Always looking for different ways to prepare birds. Live broadcasts give you a real-time look and feel for exactly what is going into the meal. This stroganoff turned out pretty good for a first attempt, would go equally well over egg noodles though we chose wild rice.
Be sure to follow us on Periscope for more live broadcasts throughout the season.
— Ultimate Upland (@ultimateupland) October 19, 2016
I often see bird hunters profess that they hunt for food. But when I think about my days afield, meat is often the last thing that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Sharptail Fajitas and my Pheasant Chowder but eating game birds has always been one of the bonuses of being a passionate bird hunter.
With the current costs of licenses, gear, shot shells and dogs I had a strong suspicion that meat hunting just didn’t add up. But I wanted to put pencil to paper to find out exactly what a pound of upland bird actually costs the average bird hunter.
Since I have a number of birds in the fridge and have just returned from the field, I have some real world data of exact weights for birds (using multiple birds to get an average weight).
There are tons of choices for shotgun shells. If you take a broad look at shell prices you can shoot lead alternatives for over $25 per box or you can shoot target loads for around $7 per box – good luck knocking down tough birds with these. But the average cost of a box of hunting shells is right around $15 per box, or .60¢ per shell.
I know a lot of good shooters, but the average bird hunter would be lucky to match Ted Williams lifetime baseball batting average of .344 on wild birds. So let’s assume that hunters harvest one bird for every three shells fired making the ammo cost per bird $1.80.
Now to the issue of licenses. I’ve averaged the cost of annual small-game licenses across 50 states. The resident license average is $21.32 and the non-resident license is $99.68. And for our analysis let’s assume that the average bird hunter will take one trip out of state to hunt birds and will also hunt in their home state. So the annual license expenditure average for a bird hunter is $121.
Factoring the cost of a shotgun is a bit interesting, especially when gun prices have such a broad range. But a modest average would be $600. Sure you can get a cheaper shooting stick, but there are many more priced much higher. And of course you intend to use that same shotgun for multiple years – let’s factor you’ll only own that one bird gun for 15 years making the annual cost just $40.
A quick assessment of basic gear that nearly all upland hunters own: game vest ($50), brush pants ($50), hunting boots ($100). And when we first purchase these items we hope it will last forever. But let’s be realistic and give them a 7-year lifespan which makes the annual expense $28.57.
And now to the big line item, the bird dog. Consumer Reports estimates that the 2011 monthly cost of dog food averages $36 per canine ($432 annually). Add to this annual veterinary costs — flea and tick meds, vaccines and boosters, worming, occasional injuries with resulting antibiotics and painkillers. Based on my own bills from multiple dogs a modest yearly vet bill per dog is $520. So the total annual veterinary and food cost per bird dog is $952.
The annual expense for the average bird hunter is $1,141.57. If you own more than one bird dog, one gun, or hunt in more than two states the costs go up very quickly.
Below is the chart of how these costs then translate to the price per pound of specific upland bird. These prices assume the total number of birds harvested at 3 levels with the fixed cost of shells being $1.80 per bird. (Not many bird hunters actually harvest 20 birds per year, let alone 80.)
If you have hung around through all the math, you can now see what I’ve long suspected; hunting birds for food is just not a winning equation. To all the meathunters who aim to fill a freezer, do yourself a favor; go to the grocery store, buy some grass fed organic tenderloin and live Maine lobster and save yourself a ton of money. Leave the game birds to the true Ultimate Uplanders who value the pursuit beyond the heft of the game bag.
It certainly is more convenient to breast out game birds. After a long day of hunting the bulk of uplanders look for the quickest way to clean birds and get them in the cooler. And if you have hunted for any length of time you probably have the breasting down to a science.
There are a number of recipes that call for whole bird preparation though. Most chefs would cringe at the idea of discarding the game bird skin which can become crispy goodness in the pan. So this season before standing on the wings and pulling on the legs to separate the upper and lower half of the bird, I encourage you to take a few extra moments and pluck a couple.
With pheasant, part of the challenge of plucking is that the skin tends to be very thin. From my experience, the best way to pluck a rooster and keep the most skin intact is to immediately begin defeathering as soon as it comes to hand. This isn’t practical in many hunting situations. But keep it in mind when you happen to harvest a bird on your walk back to the truck.
I like to reserve plucking for birds that are close to pristine; the ones I’ve somehow managed to put all the shot in the head and neck. These are the birds that can truly impress your non-hunting friends at the table.
Many states also have wanton waste regulations which make breasting birds a no no. Upland birds’ legs tend to have more tendon than meat, which is likely why there is hesitation to clean the whole bird. But the thighs of these birds are prime cuts (most grouse and pheasant included). So if plucking isn’t an option, take a few extra minutes and cuts to separate the thigh meat from the bone. It is well worth the time and will dramatically increase the amount of meat you get from a harvested bird with very little effort.
And just as a little extra incentive, here’s a recipe we just found. And now I need to find a chestnut tree.
Pheasant With Chestnuts
2 garlic heads, peeled
1 pheasant, about 2-3 pounds
2 stems of thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
12 chestnuts fresh or frozen
2 cups chicken stock
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Split the garlic heads in half and place in the pheasant cavity with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use butcher string to tie pheasant legs together. Place in roasting pan and cook at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Add butter to a large saute pan and melt on medium heat. Add chestnuts and chicken stock. Simmer until soft, but not broken. Remove and season with salt.Meanwhile, prepare chestnuts.
To serve, place pheasant on a platter with hot chestnuts.
Makes 2 servings.
Approximate values per serving: 948 calories, 52 g fat, 322 mg cholesterol, 98 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4,230 mg sodium, 49 percent calories from fat.
Note: Recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of salt to rub on pheasant before roasting. If you change that to 1 teaspoon, the total sodium amount would be 1,905 mg sodium.
I’m not sure that my chef skills are quite refined enough for these preparations, but I’m willing to try. And bravo Bay Area, hopefully your enthusiasm for upland meals will spark a few of you to head to the field and harvest your own. California quail hunting has deep roots.
State Bird Provisions
The signature item on the menu where Stuart Brioza uses a dim sum approach to Western food is his fried quail with changing seasonal accompaniments. Recently the bird was served on a tangled bed of vinegar-braised onions.
Quail becomes a main course at this sexy bar/restaurant tucked away on tiny Lusk Street, South of Market. Chef Matthew Dolan chicken-fries the bird ($27) and serves it with bing cherries, cherry reduction and a maitake mushroom pancake.
At Ari Rosen‘s follow-up to his wildly popular Scopa in Healdsburg, the chef creates a small-plates menu that includes a crisp quail ($14.50), mostly boned and propped on grilled peaches, along with arugula, almonds and pickled onions.
Joseph Humphrey is fulfilling his California/Southern vision at his new Presidio restaurant. He serves the bird ($15) with a roasted garlic waffle and spicy cabbage salad. On the tasting menu he pairs quail with bourbon-soaked morels.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu at this Mission restaurant was fried chicken flavored with five spice. Now Gayle Pirie and John Clark have applied that same idea to quail, accompanying it with tomato chutney, radicchio and balsamic.
At his Thai-inspired restaurant in Hayes Valley, chef Tom Silargorn coats pieces of quail ($9.95) with garlic, which falls off the skin in crisp flakes, and serves the bird with brick-red chile sauce. He offers a similar preparation for frog legs and rabbit.
Michael Bauer is The San Francisco Chronicle‘s restaurant critic. Go to sfgate.com/food to read his previous reviews. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @michaelbauer1 Michael Bauer is The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic. E-mail: email@example.com
Warning: this recipe is rich and way too good. Given the ingredients, be prepared to walk it off with long hunts the following day. If you like mom’s home cooking, this is the recipe for you.
4 grouse breasts
4 slices thick bacon chopped
1/2 large yellow onion diced
2 cup flour plus 3 T for gravy
1 small can (10.5 oz) beef broth (low sodium if available)
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 T butter for gravy plus 4 T butter/2 T oil for pan frying grouse
2 t pepper for gravy
Salt and pepper
Using kitchen mallet (or anything else heavy with a flat side), flatten grouse breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap to a little less than 1/4 in thick. Salt and pepper breasts. Let sit while you start the gravy.
Cook chopped bacon and onions in saucepan over medium heat until bacon is cooked through and onions are translucent. Add 2 T butter and 3 T flour to start a roux. Once mixture is thick, gradually add 1/2 can of beef broth. Add 2 T of good bourbon. Mixture should be thick. Gradually add cream. If mixture is not desired thickness, mix 1-2 T additional flour with water (to a paste) and add to gravy mixture. Add 2 t pepper. Set gravy aside to stay warm.
Pour the second 1/2 can of beef broth in shallow bowl. Put 2 cups flour on large plate. Coat pounded grouse in flour, dip in beef broth and re-coat with flour. In a non- stick pan, add butter and oil, heat to med-high making sure the oil is good and hot before and adding 2-3 breasts depending on size of pan. Cook for 2-3 mins each side until crisp on the outside, no need to overcook on the inside, will be done when still pink.
Ladle gravy over grouse and serve with French style green beans and apple sauce. A good red wine goes well with this dish.
Really simple recipe, quick preparation, we used sharptail but likely just as good with other red meat birds.
4-6 grouse breasts or thighs
1 onion (sliced)
1 bell pepper (sliced)
2-3 T oil
Fajita spice mix
Toppings: sour cream, salsa verde, shredded cheese
Lightly pound meat between pieces of Saran wrap to about 1/4 in thickness. This helps tenderize older birds and also makes uniform thickness for consistent cooking. Cut across the grain into thin strips. Pour oil in pan and cook onions and peppers until soft. Set onions and peppers aside and add meat to the pan on medium high heat with another 1-2 T oil in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until brown on the outside and pink in the middle – about medium rare. Return peppers and onions and add your fajita spices with just a small amount of water.
Heat tortillas and serve warm with toppings of your choice.
*figure 1 to 1.5 breasts per person, but these are so good folks might eat more.