Safe Handling of Wild Game Birds

In the Field - Process and Storage - Preparation - Cooking Birds - Recipes - Cooking Times

Care in the field

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 ice.

Field Dress the Bird Promptly: There are major rules to follow as soon as the bird is dead.

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 the birds.

Care in Process and Storage

Don’t Cross-Contaminate During Processing:

Care in Preparation

Thaw birds in the refrigerator or microwave. Slow thawing in the refrigerator 12 to 18 hours helps to tenderize the meat and prevent bacterial growth. Microwave-thawed food should be cooked imme-diately. Other thawed meat should be used within one to two days. Keep raw food and cooked food separate.

Fish-eating ducks (those with pointed or serrated bills) may need soaking or marinating. Use a marinade high in acid such as lemon or lime juice, vinegar, wine or buttermilk. You may soak older birds in a solution of ½ teaspoon salt and 1 table-spoon vinegar per quart of cold water for 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Care in Cooking Game Birds

MallardWild game birds should always be cooked thor-oughly. Check visual signs of doneness; juices should run clear and meat should be fork-tender. However, recent research has shown that color and texture indicators alone are not reliable. Using a thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine the “doneness” of meat and poultry. To be safe, a product must be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to destroy any harmful bacteria that may have been in the food.

When cooking whole poultry, the thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. If stuffed, the center of the stuffing should be checked after the thigh reads 180 °F (stuffing must reach 165 °F). If cooking poultry parts, insert the thermometer into the thickest area, avoiding the bone.

The age of the bird determines the cooking method. Young birds have lighter legs, soft breastbones and flexible beaks. Old birds have darker, hard-skinned legs, brittle breastbones and inflexible beaks.

Care with dressing for Duck or Goose: We recommend baking dressing separately to avoid any chance of hazard from bacterial growth. Bake in a covered casserole in the oven while the bird is roasting. If you decide to stuff the birds, do so just before placing them in the oven, and have all ingredients hot before stuffing the birds. Use a meat thermo-meter to be sure internal temperature of the dressing reaches 165-170 °F.


Wild Rice Dressing
2 cups cooked wild rice (½ cup uncooked wild rice, cooked in 1½ cups water or chicken broth)
¼ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup onion, minced
½ cup chopped celery
1 4-ounce can mushroom pieces and stems
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon thyme or marjoram
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Cook onions and celery in melted butter or margarine until barely tender. Add drained mushroom pieces and continue cooking 5 minutes. Add cooked rice and all remaining ingredients. Bake in a covered casserole at 325 °F for 45 minutes.

Braised Wild Duck
2 ready-to-cook wild ducks, cut up
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup flour
1/3 cup butter or margarine
½ cup water, chicken broth or light cream
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped celery

Season duck pieces with salt and pepper and roll in flour. Melt butter or margarine in a heavy skillet and brown pieces on both sides (about 30 minutes). Turn only once. If you use onion and celery, remove duck pieces and cook onion and celery in the pan drippings for 10 minutes. Return pieces of duck to pan, add liquid and cover pan tightly. Simmer on top of range slowly for 1 hour or until tender, or bake in a 325 °F oven until the internal temperature is 180 °F.

Wood DuckRoast Wild Duck
Rub outside of duck with a slice of onion, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can flavor the bird and absorb strong flavors by placing a quartered peeled onion, grapes, quartered apples or potatoes, and a small bunch of celery in the cavity during roasting, but discard this stuffing before serving. If ducks are lean or have been skinned, place two or three strips of bacon or salt pork on each breast and secure with toothpicks. Place ducks on a rack in a covered roasting pan and bake in a 325 °F oven for three hours or until the internal temperature is 180 °F. If ducks need basting, use orange juice, melted butter, or melted butter and red wine rather than pan drippings.

Roast Wild Goose
The “flavor dressing” of apple, onion, potatoes and celery, as described for duck, can be placed in the bird during roasting. Place the goose on a rack in an uncovered roasting pan and bake in a 325 °F oven for three hours or until tender. Baste frequently with pan drippings. You can insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh muscle, without touching bone, to determine internal temperature. Goose is well done when the internal temperature is 180 to 185 °F. Serve with a tart jelly or relish. 

Oven-Barbecued Duck
2 ducks, cleaned and halved
¼ cup melted butter or margarine
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup salad oil
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon paprika
1/3 cup ketchup
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Place duck halves, split side down, in a shallow baking pan. Rub with crushed garlic and brush with melted butter or margarine. Roast, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine other ingredients and heat to simmering. Reduce oven temperature to 350 °F. Baste with sauce every 10 minutes until ducks are tender, 40 to 50 minutes.

Microwave Directions for Duck or Goose:
Place duckling or young goose in an oven-cooking bag (or in a covered pot). Microwave on high 6 to 7 min-utes per pound. Crisp in 500 °F conventional oven 10 to 20 minutes. When microwaving parts, arrange in a dish or on a rack so thick parts are toward the outside of the dish and thin or bony parts are in the center. Allow 10 minutes standing time for bone-in goose or duck, 5 minutes for boneless breast. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness in several places, and check for visual signs of doneness.

The following is a guide for cooking times:

Safe Handling and Cooking of Fresh Poultry

All poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 °F, except poultry breasts that may be cooked to an internal temperature of 170 °F. Cooking times are only estimates. Always use a thermometer to check proper internal temperatures to make sure poultry is thoroughly cooked.

Type of Poultry Weight Roasting
Grilling/Smoking* Microwave
Chicken:   Roast 350°F Roast 350 °F   Medium-High
1. Whole Roasting Hen
2. Whole Broiler Fryers
3. Breast Halves with Bone
4. Boneless Breast Halves
5. Legs or Thighs
6. Drumsticks
7. Wings or Wingettes
5-7 lbs
3-4 lbs.
6-8 oz
4 oz
4-8 oz
4 oz
2-3 oz
2-2¼ hrs
1¼-1½ hrs.
30-40 min
20-30 min
40-50 min
35-45 min
30-40 min
2½-2¾ hrs 1¾-2 hrs. 18-25 min/lb. (smoked)*
60-75 min. (smoked)*
10-15 min/side
6-8 min/side
10-15 min/side
8-12 min/side
8-12 min/side
9-10 min/lb
9-10 min/lb
8-9 min/lb
6-8 min/lb
8-9 min/lb
8-9 min/lb
8-9 min/lb
Turkey:   Roast 325 °F Roast 325 °F   Medium-High

1. Whole Turkey


2. Whole Breast

3. Half Breast
4. Drumsticks
5. Thighs
6. Wings or Wingettes

12-14 lbs
14-18 lbs
18-20 lbs
20-24 lbs
4-8 lbs

2-3 lbs
¾-1 lb each
¾-1 lb each
6-8 oz each

3-3¾ hrs
3¾-4¼ hrs
4¼-4½ hrs
4½ -5 hrs
1½ -3¼ hrs

50-60 min
2–2¼ hrs
1¾-2 hrs
1¾-2¼ hrs

3½-4 hrs
4-4 ½ hrs
4¼- 4¾ hrs
4¾-5¼ hrs 8 lbs: 3-3½ hrs

3-4 hours (smoked)*
not recommended
not recommended
not recommended
1-2 hours

1½-2 hours (smoked)* 1½-2 hours (smoked)* 50-60 min

1. 9-10 min/lb 12-14 lb. turkey maximum. Do not stuff.
2. 10-15 min/lb (H) first 1/3 time (M) last 2/3 time 3. (M) 11-15 min/lb
4-6. (MH) 13-16 min/lb
Duck and Goose:   Roast 350 °F Roast 350 °F   Medium-High (or 50% power)
(See note below.)
1. Whole Duckling
2. Duckling Breast or Parts
3. Whole Young Goose
4. Goose Parts
4-6 lbs
8-12 lbs
30-35 min/lb 2 hrs
2½ -3 hrs
2 hrs
Not Advised 3-3½ hrs 2½ hrs (smoked)*
30-40 min (grilled)
2½ hrs (smoked)*
35-40 min (grilled)
6-7 min/lb
6-7 min/lb
6-7 min/lb
6-7 min/lb

*If smoked, use indirect heat and a drip pan rather than direct heat when grilled. DO NOT STUFF. Note: Prick skin of whole duck or goose before roasting or smoking so fat can render.

This information is supplied courtesy Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. You can contact Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information at 1-888-656-9988.