While there may be many ways to skin a cat, plucking waterfowl can be broken down into two methods—wet and dry. Each has its pros and cons, so let’s take a quick overview of both techniques and how they work for the waterfowler.
Dry Plucking: This is my preferred method for plucking waterfowl, and the cleanest. Admittedly it can require a stout hand and some time, but with practice, you should be able to pluck a duck in 10 minutes or less. A big Canada goose can take closer to 30 minutes. Because waterfowl have fairly tough skin, you shouldn’t have to worry about tearing it. Starting at the top of the breasts, grab a handful of feather and pull them upward, toward the head. They should pull out easily. As you move down the breasts, you may have to pull downward. Once it’s clean, move onto the legs and wings, the latter of which take the most time, then flip the duck and pluck the back. Pin feathers can be removed with a traditional paraffin dip—or more quickly, and easily, with a torch passed lightly and quickly over the whole bird.
Wet Plucking: As the name suggest, wet plucking requires a pot of water, one that’s been heated to 130 to 135 degrees. Many experts also recommend adding a drop or two of dish detergent to the pot, claiming that this helps penetrate the oils that make a duck’s or goose’s feathers naturally waterproof. Grab the fowl by the feet, then dunk it in the pot, agitating it a bit to get the soapy water into and under the feathers. Do this for 30 to 45 seconds per bird, then remove it from the water. While it’s still wet, pull the feathers from it, starting with the wing and tail feathers first, which are notoriously the most difficult. The breast and back feathers should pluck the easiest. Any remaining down can be removed by wetting your thumb and running it along the skin.