Tuesday, January 6, 2009

CSI: Waterfowl

Call me weird, but when I come home from a hunt and start plucking and dressing my ducks, I think of it as the autopsy.

Why did it die so quickly? Well, look, there were two shots to the heart!

Whose shot hit the bird? I was shooting 4s and you were shooting 2s, so let's see what we find.

And so on. I am endlessly fascinated by the process, which is probably a good thing, because it's not what you'd call inherently fun.

On Sunday, though, the autopsy got really interesting.

(If you're squeamish about such things, now would be the time to stop reading, and definitely don't look at the photo at the end.)

Three of us had gone hunting at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The weather was plain weird: It started out crystal clear and still, but as the sun rose, a north wind kicked up. We could see a dark fog rolling in around us, and soon it engulfed our blind as well, creating a hazy, yellow Apocalypse Now ambience.

We were in a diver pond, and most of the divers weren't looking at us very seriously. But one small group of scaup swung a little too close to our pit blind and I dropped a drake on my third shot.

Plop! He fell to the water behind us, head up. I jumped out of my blind to race after him, knowing this would not be an easy retrieve.

"Gimme a shell!" I hollered at Boyfriend on my way past him. He pulled one out of his gun and I chambered it, then charged through the marsh after my bird, who had gone underwater.

"There!" Boyfriend yelled. The duck had popped up 25 yards from me, but his head was lolling, so I didn't shoot.

Mistake! He took one look at me and dove again. I kept charging after him, but I could see him swim past me, back toward the blind. The water was too deep to just reach down and get him, so I slogged after him.

The next time he popped up, he was between me and my hunting partners - not safe to shoot. I kept my muzzle pointed up, and he dove again.

I had a feeling he'd swim away from the blind again so I changed position, ready to shoot away from my hunting partners. He popped up. Ten yards from me. I shot. It was over.

Now, for those of you who aren't shotgunners, I can tell you that shooting a bird at 10 yards ensures that the meat will be in really, really bad shape, because the shot pattern is still very concentrated.

"Sausage duck," Boyfriend said when I brought him back to the blind.

The autopsy was going to be interesting.

He was the only duck we got that day, so when we got home, I gave him my undivided attention.

The No. 4 Hevi-Shot that downed him had just hit his wing in several spots, breaking the end of it. He would not have flown again - had he eluded me, he would've been coyote food overnight.

I began plucking. He'd been facing away from me, angling slightly to the left, when I shot him on the water, so there was a LOT of damage on the left side. Shot to the head made death instant. The leg was a total loss. Oddly, the Kent Fasteel No. 2 shot that Boyfriend handed me had not penetrated much - there was a lot of shot under the skin. I recovered three pieces during plucking, then went into the house for the next stage - gutting, where I like to have lots of running water handy.

Plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink the shot went, into the stainless steel sink. Lots of shot.

Dammit, I hate doing that to a bird. But I also hate leaving a cripple in the field.

I cut off the butt of the bird and reached in to begin gutting.

Feel for the gizzard, grab, pull... what the hell?

What came out of that bird was like nothing I had seen from any duck in my three seasons of hunting. The gizzard and part of the intestine that connected to the gizzard was covered with bizarre nodules.

"Uh, Honey, could you please come look at this?"

I held it up for Boyfriend in my hands. My bare hands. They always tell you to wear gloves when handling blood and guts. I never do. I set the monstrosity down, washed my hands and asked for latex gloves. But that's a little like putting on the condom after you've had sex, isn't it?

I finished dressing the bird, took some pictures of the growth and started sending out inquiries. My guess was cancer, but I wanted a second opinion. And if it was cancer, should I eat the duck?

On the Duck Hunting Chat, one guy urged me to dissect the nodules.

Visions of scenes from the Alien movies filled my head.

No thanks, I told him.

My friend Matt weighed in, too. "That's nothing to worry about!! I'd eat it raw if it were mine. And I'm not talking about the meat, I'm talking about the bumpy ass gizzard!! Don't be scared Holly!!!! Put some ketchup on it and it'll be fine."

"Dude, are you nuts?" I responded. "You KNOW we don't have any ketchup in this house."

I sent the photo to Terry Scoville at the Women's Hunting Journal, because I knew she'd come across something weird - a duck she'd dubbed "tumor mallard."

"Possibly fat polyps or pre cancerous, or full blown cancer or some other ailment," she speculated.

I sent the photo to my friend Bob at California Waterfowl. He said my guess of cancer was as good as any.

But would he eat the duck?

"I’m not sure tumors will ever be high on my list of preferred things to eat, but Hank probably has a great recipe that would change my mind."

Oh, great, everyone's a comedian.

It's Tuesday now and I still don't have an answer. The bumpy-ass gizzard is in the fridge, in case science wants it, and so is the bird. It's probably fine to eat the bird. He appeared pretty healthy aside from this ... thing.

But quite honestly, I feel a deep, deep sense of revulsion at the thought of eating a sick animal. And I suspect it will outweigh my very strong taboo against wasting meat. Wasting an animal's life, really.

Damn. A lose-lose situation.

OK, so if you've read this far, you probably want to see what I'm talking about, so here it is. Don't say I didn't warn you...

What do you think? Would you eat the bird?

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Live to Hunt.... said...

How interesting. If Dr. Bob didn't know then I have no better guess. And as for eating the bird? Not! I've shot a couple birds over the years with sarcocystis and even though all the biologists and literature say it is safe to eat, there is something mental about a diseased animal that won't let me do it. Think of it this way, you quickly ended what could have been a long painful disease process for that bird.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I hate wasting an animal too, but in this case, there is no way I would eat that bird.

I'm with Hunt, Eat, Live - just think of it as a favor to the bird. You prevented him for a long painful death.

It is interesthing, though, I won't lie about that.

Albert A Rasch said...


Love your photography and the descriptive phraseology.

I would probably file that under "I know its safe to eat but..." category. And anything cooked long enough is edible, but is it palatable?

So there you have it. "I would cook it if I was hungry enough, but since I'm not that hungry, I'll feed it to the dog.

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Phillip said...

Unless that bird had something worse growing on the muscles, he would be going on a plate.

I don't know what that is on the gizzard, but it looks like some fatty deposits. I've seen similar on pig hearts, and I just cut them off. But maybe it's cancer. I dunno.

But cancer isn't contagious. You're generally at a lot more infectious disease risk from handling the outside of that bird than from eating the inside.

So set your silly squeamishness aside and chow down! (And I say this with full knowledge that you and Hank may very well be feeding me my own words, in a literal/figurative sense soon enough.)

oldfatslow said...

It is a scaup after all.
They are known as flying
shoes in my area of Florida.

BTW, I'm really enjoying
your recaps. And, I envy
your 7 duck limit. We're
only 6 and those six have
been very hard to find this


NorCal Cazadora said...

Phillip -

Great, I'll have Hank cook it special for you. But it'll be bumpy-ass gizzard surprise - you never know where it might show up. Mwa ha haaaaaaaaaaaa!

NorCal Cazadora said...

And thanks, OFS, and Albert :-)

Terry Scoville said...

I'm with Hunt Eat Live on this one. I say no to eating it. I don't have enough medical knowledge to persuade me that it's safe. BTW my Vet friend thought it was a neoplast (cancer) as well.

Phillip said...

I had a feeling that was coming, Holly. And I probably deserved it.

But hey... I bet I've eaten worse and didn't even know it.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, see, ignorance is bliss, isn't it? Just think, if we were the kind of people who breasted out our birds, we'd've never known, would we?

NoGoodGuitarPicker said...

No, I wouldn't eat it. No, I wouldn't consider it a waste for reasons previously listed. Think of this: if you had found the bird obviously injured, would you have shot it out of mercy, or let it continue in pain? Just a thought....

Blessed said...

I don't think I'd be comfortable eating it, at least not the whole duck, I might be willing to take the parts that appear unaffected and eat them... but if Phillip wants it I say let Hank cook it up and feed it to him!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, good, then. It's decided!

Phillip said...


Anonymous said...

OFS linked me to this website. I agree cancer would be on my list, but Aspergillosis (a fungus) would be as well. It IS contagious. Not sure how much it affects where ya'll live, but I would not eat it. Cancer is also a reason to condemn any food for slaughter in the meat industry. I am not a bird vet, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night! ;) (I'm just a duck hunting vet).


Berserker said...

Whoa Holly that's weird...strange bulbousness does not bode well for a duck or for the people who may eat it.
Would I eat it?
In a life or death situation? Yes.
Otherwise? No.