendy locavore types shame them or say, “hey great garden, let me know how i can help”. I know I would be happy to see a garden regardless of how they chose to operate it. In summary lets not let “great” get in the way of “good”?

    (Clearly brief didn’t work out for me, appears there are 2 Seth’s on the string, I was the second and long winded Seth)

  35. Erika

    @Phillip et al,

    As one of the “judgmental, pretentious elite” who agrees 100% with this essay, please remember that folks like us are also the ones you want on your side when voting for legislation supporting habitat conservation and hunting gun rights etc. I know that wording sounds like a big threat or that people who think like me are all-powerful, and I know that is far from the truth. But I think it is far more important to the future of hunting to encourage as many positive participants from as many walks of life as possible, than to defend what many of us see as appalling wastefulness and disrespect for the life of a fellow creature in the name of “I’ll hunt as I please and anyone with a contrary opinion is a snotty scolder.”

    I’m a huge fan of Hank’s and of this blog; I’ve reposted many of his articles -not just the recipes, but those devoted to the art of hunting- to a crowd of mainly non-hunters who tend to cry at the sight of blood, but who love food and try their hardest to always respect its source, whether from the market or the field. The line someone like Hank walks between supporting what is often a controversial activity, and being willing to deeply comment on it without sounding preachy, but with grace, patience and inclusiveness, impresses me on a regular basis.

  36. Hamish

    Wow Hank, you lit a fire and everyone has a stick to throw on it.

    Hopefully your new book will encourage more hunters to eat more parts of the fowl. (perhaps a book display next to the shotgun shells at the gun shops)

    Happy new year!

  37. River Mud


    The vast majority of Americans (80% or greater, I’d guess) don’t even understand how a chicken breast is attached to a chicken (Food Prep 101), or why birds have pronounced breast muscles at all (Biology 101); I highly doubt that a large amount of them are appalled by the waste of parts of a bird that they would not eat a single bite of – if they saw the meat attached to a head, skin, feathers, or feet prior to it being prepared in an oil fryer.

    Displays of wastefulness and offensive redneckdom are helpful to no one, but I still fail to see how openly calling the most dominant American preparation method of wild bird “wanton waste” (which is an important and sensitive legal term to bird hunters) is the kum-by-yah, inclusive approach that you, and others, suggest that it is.

    Don’t know about where you live, but out here we have wanton waste. Deer with sawed off heads, let to rot in the woods. Entire piles of dozens of unwanted, unfilleted geese and ducks (a very, very common occurrence). Rafts of floating dead croaker that EVERYBODY wanted to catch and put in the cooler but NOBODY wants to clean. That is wanton waste. Losing 15% of a bird’s meat by not using the neck, legs, and wings? Perhaps it is, perhaps not. I’m personally trying to work harder on using more of my birds – largely because of the positive guidance provided on this blog.

    As stewards of a wild food resource, I’m just suggesting that we have much further to go than to get 70% of hunters to start using duck tongue, and then everything will be hunky dory. We need to get a very real percentage of hunters to not waste entire animals because they couldn’t bear to not shoot them. Let’s not forget that it still happens to often, and that it is actual wanton waste.

  38. River Mud

    Ugh. **too** often.

  39. Holly Heyser

    Erika, I agree 100 percent that people like you are who we need on our side. We don’t need a majority of people to hunt; we need a majority of people to be comfortable with what the majority of hunters do. How we make use of the animals we kill is an important part of that.

  40. Eric Jennings

    I have also shared the experience of watching someone breast out a canvasback, when I was first starting to duck hunt. I had to walk away before I said something I shouldn’t, I couldn’t watch it. Since that time I have tried to educate people about making use of more of the bird, with mixed results for sure. But I am excited when friends and acquaintances tell me that they tried recipes for parts other than breasts, even if they didn’t turn out well. They are at least trying to use more of the bird, and they will eventually find a recipe they like, and the next time they will be excited to make use of those duck legs (or whatever part). Hank’s recipes have certainly helped me educate a few people with recipes to use more of their birds.

    As per previous comments about Hank being maybe a bit “preachy and holier than thou” on this subject; I can tell you that is exactly the opposite when you speak to him in person. Maybe the page title of “wanton waste and breasting out birds” stirred up a hornets nest with a few people, but its more a matter of perspective. In Montana as Hank stated, breasting out a duck and throwing the rest away for example would actually be wanton waste. In California that is not the case. Something that sounds “preachy” in California is the norm in Montana. All you can do (as Hank does very well) is educate people about their options, its up to them to decide to change their minds or not. Don’t get bent out of shape, take it with a grain of salt, try a new recipe to make use of more of the bird, eat, drink, and be merry!

  41. andrew gustin


    I’m from Chicago originally, but moved to Tennessee years ago and now work in EMS. Everyone I work with hunts. Unfortunately, everyone breasts out their birds too. Hunting is still foreign to me, but not the cooking part. With the primer from your book I started requesting whole birds two weeks ago when my buddies went hunting and promised to return plucked, waxed and gutted birds ready to go in the oven. They’ve all been shocked. Guys who didn’t know the difference between roasting, braising or boiling now don’t want their duck without the legs, skin and delicious fat. Plus they’re definitely bringing me more birds for my table too. Win, win. Thanks for all the info over the last year–it’s creating converts in Tennessee, and I promise, that’s saying something.

  42. Erika

    Holly and River Mud,

    I think the “problem” isn’t just with hunters, it’s with the attitude of that same majority of Americans towards their food in general. The amount of food that goes to waste here, literally into the trash, is appalling. Like tens of billions of dollars a year appalling. And yes, I’ve seen kids filling their boat with bluegill they’ll never eat, just to see how many they can catch. (I’m thankful not to have yet seen a deer’s carcass left for the sake of its rack, but to my naive mind that’s more like poaching or even psychopathy than hunting…)

    Which is worse, not comprehending where your food comes from and scraping a quarter of it off your plate into landfill; or taking down an animal just for the experience and the few choice morsels of flesh?

    I’m not pointing my finger at hunters, and I think we’d do better sticking together and being willing to hear a gentle admonishment on occasion rather than name-calling and defensiveness : )

  43. Holly Heyser

    Erika, it’s funny – it was only when I started hunting that I stopped cavalierly tossing meat that I hadn’t cooked before it had gone bad, or even tossing uneaten food from my plate (rare – I like cleaning my plate). Having watched the animal die, having caused it’s death made it very personal, and wasting it seemed so dishonorable.

    It’s also a function of the work: I spent 15 hours hunting on Jan. 1 and 2, and seven hours driving to and from those hunts, and five hours plucking and dressing the seven birds I killed in those two days. That’s 27 hours for at most a couple pounds of meat. That’s a big investment of my time.

    And for everyone who doesn’t know what to do with legs, here’s what I do when Hank abandons me and I actually have to cook for myself: If I don’t roast the duck whole (my favorite), I cut everything off the bone into stirfry-sized pieces and make an easy stirfry, cooking the meat very quickly to avoid making it livery.

  44. Josh

    Hank, great post. I think what you are coming up against here is quite deep and complex:

    First, you do feel there is an ethical argument to be made (“wonton waste”, to which I reply “I never waste wontons, I grew up in Chinatown”), yet you feel uncomfortable about it because you are a journalist from New Jersey (that’s a joke);

    Second, because you ask people about wasting parts (which is specifically forbidden in many states because many hunters and game managers believe it is wrong behavior, too), people get uncomfortable (either mad that it happens or uneasy because they do it… and, why would they feel uneasy if they didn’t really know it wasn’t right?) – these reactions add to the evidence that there is, in fact, an ethical argument to be made;

    Third, people do what their daddy’s taught ’em, but they also do what society teaches/pressures them to do (I’m reminded of a great article in “A Hunter’s Heart” about a daughter getting bullied at school in Alaska for eating Dall sheep), and in the US, urbanization has crept into all but the most distant of rural communities.

    This last point is to highlight a reasoning you make to help you feel better about some people’s wasteful habits: You say they see food as fuel. But, that isn’t true, or else we wouldn’t have the obesity crisis we do. People enjoy eating, it’s just that urbanization (its efficiencies and its homogenized tastes) has taken away the regional flair and diversity of tastes and textures. Those same folks who don’t have the time to skin a pheasant leg and throw it in the crock pot with some potatoes and onions before sitting down to watch the game will usually sear a marinated steak to perfection (same amount of time) or put a seasoned chicken on a beer can (more time). At the very least, they know somebody who can do those things.

    I have a two year-old and a six year-old, and we just pounded out some dadgum acorns for a freakin’ cake while watching the Georgia Bulldogs beat Nebraska the other day, AND while I had an in-depth conversation about gun control. It isn’t about time, it’s about inertia and social pressures – it’s about letting city-fied living creep into your existence. If I’ve offended some, it’s because they feel bad that they don’t live as country as they should.

    As for defending hunting: If we can’t even talk about marginally illegal activities just so we don’t offend some folks who enjoy the sport as they like it, then we are in a bad, bad place. Hunting has to weather honest scrutiny from within, or it will die off.

  45. Guy B.


    Really emotional topic judging by all the responses. I think to use the animal to the best of it’s entirety is a very native, primal, and tribal instinct. When our ancestors hunted it was for survival and every little bit that could be consumed, was. Not only for necessity, but also as homage and respect for the animal that gave its life so that they could live. For me your site has taken this instinctual aspect and applied classic & modern fine cooking, that entices the readers and inspires hunters to eat out side the box or breasts for that matter. Thank you for inspiring us to try and eat all but the Quack!

    PS: Waiting on that Duck Cook Book? Get “Quacking” on that sucker!

  46. Erika

    Holly, I think investing time and an emotional connection with one’s food is a great place to start for most of us, whether we hunt or not. My folks have been raising and butchering their own chickens for some time, and the cost and effort that goes into that is certainly not reflected in the chicken I admit I bought at the grocer’s today. But I hate wasting even cheap food, and can’t afford the dishes I read about in restaurant reviews, so I’ve started looking around for what I can do with what other people wouldn’t even bother buying, let alone cooking. My folks waste little, even the chicken feet are saved for gelatin stock. And the bag of frozen gizzards were confited after I’d read Hank’s directions for duck gizzard. None of us could believe what tender morsels those tough chunks of muscle were transformed into.

    I bought domestic duck for Christmas, and hardly a scrap went to waste. I like my breast rare, with a crispy skin; when I looked for the leg confit recipe I’d bookmarked, it also turned out to be Hank’s (and the gizzards and hearts got thrown in). I roasted the wings and carcass for stock, and the picked meat went into pan-fried neck-skin sausage. Every drop of fat was saved, some of which went into a liver pate. And the what was left of the bones went back to the chickens ha ha ha! I doubt even the most blase hunter would turn their nose up at any of these dishes.

    Anyways, I’m glad I get to practice on store-bought birds; if I ever get the chance to cook a wild duck, I hope I can do its life justice with as many dishes. Tossing a bird away after breasting it out would be, to me, like throwing out confit, crispy sausage, pate, several wonderful bowls of soup, and a platter full of crispy duck-fat potatoes. That would be crazy!

  47. River Mud

    Erika, I think I’m understanding more where you’re coming from and it makes a great deal of sense. Thanks for the further detail.

    Josh, whether everyone “should” live in the countryside or not, that ship sailed about 4,000 years ago when rich people started consolidating poor people (and slaves) into camps and villages to increase the efficiency at which they produced work. With 7.1 billion people on earth (soon to be 10 billion before the inevitable skid, crash, or slide), everyone can’t – and shouldn’t – live in the country. To accomodate all of my area’s wannabe countryside inhabitants (who still have to drive to work in the city 50, 60, even 90 miles away), our interstates are now 8 and 10 lanes wide. That has not accomplished a dang thing – except eliminated a lot of wildlife habitat and hunting land.

  48. Tragash

    This is a paradigm I’ve tried to change in the three seasons I’ve been hunting. When I started, I met the old school hunters who just tossed the remainder away, and I was sure to ask them for any parts or birds they were not going keep for their own table. This methodology continued, and as I became a more successful hunter, I would find ways to share my dishes with them in an effort to show what they were tossing was actually delicious edible portions of the bird. My second season I went so far as to even keep the unique feathers from the ducks I harvested and had earrings made from them for the ladies in my family which I gave to them for Christmas.

    I never found shame in asking these hunters for these portions, and this season I was rewarded with Swan thighs and legs that I will be cooking up soon. I just hate seeing these parts tossed away.

    This season, as I began to hunt with new people, the question always came up regarding how they cleaned the birds they brought home. I was pleased to learn that many of my new friends were up to plucking their birds and utilizing a majority of their harvest. Maybe there is a paradigm shift occurring. We can all hope cant we? And until that time, we can all do our part to save and utilize these portions and do justice to those animals that gave their lives for us to enjoy them.

  49. Tybo

    I used to be guilty of this and decided to change for various reasons. I now keep the legs and other parts and cook the meat to use in croquettes, tacos, or quesadillas.

  50. River Mud

    I’d agree that there’s NEVER any shame in that asking. In fact, too many hunters are willing to give away entire birds sometimes, because they just don’t feel terribly motivated to dealing with the bird they’ve killed (though they will, to the minimal extent (breasting)). My wife always asks for my pheasant feathers, and I gave up an entire wood duck’s feathers for a fly tying friend.

    People are more generous than each of us may think. As in most (legal) things in life, there’s no harm in asking.

  51. Eric Nuse

    Hank – I’m in agreement with full utilization of what we shoot. This idea is one of the 7 sisters of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.
    Nothing disgusted me more as a hunter and a game warden than the ‘shoot it and leave it’ criminal. In my mind the lazy ‘strip out the best cuts and leave the rest’ crowd wasn’t far behind.
    However, I just finished reading a book, “Life Everlasting, the animal way of death”, by biologist Bernd Heinrich, that made me re-examine my human centered view of waste. I still will use every bit of the critters I shoot (I have a bunch of moose bones boiling on the wood stove right now) but depending how the non-human utilized parts are disposed of, I don’t feel so strident about it being waste. Human waste, yes, but certainly not for ravens, coyotes and scarab beetles.
    My thinking now is not fully using what you kill is disrespectful to the animal killed. If this is true, then it follows that the disrespect probably extends to other wildlife and wild places. If the unused meat/other parts are returned to the land – then waste is not the issue.

  52. Suburban Bushwacker

    I was at an old school english driven game shoot a few weeks ago, the guns as the sports are called, all took home a token brace and the rest of the bag were to go to the game dealer. The head keeper was kind enough to give me a feed sack of birds, everyone from the keeping team i spoke to said the legs of both pheasant and partridge weren’t worth eating. I was amazed. I’ve always eaten all the flesh and now thanks to you and your writing i’ve got all the organ meat in my freezer too. I did feel I was letting you and myself down when I chucked the gizzards though.


  53. Josh

    River Mud, I appreciate your comment to an extent you probably wouldn’t believe. However, I didn’t say that they weren’t “living in the country” as much as they should, but rather that they aren’t “living country as much as they should”, which can happen wherever one lives.

  54. Ken

    The hearts and livers of game birds, even doves, are delicious lightly floured and sautéed in butter. I have convinced a number of people, hunters included, that these parts are worth saving.

    I think legs and thighs are the tastiest part of pheasant. I just returned from a pheasant hunt – my buddy wanted only breasts – I got twice as much of our shared birds by taking all of his birds legs and thighs.

  55. River Mud

    Josh, amen to that. Sorry if I misunderstood you.

  56. Kraig

    I make my own duck/goose stock and it makes all the difference in the final taste of my waterfowl dishes. I am looking forward to Mr. Shaw’s new waterfowl cookbook.

  57. Cody

    What about smaller game like dove? I know quail is often roasted whole, but is dove?


  58. Justin

    Funny you should mention duck scrapple… Last week I was eating some homemade scrapple (I’m from Philly) when I chomped a BB. What the?? Then of course I remembered the old frozen spoonies I threw into the mix. Homemade scrapple is a great way to clean out the freezer!

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