Success! Going from field to plate

Migratory game bird harvest provides more than 750,000 pounds of natural, renewable protein every year.

And for good reason — ducks and geese are fantastic eating, especially if you follow some simple steps to ensure the highest quality table fare back home.

First and foremost, proper field care and transportation on ice are critically important steps to achieving the best results. With big game, such as deer and elk, this often presents a challenge and is most always strenuous work. Fortunately, with waterfowl the task is much easier, but there are still some key considerations to remember to optimize your results.

Congratulations — you’ve just harvested your first bird or limit of birds!

Image for post
First geese on father/son hunt. Photo by Christian Walters.

Now you have some decisions to make. Let’s dive into the details of two popular methods of field dressing/cleaning waterfowl. The first consideration is how you intend to cook your birds because this will determine your next move.

If you want to roast the whole bird, you will proceed to pluck all the feathers, which is much easier right after the harvest. If you wait too long, feathers can be a real challenge to remove and you risk tearing the delicate skin. Many waterfowlers prefer not to pluck birds simply due to the messy, time-consuming chore of doing so, but if you want a beautiful roasted duck or goose presentation, it’s the only way to go.

Here are the steps:

  • Once you have the bird plucked, find the bottom of the breast meat
  • Make a small cut here to expose the entrails
  • Reach two fingers into the body cavity and lightly grasp the entrails
  • Pull them straight down, removing the innards
  • Make sure you get the heart from the upper breast area
  • Wash the bird and pat it dry

A more efficient approach is to simply remove the meat from the carcass. In this case, plucking is not required. “Breasting” is the common term used for this method and it can be done within a couple hours, provided the temperatures are cool and you avoid placing birds in direct sunlight. Note that on smaller birds, the breast is where the most usable meat is located. On larger birds, such as Canada geese, you will also remove and keep the wing butts, thighs, and legs.

  • To breast a duck, pluck the breast clean of feathers
  • Cut down the middle of the breast to one side of the breast ridge bone of the duck
  • Ducks and geese have a ridge-like bone in the middle of their breast, just like chickens and turkeys
  • Cut down to the bone on both sides of the ridge bone
  • Carefully fillet one breast off the rib cage, then do the same for the other side
  • You can skin the breast before you fillet it, but sometimes the skin is very difficult to remove
  • If you leave the skin on when you fillet the breast, flip the breast over on a cutting board and fillet the skin off
  • Remember to remove the thighs, legs, and wing butts on larger birds to ensure you are salvaging all edible meat from the carcass

Roasted duck


  • 4 small ducks or 2–4 large ducks
  • Lemon or orange wedges
  • Salt
  • 2 to 3 celery stalks
  • Black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 450°F for large ducks or 500°F for small ducks. Let the ducks rest at room temperature while the oven heats.

2. If the duck is reasonably fat, use a needle to pierce the skin where there is excess fat under it: front of breast, between breast and legs, flanks, and over back of bird. Try not to pierce the meat of the breast. Rub lemon wedge over the bird and dust with salt. Stuff the used wedge inside duck.

3. Place celery stalks onto a pan, arranging them so you can rest the ducks on top. This prevents the ducks from sitting in their own juices. Roast in the oven as follows: 10–15 min for small ducks, 13–20 min for medium ducks, and 18–25 min for large, Mallard-sized ducks. Ideal internal temp is 140 to 145°F at the deepest part of the breast meat.

4. Take the duck out, move it to a cutting board and let cool.

5. For a quick, simple sauce: Remove the celery and stir a tablespoon or two of flour into the drippings. Either use residual heat from pan or heat on stove on low until thoroughly mixed. Add a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, some wine or brandy, and the juice of a lemon. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water or stock. Whisk everything to combine and add salt to taste. Turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of minced parsley, and a tablespoon of butter. Swirl to combine and serve.

We hope you find this post helpful as you grow as a waterfowl hunter. Be sure to tag us on Instagram (@ theWDFW) in your posts so we can share in your successes in the field!

Good luck, hunt safe!

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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