Handling Wild Game Meats
A Pocket Guide to Care and Handling of Game Birds from Field to Table
— by Julie Garden-Robinson, Martin Marchello, and Pat Beck
Shoot for the Sky
Game birds offer a challenge to hunters and
reward of a delicious meal at the table if they are
handled properly at each step. Game birds have
various distinctive flavors and are excellent sources of
protein, similar in these respects to domestic birds.
The fat and calorie contents vary according to the age
and species of the birds.
A 3-1/2-ounce portion (before cooking) of game
bird meat has about 150 calories and provides half the
average daily adult protein requirement.
Wild game birds may become contaminated with
bacteria or gastric juices if they are improperly
handled. Off-flavors and odors may develop in the
meat, and your risk of foodborne illness may increase.
For optimum eating quality, remember the following
handling tips during hunting, storage and food
Care in the Field and in Transport
- Be prepared for the hunt.
- Remember to bring a sharp hunting knife, a steel
or whetstone, light rope or nylon cord, plastic bags,
clean cloths or paper towels, and a cooler filled with
- Abide by game regulations for hunting, transporting
and storage of wild game.
- Field dress the bird promptly.
- Remove the entrails and crop as
soon as possible
because the grain in the crop may ferment if not
- The heart and liver may be saved
Store in a plastic bag on ice to keep them clean and
- Leave an identification mark on
the bird as
required by state game regulations.
- The birds may be plucked or
skinned in the field.
If you pluck the birds, bring a plastic bag for storing
- Cool the carcass quickly to retain flavor and maintain
the quality of the bird. A temperature above 40ºF is
meat's worst enemy.
- Wipe out the cavity with a clean cloth or paper
towel. Do not use grass or snow as this will
contaminate the carcass.
- Allow air to circulate in the carcass by hanging or
laying the bird in a well-ventilated place.
In hot weather, place the birds individually in
plastic bags and put on ice.
- Do not pile warm birds in a mass.
- Store the birds in a cooler or ice chest out of the
- Keep the birds cool during transport.
- The best way to store birds is in a cooler on ice.
If this is not possible, keep the car well ventilated and
put the birds on the back seat or the floor.
- Do not transport them in the trunk because the
enclosed space does not allow heat to escape from
Care in Processing and Storage
- Don't cross-contaminate during processing.
- Wash your hands, knife and cutting board with hot
soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
- When preparing ducks, remove the wings by
cutting them off at the joints. Remove the head, and
pluck out the pin feathers. Feathers may be removed
by scalding the birds in hot water (145ºF).Pin feathers
and down may be removed by dipping the feathered
bird in a paraffin wax/hot water mixture. After the
wax hardens, the feathers may be scraped off.
- When preparing upland birds such as grouse,
pheasant, quail and partridge, skin or pluck the bird
and soak in cold water for one to two hours to
remove excess blood.
- Birds generally do not require aging.
- If you wish to age birds, holding them at just
above freezing temperatures for two to three days
may increase the tenderness of the meat.
- For immediate use, birds should be stored in the
refrigerator at 45ºF or less, and used within three
days. For long-term storage, the whole cleaned
carcass or individual parts may be frozen at 0ºF or
- Freeze meat while it is fresh and in top condition.
- The advantage of packaging parts instead of the
whole bird is that bloody spots can be eliminated by
cutting out or rinsing out with cold water. Parts also
fit conveniently in your freezer. Parts my be
boned, and the carcass and neck may be used as a
- Use moisture/vapor-proof wrap such as heavily
waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy-duty
aluminum oil or freezer-weight polyethylene
- Wrap tightly, pressing out as much air as possible.
- Label the packages with the content and date.
Use frozen packages within a year.
Care in Preparation
- Thaw birds in the refrigerator or microwave.
- Microwave-thawed food should be cooked
immediately. Other thawed meat should be used
within one to two days.
- Keep raw food and cooked food separately.
- The age of the bird determines the cooking method.
Wild game always should be cooked thoroughly until
the juices run clear and no pinkness remains in the
- Young birds have lighter legs, soft breastbones
and flexible beaks. Old birds have darker, hard-
skinned legs, brittle breastbones and inflexible beaks.
- Game birds may be prepared like chicken. Dry
cookery methods such as frying are appropriate for
young birds. Moist cookery methods such as stewing
or braising are appropriate for older birds.
- To decrease the distinctive taste of some wild
game, trim off as much of the fat as possible.
- Older or skinned birds may become dry during
baking. You may want to wrap the birds with bacon to
prevent them from drying out.
- Remove stuffing from the bird prior to
storage because stuffing is a good growth
medium for microorganisms.
- Use leftovers within one or two days, or freeze
for later use.
- This document is NCR 527, published
by NDSU in cooperation with NCR Educational
Materials Project, North Dakota State University,
Fargo, ND 58105. Publication date: April 1994.
- Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Program
Assistant, NDSU Extension Service; Martin
Marchello, Professor, Department of Animal and
Range Sciences, NDSU; and Pat Beck, Nutrition
Specialist, NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota
State University, Ag. Communications, Box 5655,
Morrill Hall Fargo, ND 58105-5655.
- This document has been revised. The newer version is available in a PDF format.Click here to view.
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window.
External sites are not endorsed by The Outdoor Lodge.