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How to Pluck a Duck

Here's a handy step-by-step guide on how to remove feathers from ducks and geese
Natalie Krebs Avatar
Three plucked birds sit on a table after a demonstration of how to pluck a duck.
Plucking ducks and geese sets you up for better meals in the kitchen. Natalie Krebs

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Wild ducks are best cooked with the skin on. That means you’ve got to pluck their feathers, which can be a tedious and time consuming task. The most straightforward way to pluck a duck is simply by tearing off the feathers (pull them against the grain) until the skin is clear and clean. There are better methods for how to pluck a duck, however, especially if you have a bunch of birds.

Try this wax-plucking method I learned while hunting specklebellies with Jonathan Wilkins of Black Duck Revival. He demonstrated the method on specks, obviously, but it works just as well on ducks (or any waterfowl for that matter). The best thing about this method of plucking a duck is that it allows you to use all the meat from the bird.

“Why put in all that work only to take the breast meat?” Wilkins said, shaking his head as he cleaned birds after a long morning of setting decoys and hauling gear. Here’s Wilkins’ process, adapted from a traditional Louisiana method, for how to pluck a duck.

Steps to Pluck a Duck Using the Wax Method

As with any cleaning method, wax-plucking ducks has its pros and cons. It’s a bit messy, and a lot of work for just a few birds. But if you have a pile of geese or ducks to process, it’s surprisingly efficient once you get the hang of things. Not counting the ice bath, Wilkins can turn a whole goose into something worthy of a butcher shop in just a few minutes. It’s also oddly satisfying to remove big chunks of feathers to reveal a beautifully-plucked goose, ready for all kinds of recipes. Here’s a quick overview of each step:

  1. Prepare your workspace
  2. Pluck key feathers
  3. Dip the bird in melted wax
  4. Remove excess wax
  5. Ice the bird
  6. Peel off wax
  7. Clean the bird

Supplies You’ll Need

To pluck wild or domestic ducks and geese, you’ll need a few essentials:

pluck a duck
Add the bricks of paraffin wax to a pot of simmering water, cover it with the lid, and allow it to melt (without boiling). Natalie Krebs

Prepare Your Workspace to Pluck a Duck

It will take a while for the water to heat and the wax to melt, so be sure to start this in advance. Set up a burner outside with a big pot, and use broken-down cardboard boxes to cover your workspace for easier wax cleanup. If you boil your own big-game skulls or have a turkey-frying pot, the same set up works just fine. Fill the pot ¾-full with water, then add the paraffin wax as the water warms. Wilkins used about five boxes of paraffin wax (1 lb. apiece) in the pot pictured below (about 30 quarts), and added more wax as we worked. He recommends a ratio of one part wax to two parts water. Remember, you’ll need space for both the wax and dunking the bird, so don’t overfill the pot.

While you’re waiting for the wax to melt, fill the cooler with ice and hose water, and grab a trashcan for the feathers. Once the liquid is hot (don’t let it boil), it’s time to start removing feathers.

Pluck Key Feathers

pluck a duck
Pluck the tail feathers, a line of feathers up the front of the goose and the back of it, and the wing feathers (pictured) up to the first joint. Natalie Krebs

Yes, the whole point of waxing the birds is so you don’t have to pluck them, but you’ll still need to remove feathers in just a few spots. Resist the urge to go too crazy here, Wilkins advises. You only need to pluck enough feathers to give the wax purchase on the goose’s skin.

Start by removing the tail feathers, then pluck a rough center line through the downy feathers up the front and back of the bird. This line should run vertically from the tail to the chest, and between the wings on the back. This seam only needs to be as wide as the feathers you can remove in one pinch. Finally, pluck the wing feathers closest to the body, down to the first joint.

Wax-Dip the Bird

pluck a duck
When dipping the goose in the pot, hold it by the feet and the wings and neck for a good grip—and to avoid wasting wax on parts that don’t need to be plucked. Natalie Krebs

Gather the partially-plucked duck or goose’s feet in one hand, and the wings and the neck in the other. Lower the bird gently into the simmering wax, submerging the body as best you can. Lift it out, flip it over, and repeat. You only need wax on the body, so don’t waste wax on the wings, the head, and the feet. If you have lots of birds to dunk, keep an eye on how much wax you’re using. It you start to run out, add more to the pot as you go. Too little wax on a bird won’t create the hard shell you need for easy feather removal. Keep track of this by watching the wax you squeegee off the bird (see below) and the thickness of the wax coating on the feathers as you remove each bird from the pot.

Read Next: How to Butcher a Duck

Remove Excess Wax

pluck a duck
Use the stirring stick to firmly squeegee the excess wax and water off the bird before dunking it in the ice bath. Natalie Krebs

After you dunk the duck or goose, hold it above the pot and use the stirring stick to squeegee the excess wax and water from the feathers. This usually takes several firm strokes down each side. You might be tempted to skip this step, but sloughing off extra wax keeps you from wasting wax and dripping it all over your work space.

Ice the Duck

pluck a duck
Wilkins dunks a wax-dipped goose into an ice bath. Natalie Krebs

Immediately dunk the bird in the ice bath. Try to keep the wings above the water, if only because it’s less slippery (and warmer for your hands) in the next step. Keep the bird in the ice bath for up to five minutes. It’s okay if the goose sits longer in the water while you’re working on other birds; you just need the wax to fully harden into a cool shell before you can remove it.

Peel Off the Wax

pluck a duck
Peeling away chunks of the wax-hardened feathers. You can see one scrap already below the feet, and the feather-free skin underneath the waxy feathers. Natalie Krebs

Once your bird is done cooling in the ice bath, remove it from the water and smack it on a hard surface a few times, just like a bag of gas-station ice. Pin the duck or goose by a wing, and use your other hand to dig away at the hardened feathers. The waxy shell should come apart in large chunks, peeling away in tectonic plates to reveal the feather-free skin. Work carefully around any shot holes in the body, as the fragile skin there tends to pull away with the wax and expose muscle below.

Read Next: How to Cook a Wild Goose

Clean the Bird

pluck a duck
A quick singe from a propane torch will remove the pesky, delicate pin feathers. Note that wax-plucking works best on head-shot birds. Natalie Krebs

Remove the wings at the first joint, then take a propane torch or the burner on your stove to singe away the delicate pin feathers. Use a knife and cut around the bird’s tail. The goal is to remove the oil gland and cloaca while also creating a hole to extract the innards. You’ll need to cut through a few vertebrae, and avoid slicing through the intestine. Once the tail is removed, you can reach into the body cavity and remove the guts. Consider saving the hearts, gizzards, etc. until you have enough for future dishes — especially if you’re cleaning a pile of birds.

Bonus Tips for Plucking a Duck

pluck a duck
Wilkins at the Black Duck Revival camp in Brinkley, Arkansas, beside three wax-plucked specklebellies, heads still on for transportation. Clay Newcomb

If you need to transport the bird to its final destination, be sure to follow the regulations in your state. We removed the wings but left the heads on for easy identification and clean up later.

Related: The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns, Tested and Reviewed

You can cut the legs off, but Wilkins used this handy trick on a snow goose to remove the feet and the leg tendons: After your bird is wax-plucked, snap the leg sideways at the joint and give it a strong twist. With some practice (I tried this myself with mixed results) you can pull the foot off with many of the tough tendons still attached, tidily removing them from the leg meat. Wilkins also throws the feet, which have lots of collagen, in with bird carcasses whenever he makes a pot of stock.

FAQs


How to pluck a duck without wax?


If the idea of melting paraffin wax and setting up an ice bath sounds like a lot of effort for just a few birds, you can simply pluck your ducks by hand. This is still time consuming, however, and messy. Pluck your ducks outside with a trash can handy for the feathers, or pluck them in an area of the yard where you don’t mind feathers flying everywhere. Simply grab fist-fulls of feathers and pull from the base of the feathers to remove them at the quill. Take care not to tear the delicate skin, particularly around shot holes. If you have lots of birds to pluck or plan to regularly pluck ducks, consider investing in a duck plucker (see below).


How to pluck a duck fast?


There are plenty of gadgets on the market designed for plucking feathers off everything from chickens to wild ducks and geese. A good duck plucker like this one works well and lasts through seasons of hard use will run you about $700 or more, but there are other, cheaper contraptions like drill attachments will work, too. Just be careful if you spring for an industrial-strength plucker and follow all the safety protocols. While trying to unjam a duck plucker, one of my buddies shattered his finger in the whirling machine and nearly had to get it amputated. The trip to the ER and subsequent surgery did not save him time.


Will a chicken plucker work on ducks?


Yes, a chicken plucker will work on ducks. The drum-style chicken pluckers still require you to do some hand plucking, but they can help remove stubborn feathers and make quick work of a larger batch of ducks.

Final Thoughts on How to Pluck a Duck

No matter the method you settle on, learning how to pluck a duck is going to take some time and effort. The process is worth it, however, since wild ducks taste best when cooked with the fat and skin on. Bask in the post-hunt ritual of plucking ducks on the tailgate or cracking a beer and breaking out the wax pot. You’ll thank us later.