Waste, loss and legs

There are times when you make a good shot, mark it down, use all the dog power you have and still fail to retrieve a bird. We look hard for a bird that we hit, even a bird that we maybe hit. To do otherwise is the mark of a hack, a wannabe.

But it’s not a waste. gmcreynolds-4

Nature does not allow waste. A dead grouse that falls to the forest floor but doesn’t make it into a skillet will make it into the belly of a coyote or a fox. A lost bird breaks down – in a stomach or in the dirt – into the building blocks of life that fuel the forest itself. It is a disappointment, but it is narcissistic of us to believe that we are the best or only use of a wild bird.

That’s not to say there is not waste. Only humans are capable of removing an animal from the food chain and locking it away. Let a bird go to ruin in a freezer and then send it to a landfill wrapped in plastic – better to have left it afield to be eaten by a bobcat or have it’s bones picked clean by insects.

To skin a bird that could be plucked is a waste. Breasting out birds and leaving the legs to sour and rot in a plastic trash bag is the ultimate waste.

And to that point, legs are delicious. Quail legs, seasoned with Tony Chachere’s and fried in a cast-iron skillet with butter are a delicacy. Pheasant legs are excellent simmered with mushrooms and tomatoes and served over fettuccini.fullsizerender-8 Sharpie legs, slow cooked with red chili and shredded make incredible flautas. And don’t forget duck leg gumbo, spatchcock grouse, whole-roasted partridge, or battered and fried ruff quarters.

By all means, look hard for downed birds. But spend as much or more time at the end of the day cleaning your birds. Save the legs, pluck birds when you can. Enjoy all of your harvest. Don’t waste it.

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7 thoughts on “Waste, loss and legs

  1. I would agree with everything said here. We look pretty hard for lost birds, even the ones that keep on going with just a feather or two floating in the air as they are going to die from the infection if nothing else. I have shot a few pheasants with green breasts from infected shot wounds but never a quail. Gambles quail normally run to the nearest pack rat midden when hit, if possible, and that is the end as the midden if full of cactus and tightly packed. Something will find and eat it. As you say, nothing is wasted in Nature. Mearns quail don’t go far when hit and can usually be found in the thick grass. Scaled quail would rather run then fly anyway making cripples an interesting chase for the dogs. I have seen quail with one wing and a leg broken from shot still run/hop away. Pretty amazing! As for saving the legs we keep them and have a big end of season feed with our friends. Savor the hunt and the birds, it is a long time until next season.

  2. Tom Christiansen

    Skinning is waste? Come on! If that’s really how you feel then the photo of the simmering legs is hypocritical. Too, why no mention of heart, liver and gizzard?

    I prefer storytelling to preaching, even when I agree with the preacher.

    1. Hey Tom,

      I said “skin a bird that could be plucked,” and I’ll stand by that statement. A skin-on bird is always going to cook better than a peeled bird. I do skin birds that are shot up because I try to keep the kiddos teeth intact at the dinner table. When I skin birds and I usually freeze the legs in a gallon zip bag until I have enough to do something with. For birds that aren’t shot up, in particular birds that the dog brings back alive, I separate out and pluck them.
      And of course it’s hypocritical, what’s your point? My point was that “waste” is a loaded term. I’d rather lose a bird in the field that throw one away at home.
      As far as preaching, I’ll give you a pass on preaching at me about my viewpoint on waste if you give me a pass on gizzards.

      Thanks for stopping by

  3. Quail Nested, Caille en sarcophage, is one of my favorite dishes to prepare, and it must have the whole bird, in its skin. No bird should ever be parted from its skin, I have no idea what you end up with if that is done. Besides the hideous waste of precious, natural gift.

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