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Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Small Game Hunting in Alaska
Preparing / Cooking

Game should be cleaned as soon as possible after it has been shot. It is important for the body heat to escape and for meat to cool. A clean, sharp knife is your main tool, and latex gloves are handy.

You are legally required to salvage the breast meat from game birds. For small birds such as ptarmigan, the breast is most of the meat on the bird.

Grouse and Ptarmigan

Field Dressing Grouse and Ptarmigan

To remove the breast meat from game birds such as ptarmigan and ruffed grouse, slit or tear the skin down the middle of the breast. Tear the skin loose from the entire breast. The two breasts are separated by the keel of the breastbone. Slip the blade of a sharp knife under the breast meat and work it forward. When you hit the front – the wishbone – follow the wishbone right on down and peel the meat off. It’s also possible to simply pry the breast meat out with your thumbs. There is no need to gut the bird. To take the drumsticks, peel the skin and feathers off the legs. Cut the feet off, then cut the legs off at the hips. Rinse the meat off.

There is a trick to cleaning spruce grouse that is probably best demonstrated. It is possible to lay the bird on the ground with its wings spread, step on the wings, then grab the legs and pull. The legs and breasts come off, and the guts stay with the wings.

Sooty grouse are about twice the size of ruffed grouse and most hunters prepare these birds like chickens. Rather than take just the breasts and thighs, they’ll pull the organs out and take the entire bird home.

Some people prefer plucking the feathers off game birds rather than skinning. Leaving the skin on the bird helps keep the meat moist and tender, but plucking is a chore.

In all cases, be sure to trim away any badly shot up areas, and remove any shot pellets. Some folks soak the meat in salt water for three hours in the refrigerator, as the salt water helps draw out the blood and any feathers that the shot has pushed into the meat.

Preparing / Cooking Grouse and Ptarmigan

Grouse and ptarmigan can be prepared many ways. They can be grilled, fried, baked, or slow cooked in a crock pot. If you’re interested in grilling, marinade the breasts and thighs in your favorite marinade for 24 hours. Slowly cook the breasts on a medium heat grill to avoid overcooking and drying out the meat. Fried grouse or ptarmigan can be very good. Prepare the breasts and thighs like fried chicken. An all time favorite for many hunters is a slow cooked game bird in a crock pot with cream of mushroom soup. With a game bird that is not too damaged, baking the whole bird can offer a nice entrée presentation and can mimic Cornish game hens. This is particularly nice with ruffed grouse.

Hares

Field Dressing Hare

To field dress a hare, cut off the head and break the feet at the ankle joints and cut them off. Pinch the skin on the rabbit’s back and pull it so you can cut through the skin, cutting across the back. Hold the hide and pull the skin away in opposite directions, peeling it completely off. Remove the tail. Cut the abdomen open – be careful not to cut into the entrails – grab the heart and lung portion of the viscera and pull backwards, removing all the entrails. Clean out all blood and blood clots under running water.

Depending on how you plan to prepare the hare, you may wish to cut it into five pieces – the backstrap, the two forequarters (right and left ribs and legs) and the two hindquarters. Like chicken, a whole hare will take longer to cook than a hare that is cut in pieces.

Preparing Hares

When frying a hare, coat the pieces with corn meal or flour, as you would chicken. Brown it on all sides, then reduce the heat and cover the pan, simmering until it’s tender. This provides a moist coating, but takes a little longer. For a crisp coating and shorter cooking time, first boil the hare until it’s almost tender. Pat the pieces dry, roll them in corn meal or flour and fry them.

To see if hare is done, pierce it with a fork. You should be able to insert the fork with ease, and the juices should run clear. Hare is thoroughly cooked when it is no longer pink inside. If you use a meat thermometer, hare is done when a thermometer inserted in the meatiest part reads 180°F (82.2°C)

For roasted hare, rub surfaces with onion, garlic, and lemon. Place on a greased rack in a shallow pan. Brush generously with melted butter and cover loosely with foil. Roast at 325 degrees for 1 to 2 hours. Remove foil during last 1/2 hour to brown.

Hare can also be slow cooked in a Dutch oven, large covered pot, or a crockpot. The pieces of meat can be seared first in hot fat, using the Dutch oven on the stovetop. Before baking, add liquid, either several cups of hot water, condensed soup mix or red wine. Vegetables may also be added as desired. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the pieces.

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