By the time my friend from Texas had picked up the decoys, I already had the 12-bird limit breasted. All that was left of six gadwall, three widgeon, and three bluewing teal were their bare breasts, attached to fully feathered wings (to show the warden if need be). They looked like flying steaks taking a shortcut to the gumbo pot.
“Must be Cajun magic,” my buddy said with a laugh.
Actually, it’s pretty simple. You don’t even need a knife. Here’s how it works.
(1) Pull a line of feathers from the center of the breast. Then hold the bird with both hands, breast up, head pointing away from you. (see above right)
(2) Using your thumbs, press down hard on the center of the breast and begin pulling sideways. The skin will easily split and begin peeling away from the meat. (On some divers, such as scaup, it’s more difficult; use a knife then to cut a line between the skin and the meat.)
(3) Pull the skin as far down on the breast as possible-at least until you can begin to see the leg muscles. (To keep the legs, pull the skin all the way past the ankles; then remove the legs after the breasting procedure.)
(4) Place a thumb at the bottom of the breast plate and press hard, breaking the membrane over the entrails. Then grab the edge of the breast bone with your thumb and pull upward while holding both the legs and the dangling head with the other hand. The bottom half of the breast should lift and separate from the bottom half of the duck’s body.
(5) Now turn the bird around, breast up, head pointing toward you. Use your thumb to break the membrane between the neck and the breast cavity, pushing as deep into the cavity as possible. Hold the neck, head, and feet with your other hand, then begin pushing down with your thumb inside, while pulling in the other direction with the other parts.
With enough pressure, the breast will pull cleanly away from the back, neck, and entrails, literally slipping out of the skin. When it does, you’ll be left holding a skinned, intact breast still connected to the fully feathered wings-easy for a warden to identify and ready for the pan.