Ensuring Your Fowl Don’t Become Foul

Proper care of game in the field ensures your harvest can make it to the table with it's full flavor intact (California valley quail - USFWS photo)

Question: I hope you can answer my question about cleaning birds. My friends and I went quail hunting a few weeks ago, and it took us 45 minutes to hike into the area where we hunt. We flushed a large covey of birds, shot two and then continued to hunt singles for several hours. We picked up a few more birds for the day and hiked back out. By the time I was able to clean my birds, several hours had passed. The birds had been in my vest. Are they still safe to eat after being shot several hours before and then not cleaned right away? If not, how do you clean a bird and continue to hunt when you are so far from the truck and without any ice chests? My friend says you can also freeze the birds before cleaning them, then thaw and clean them all at once. Is this safe? Can I do this with all birds such as pheasants, too? (Jim L., Santa Maria)

Answer: As I’m sure you are aware, the most important thing to do with game is to keep it clean and dry, and to cool it down ASAP. DFG Upland Game Bird Stamp Program Coordinator Karen R. Fothergill says she can’t promise the birds are still safe to eat. She points out that most of us spend several hours in a day out hunting and by the time we get our birds home, many hours have passed. If you refrigerate them as soon as you return from the field, and it’s the same day you are hunting, it is likely they will be fine and ok to consume. However, if they are left in the back of a truck in the heat, then you may be taking a chance. Small birds like quail will cool on their own (somewhat) much faster than a large goose will.

Since ideal handling is not always an option, preparing for the worst situation is always the best plan. Hunters should keep an ice chest with cold packs or sealed bags of ice handy to quickly cool down their game birds without adding moisture. Moisture and warm temperatures create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

If you are concerned about the birds spoiling, you can always gut the birds immediately upon taking possession of them. This will allow them to cool quickly.  Remember that you are responsible for proper game care, and letting the birds go to waste is a violation. DFG advises that you do everything you can to cool your game quickly so you can enjoy your harvest.


When fishing gear becomes dangerous
Question: Does DFG have any regulations restricting anglers from placing their fishing gear in an unsafe manner? For example, a person throws their line out into the water and then places their fishing rod back in a position to where the line stretching to the water runs across an area where runners and walkers using the same beach could become entangled. Does DFG have jurisdiction over this? If not, can the practice of having active rods placed far back from the waterline be banned via a city ordinance, or is the region below the high tide line only covered by state regulations? If someone is seriously hurt by such a fishing practice, does the person fishing have any civil or criminal liability? (Len N.)

Answer: DFG regulations do not address these issues.


Dead farm-raised trout for bait in lakes and streams?
Question: Is it legal to use dead farm-raised trout for bait in inland waters? When I read the regulations it seems like only “live trout” is called out. Costco has farm-raised rainbow trout for sale at a great price and I was thinking it might make great catfish bait for my kids. (Marcus)

Answer: No. Trout may not be used for bait (CCR Title 14, sections 4.00-4.30).


California state duck stamps for collectors
Question: I inherited two sets of California state duck stamps. This year, the DFG converted to plastic paper stamps and I purchased one for my hunting license. If a duck stamp for the state is still recognized, how does a stamp collector obtain one?

Answer: Any person who purchases a California Duck Validation and/or Upland Game Bird Validation is entitled to receive a collectible California Duck Stamp and/or Upland Game Bird Stamp upon request. To have your collectible stamps mailed to you, please log into DFG’s Automated License Data System and submit a request. Step-by-step instructions and information are available at www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/collectorstamps/. Collectible stamps will be at the bottom of the screen on the 2011 hunting license selection page.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

One response to “Ensuring Your Fowl Don’t Become Foul

  1. As a die-hard desert quail hunter, I’m familiar with the clean-’em-in-the-field school of thought. My two top priorities after the shot are to minimize the exposure of the meat to bacteria and to get the birds on ice as soon as possible. I leave the birds whole (if not too chewed up) and get them in the cooler within a couple of hours. I typically hunt for two days, so a bird taken early on the first day could stay in the ice chest for 36 hours before cleaning. I have found I get a better looking final product by leaving them whole until I am ready to head home instead of cleaning them as I go.

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