Regulations regarding the field dressing of waterfowl and game birds vary from state to state. For example, some states require that the head and a wing remain on waterfowl to determine sex and species. In some regions you must leave the head on a cock pheasant.
Plucking vs. Skinning
Waterfowl and game birds can be plucked (see figure) or skinned (see figure). Plucking leaves the skin on the animal and makes a tastier meal by sealing in natural juices, but it may leave annoying pinfeathers or down. Skinning allows you to clean a bird faster, and makes it easier to remove the heavy fat under the skin that adds an oily taste to the meat. However, it's harder to keep the meat moist while cooking.
Some hunters prefer to pluck upland birds and skin waterfowl.
Mechanical or machine pluckers are available at some meat lockers or wild game processing facilities. Birds can be plucked manually by pulling feathers in the opposite direction from which they lay. If you're plucking in the field, do it over a trash sack so the feathers can be packed out with you.
Down and pin feathers can be moved by scorching the down and plucking the pin feathers. A popular method involves dipping the bird in a solution of paraffin and 185-degree water. When the wax is removed after it's cooled, the down and pin feathers come with it.
Waterfowl and upland birds are dressed in the same way. After the animal is plucked or skinned, remove head, feet and wings; and make a cut across the soft lining tissue in the abdomen. (See figure.) Reach inside up to the neck and pull backwards—most of the entrails should pull free.
If the bird is small, you can use a coat hanger instead of your hand. Bend one end of the hanger to form a small hook, then insert it into the opening. Push it up to the neck, twist, and pull. After this procedure, clean out the lungs, which lie at the back of the rib cage, then clean around the anus. Wipe the inside to remove blood and allow air to circulate. (See figure.)
In the field, you can remove the entrails before plucking for quick cooling while you continue to hunt.