As Labor Day approaches across the country, hunters in the Southern United States have one bird in mind. Dove. Grandfathers shotguns are thoughtfully oiled with memories of seasons past. Dogs sense the excitement of the first day in the field. All ages and walks of life come together for the “official” start to hunting season. For several of kids, myself included, its the first opportunity to join the ranks of those before us in providing a natural meal for our loved ones. Parties are planned, traditions are upheld, tome its more important than college football ever was or will be.
In this article however, we won’t be discussing any of this. You see, here in Florida, which to many lies “North of the South” (there’s an actual sweet tea line) our season starts a few week later. So, while the rest of the country is already enjoying wing shooting, from early teal, goose, and wood duck, in theNorth to grouse in the West, and even ptarmigan in Alaska, Florida? Florida has the common gallinule (Gallinula galeata).
Split by the American Ornithologists Union in 2011 from the common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) ofthe old world, the common gallinule has seen increasing popularity amongst hunters in recent years. Commonly called marsh hen, moorhen, or swamp chicken, one gathers a sense of edibility with a clause. While the bird may not “taste like chicken” it shows great promise in the culinary arena as well as in its ability to get Florida hunters on the water in early September.
For many of us, American Alligator season serves as a pregame to the marathon the generous season length Florida enjoys for multiple species. My fiancé, who will be my official hunting widow the week this is published, has learned to accept the fact that from mid-August till the last days of April when spring turkey ends, there’s something delicious to hunt. Combine a 7 month, you read that correctly, SEVEN-month deer season on the peninsula, with waterfowl, alligator, small game, upland bird, and turkey seasons, with ample fishing, and frogging opportunities in May, June, and July and you have a year-round outdoor grocery store. Again, I digress.
This is about Gallinule. This is about what brings people together in the last days of Summer to celebrate the kickoff of Fall. Theres little glamour involved in hunting the gallinule, but what they lack in the PR department, they make up for in accessibility. They aren’t hunted with decoys, waiting eyes to the sky for cupped wings. No mud motors jockeying for top spot on opening morning. Thers no fancy clothing necessary. Few are discussing the latest choke and shot pattern, or being cagey about harvests and locations. It’s truly the “everyman’s” bird hunt. Theres no skill required other than safe shotgun handling
and boat operation.
You can call them gallinule, moorhen, marsh hen, swamp chicken, or candy corn coot, when it’s over, you’ll call them delicious. Most of the “off flavors” are associated with the fat. Flavor can vary a bit, as with most animals based on diet. We recommend a thorough removal of skin and fat before cooking. As well as a short soak in a couple changes of lightly salted water. The breasts can be seared, fried, stuffed, or prepared numerous other ways to suit your preferences. The legs are large and muscular in comparison to other water birds but contain copious connective tissue. We recommend a combination of searing and braising till falling off the bone.