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How to Pluck a Pheasant

ringneck pheasant

Plucking a pheasant is not hard, but it requires patience. The reason is because unlike a duck or goose, a pheasant has relatively thin and loose skin — skin that will tear very easily if you try to rush the job.

There are two methods: Dry plucking and wet plucking. Dry plucking is what you think it is — you just start plucking feathers off the bird. Although many people swear by it, I never do this with fresh pheasants because the wet-plucking method works so well. I will sometimes dry-pluck pheasants that have hung for a few days.

Wet plucking basically means scalding the bird before plucking. To do this, you need to get a large pot of water and get it to scalding temperature. What is scalding temperature? Steaming, but not boiling — not even simmering. If you need a number, shoot for 150-160 degrees.

  • Do one bird at a time. The scalding process only works when the feathers and skin are warm. Once they grow cold you will have a soggy mess. Work quickly and efficiently.
  • Once you have the water hot enough, pluck the pheasant’s tail feathers out, one by one. Then grab the pheasant by the head or feet (I do the feet) and plunge him into the water. Hold him under for 30 seconds. Lift him out and let him drain until the water stops coming off in a stream. Repeat this three times. This means you have dunked the pheasant for a total of 90 seconds.
  • Pluck the bird while it is still warm. Start with the wings. Next pluck the large feathers along the outer edges of the breast – carefully, as they can tear the skin easily. Then work on the flank feathers on the bird’s thigh, then go to the neck and finish with the back and the rest of the legs. Take your time. It is very important. Go feather by feather if need be, especially around the breast — you want it to look pretty and not torn.
  • The feathers on the wings come off easier than those of a duck, which is the most persnickety part of duck-plucking. But the pheasant’s breast — especially around any place that has a shot hole — is the hardest part, to my mind. When you have shot holes, anchor the skin down with the fingers of one hand, and pluck one feather at a time with the other. It’s the only way to get them off without tearing the skin.
  • When you are finished, gut the pheasant (save the liver, heart and gizzard if you wish) and wash it well. Dry the bird with a paper towel thoroughly, stuff a clean paper towel in the cavity and then set him on another paper towel in a lidded container in the fridge for 2-7 days. Pheasants age well this way.

This method works for all other upland game birds. All are gallinules, and all have the same thin skin as a pheasant. In my experience, Grouse, quail and partridges are better dry-plucked than wet-plucked, although it takes a lot longer to dry pluck than wet-pluck a bird. Doves, woodcock and pigeons are the easy to dry pluck.

A few words on dry plucking: I mostly do this with birds that have been hanging for several days; you can still wet-pluck a hung pheasant, but the longer the hang time, the more likely you will need to contend with weakened skin. So to dry pluck:

  • Start on the back and the wings as you would a fresh or scalded pheasant. Remember to PLUCK, not pull. Use a quick snap of the wrist to yank a feather out very quickly, while anchoring the skin down with several fingers of your other hand. Under NO circumstances should you try to grab more than a couple feathers at a time. You will tear the skin.
  • The legs pluck the easiest.
  • The neck has a few areas that pluck easy, but the loose or limp areas are a devil — expect to get a few tears.
  • There are two kinds of feathers on a pheasant, quill-type feathers with a stiff core, and wispy under-feathers. The under-feathers pluck very easily, while the quill feathers are guaranteed to rip the skin if you pluck incorrectly.
  • To pluck quill feathers correctly, anchor the skin down and in one motion, yank each feather out first the way it is attached, then the opposite way in a kind of arc. It is VERY important to do only one or two feathers at a time when you get to these feathers, which are on the neck, each side of the breast, and the flanks of the bird.
  • The wings are pretty easy, but watch out for where the wings meet the body — this area tears easily.
  • Save the breast for last: It can be nit-picky, but it is the showpiece of a whole plucked bird so you don’t want to mess it up.

If you have other tips or suggestions, let me know in the comment section. Thanks!

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21 responses to “How to Pluck a Pheasant”

  1. Eric G

    Hank,

    I love this website. I am supposed to be preparing a speech, but I can’t stop reading.

    Okay you might think me a horrible person, but I have never plucked a pheasant in my life. I have always just skinned them and took the breasts and legs.

    Do you break the skin just under the bottom of the breast bone to remove the guts?

    Also do you soak your pheasants in salt for a day or two? Or just put them in the fridge as you stated above?

    Thanks,

    Eric

  2. Scott

    My preferred method for plucking any bird is right after it has been shot. When the bird is still warm the feathers come out MUCH easier than after the bird has cooled. So I sit and wait for more birds and keep my hands warm while plucking.

  3. burtie

    Mate just want to thank you, Your write up is bang on and patience is the key just done my first 2 birds and to be fair not bad a few tears here and there so quite pleased next step cooking and eating then see about going on a shoot cheers take care.

  4. SCUNNYFERRET/ CHARLIE

    JUST BEEN GIVEN TWO BRACES OF PHEASANTS, my first time in hanging and plucking, and gutting, read your website, took note on tearing . I`ll let you know how it goes, but i love the taste of pheasant, but need to freeze two for crimbo dinner, sod chicken turkey , lamb, beef … its pheasant for 2009 for me LOL … wish me luck in preparing, … going to leave them for a week before plucking / gutting …

    Charlie from Scunthorpe, linc`s , uk

  5. Steve

    I love the Idea of useing the neck to make sausage. How cool is that ! What im looking for is a sausage recipe for pheasent that uses blueberries,and cranberries in it. I’ve heard of this and would love to try it tomorrow. Can you help?

  6. Catgut and Other Research — Cricket and Grey

    […] How to Pluck a Pheasant Well, I really needed to know how to pluck a grouse but I couldn’t find any super specific information about plucking grouse and I reasonably concluded that most bird feathers are similar enough that plucking any of them is going to be pretty similar.  Hank can email me if I’m wrong.  If anyone knows if this is true, it’s him.  This is one of my favorite food writers of all time.  He eats A LOT of meat and I eat none, yet I have the deepest respect for him. […]

  7. Catgut and Other Research (originally published on CandG site 4/10/2011) — Better Than Bullets

    […] How to Pluck a Pheasant Well, I really needed to know how to pluck a grouse but I couldn’t find any super specific information about plucking grouse and I reasonably concluded that most bird feathers are similar enough that plucking any of them is going to be pretty similar.  Hank can email me if I’m wrong.  If anyone knows if this is true, it’s him.  This is one of my favorite food writers of all time.  He eats A LOT of meat and I eat none, yet I have the deepest respect for him. […]

  8. Nathan

    At what point do you cut off the head? I assume you don’t pluck it. Is there anything interesting that you can do with it, or do you generally discard?

  9. Edythe Thomas

    Thanks for the tips. Just got my senior license and shot my first pheasant. One shot! Edy

  10. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie)

    Tonight I received 3 pheasants and I followed your directions exactly. Not bad! But I did scald the last one a bit too much so had to skin it. Takes practice. My second one was almost perfect. First one had a lot of pin feathers left. But great directions. I only got stumped at the crop and finally figured out that I could pull it out without breaking it. Will be trying some of your recipes now.

  11. Bill Fuhry

    On a day that started off foggy, we finally got out after the fog began to lift and we were assured a safe hunt.

    Saw one bird, and I shot it. And unfortunately, I hit mostly wings and legs, so I had to dispatch it mostly by hand (which I do as quickly and humanely as possible – never pleasant, but it happens).

    On the plus side, I figured it was a good candidate for plucking. I had ordered wild pheasant (from Scotland) at North Pond, a really nice restaurant nearby. And it was so juicy and delicious. So I needed to remake that!

    Alas, I failed at plucking.

    Another weird thing – as I tried to separate the legs – there was a really nasty wound on the hind quarters. It was not a wound channel – was the size of a quarter or so. And it was stinky. Needless to say, that part is not in my freezer.

    On to pluck again one day!

  12. Kaci Golder

    Hi!My name is Kaci and my dad,my sister, and I are going on a Pheasant hunt in September.This is really exciting because i just got out of my hunters safety course and now my sister and I just need a gun and then we can go out and get our licences.My sister is 13 and I’m 11 but I’m so happy!I might be getting a 4 gauge shotgun because I’m a little small for my age.We’re might be getting the guns from my dads friend.But I’m so happy to go! And the website that I’m giving you isn’t mine.It’s my whole familys cooking site.

  13. tom parkin

    I love this website…. I just got into a HUGE argument with a friend of mine about hanging pheasants he left off saying ” I hope you get sick” this website not only proved me right but told me the right temp. to hang it at. I’m realtivly new at hunting and at cooking game meats and this site has been a godsend. thank you very much… and keep up the good work

  14. Lindsey Baird

    My husband and I both LOVE your website!! I JUST plucked my first pheasant and I would really like to preserve the feathers and make a wreath. I took great care in selecting the feathers individually so there is no skin attached but there is still stuff inside the tip. Any suggestions? I found a method online called dry cleaning where you shake them in a bag with flour, cornmeal and borax. Ever heard of this?

    Thank you so much for having such an incredible site,
    Lindsey B

  15. Levi

    I tried it, and it worked really well. I’ve never plucked a pheasant before, so was really pleased with how easy it was. It wasn’t overly easy, and it took a long time (maybe about 45 minutes), but it was simple. I did gut it before I plucked it and I didn’t have any problems with that; so I would personally suggest that you get the guts out as soon as possible. Thanks for posting this!

  16. Rose Marie Russell

    I have dressed, cooked and ate hundreds of pheasant in my day. (I am eighty years old.) I would never eat a wild bird that was not gutted and cleaned as soon as possible after shooting. We always skinned…never plucked a bird. There was never time to waste for that.

  17. Cal

    “All are gallinules” Actually Hank I think Gallinules are marsh birds like Moorhens and Coots. Chickens, pheasants, quail etc. are Gallinaceous birds. A small thing but any day you learn something new is a good one in my book. Personally I like eating Gallinules. Coot Stroganoff is hard to beat.

  18. Chris

    I love this site! I have a pot of the Kentucky Burgoo simmering right now. I just came upon it. I’m always looking for ways to prepare game for my family. I’m a life long hunter and was raised on wild game. Keep fighting the good fight.

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