How to Clean a Whole Duck

Article contributed by Field Staff Writer G. Ford.

Utilizing every part of the animal should be every hunter’s goal.  I put a lot of work into each hunt, and every animal I bring home died so that I may live.  For waterfowl, I like to pluck and gut the whole bird.  There is much less waste, and I am left with a bird in the freezer I can do so many different things with in the coming months.  Leaving the bird whole lets me decide later in what dish I will ultimately bring this bird to the table.  It is not hard, and it is actually kind of fun and relaxing after a long morning.  If you take the little extra time right after the hunt, it will pay off immensely. 

Begin by laying the duck on its back, with its feet toward you.  Using a sharp knife, cut through the leading edge of the wing, right down to the bend at bird’s first wing joint.  After cutting to the joint, pull back on the wing with your hands to separate the joint.  Finish freeing the wings by cutting with your knife any remaining connective tissues.

Clean duck 3

You can save, pin, and salt/Borax the wings.  Besides the meat, they make another nice trophy from the hunt.  (By the way, don’t forget your midday bourbon when plucking birds.)

After both wings are gone, the legs are next.  This is a trick I learned from watching Steven Rinella, of MeatEater.  He explains to cut just through the skin, all around the big joint in the leg.

Clean duck 6

After you’ve cut just through the skin, grab the duck’s foot and twist the leg around at the joint one or two full rotations.  This will free the tendons up in the thigh of the duck.  Then, pull hard.  The foot will come loose with a few of the tough tendons attached, leaving behind a much more tender thigh.

At this point, you’ve got a wingless, footless duck, with its head still on.  Leave the head on.  It will give you something to hold onto and firm up the skin as you are plucking the feathers.  Begin plucking up at the neck.  The most important thing to remember at this point in the process is to only grab a pinch of feathers at the time.  Do not grab more than just a few feathers between your thumb and forefinger.  Get the side of your thumb right down to the skin.  Grab and hold firmly, then snap the feathers away like you mean it.  You are grabbing the internal, down feathers along with external feathers.  One reason why it is important to only grab a pinch of feathers at the time is to ensure you snatch away each group of feathers cleanly; leaving behind smooth skin with no feather hairs.  The other reason to only grab a small amount of feathers is to prevent ripping the duck’s skin.  (In the pictures above, I am holding the ducks neck in my left hand, with the duck on its back and tail pointed away from me.  With the small pinch of feathers, I am rolling/pulling the feathers away from me.  Holding the duck’s neck to keep the skin taught will result in a cleaner plucking job.)

The feathers around and along the ridge of the wing are tough to pull out.  Be patient around this part of the bird.  Continue to grab, firmly, small pinches of feathers and snap away strongly.  I pluck the bird down past the thighs to the base of the duck’s tail.  After you’ve plucked all the feathers, go back and grab the little tiny bits and wisps that may have been left behind.  If you continue to grab in small pinching motions with your forefinger and rolling your thumb across the duck’s skin, you will get the bird very clean.  At that point, sever the bird’s head about mid-way up the neck.  The next step is to get the duck gutted.

Next, lay the duck down with its back facing up and its tail pointed toward you.  At the base of the back, below the thighs, and above the duck’s vent, cut straight through the vertebrae.  Continue cutting straight down.  This will cut the tail end off of the duck.  This will open up the duck, at the lower end of the duck’s intestines.  After you have freed the tail, hold the duck in one hand with the back of the duck facing up.  Choose one side of the spine, insert your knife gingerly into the body cavity and cut up, out, and away from you.  You can begin at the tail end of the duck and work towards the neck, or vice versa.

After running your knife up one side of the ducks’ spine, all the way from the neck to the tail (or vice versa), you are ready to remove the intestines of the duck.  Starting at the neck of the duck, with your fingers, free the wind pipe, esophagus, and craw.  Then, work your fingers right along between the rib bones.  You want to free the lungs and diaphragm.  Continue to work your way down to the tail end, pulling the intestines away from the body cavity.  If you get underneath the diaphragm, it will be relatively quick work.  Pull the intestines out, and clean away any fragments left behind.  Be sure to save the heart and gizzard if desired (I recommend you do so, they’re delicious).
Rinse the duck thoroughly, inside and out, with cold, clean water.  For storage, wood ducks fit perfectly in quart-size freezer bags.  Fill the bags ¾ full with water and seal tightly as you squeeze out all of the air. This prevents oxygen from reaching the meat which will ward away freezer burn. Then, lay the bags flat in your freezer.  You’ll have whole duck, frozen blocks in your deep freeze.

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