By Indrek Kongats
The dynamic duo of fall is none other than the deer and the duck. As the first frost hits the ground and ponds begin to form, that thin film of ice ducks start heading south or to larger bodies of water. The deer know it’s time to bulk up, especially if they sense a hard winter is approaching.
Looking in the right places, the hunter can and will find his prey and stock up himself on venison and waterfowl, hopefully to last him through the approaching season.
Deer season opens this Saturday, Nov. 19 for the southern zone of New York State.
Duck hunting started Oct. 22 for the fall season, ending Dec. 4, a week before the final day of deer hunting on Dec. 11. The overlap can create some interesting game fare for the table, especially during that sacred time spent isolated in the deer camp!
This year invite Mr. Duck to camp, but in order to do so, you have to go ducking as some like to call it.
Duck hunting is much like deer hunting for most, from a blind or stand. What makes duck hunting so exciting is your ability to call them within shooting range and watching them prepare to land among your decoys. Your adrenaline kicks in and you open fire only to see every single bird do a 180 and takeoff in a different direction. What you just did has a very common term, much like buck fever is used in deer hunting.
Flock shooting is when everything, including common sense, flies out the door and you can’t decide on which bird to shoot or you get greedy and try for the whole flock. The saying “bird in hand is better than two in the bush” also applies here. Target one duck at a time, and if you are quick, you might get a second shot on another.
Puddle ducks— ducks that like small bodies of water and marshes—get evicted at this time of year and will look for new digs on larger bodies of water. These ducks eat vegetation so they can be found along shallow shorelines and can be hunted from shore blinds. Species include the ever-popular mallards, the beautiful wood duck, the elegant pintail and, of course, the ever elusive black duck. Included are also the teal families, the blue and green winged teals— smaller in size, but big on flavor.
Lake ducks, or diving ducks as they are properly termed, are found in flocks in the middle of a lake looking much like a big flotilla. Species include the scaups, canvasback, redhead, ring neck and the loveable ruddy duck. Don’t include the mergansers in the event you see one— these fish-eating ducks are not suitable for the table unless you are a fan of anchovies as well.
Hunters will use decoys for both puddle and diving ducks, but out in the open water, if you don’t set out a large group of decoys, you may be wasting your time. Hunting in open water requires a boat with camouflage netting.
Duck meat is delicious, and if prepared properly, is simply to die for. The secret to preparing and cooking ducks is quick and hot.
You should never skin a duck, so that means plucking. The art of plucking varies with the type of duck, or rather their size. My grandmother would boil water and then dip the bird into the scalding water to loosen all of the feathers, some use wax, others, with more time on their hands, hang the bird by one leg and start plucking first in handfuls and then one feather at a time. The final removal of those tiny hair-like feathers is over an open flame, just singe them off.
Master game chef Morten Fadum shares his technique in cooking duck as follows:
“This is less a recipe, as it is a presentation. To cook a duck depends on the species of bird as cooking time is different— for a mallard, the cooking time is 30 minutes, a teal, the cooking time is 15 minutes. Duck must not be skinned! Have mallard at room temperature.
“Prepare the duck at room temp, rub the duck with coarse salt, have the oven as hot as possible (600 degrees is best), or as hot as you can get it. Bake in an iron pan turning it over four times. Cook for required time, remove and rest for five minutes, then carve and serve. The duck should be bloody but cooked.
“For a complete duck meal, serve the carved bird with cheese grits and fennel bulb (roasted with mallard last 10 minutes in oven, turned twice) and with butter gravy. What’s butter gravy? Butter gravy is prepared in the pan that the duck was cooked in, add a pinch of crushed fennel seed and 1/4 stick of real butter. Melt and cook down to brown the butter with two shots of port, add 1 cup of stock, simmer 2 minutes and thicken with flour…don’t over gravy the duck…enjoy!”
When you have run out of all of the traditional camp menu ideas, and you are onto your last can of SPAM, have someone you know go out and shoot some ducks— but for the love of God, make sure that the person of choice has enough wits about him not to bring home someone else’s decoys. They are a little on the chewy side!
Visit www.fadum.com and tell him that Mr. Duck says hello!