Winter is the hunting season. As dawn breaks pink and gold above ponds and marshes across the state, the pop-pop of guns echoes through woods and across fields. Huge flocks of migrating geese and ducks wing their way from Canada and the Arctic across the pale skies in Texas, one of the most abundant waterfowl areas in the country, nearly 80,000 bird hunters bring down more than 600,000 geese and ducks a year. Five to six million mourning doves, 12,000 snipes, 8,000 woodcocks, and 5,000 sandhill cranes are shot by Texas hunters annually.
Bird hunting is today a luxury rather than the necessity it was for our ancestors. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to taste properly cooked wild goose, duck, or dove know of its pleasure. For many, however, cooking wild game birds remains a mystery and a trial. Alas, overcooking — especially of the most popular game birds, the aforementioned red-meat birds — is an all-too-common mistake. Sophisticated cooks, those who really appreciate a game bird’s rich taste, know that the best way to cook a goose, duck, or dove is simply and quickly, at high heat, and only until rare, or, at most, pink. Too many cooks — out of tradition, fear of wild meat’s “uncleanness,” or their dislike of the so-called gamy flavor — believe it is necessary to somehow purify the animal or camouflage its flavor by long and complicated cooking.
What a shame to ruin such an exquisite natural food, a perfect seasonal dish unavailable in restaurants or markets. It hardly seems proper to sacrifice an animal for sport and then treat it as if it were distasteful. Wild fowl may be an acquired taste; the flavor is distinctive and, yes, gamy, unfortunately a pejorative word. But once one’s palate has become acquainted with the true and unadulterated flavor of a moist and tender game bird that has been