Imagine a dumpster full of pheasant carcasses with just the breasts cut out. That’s what my friend found after the governor’s hunt back in October, behind the processing place in Fort Pierre that handles the birds.
My friend is loathe to waste anything on a fine-tasting game bird like a pheasant. So he was upset about that. Still is. He thinks it was a terrible waste that didn’t reflect well on the state’s high-profile ringneck hunt or the state Game, Fish & Parks Department’s involvement in it.
“Isn’t that against the law?” he wondered when we got together recently. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that when I saw you. Isn’t there a law against wasting game?”
Indeed there is such a law in South Dakota statute: 41-1-4. It reads: “Wanton waste or destruction of protected birds, animals and fish prohibited–Violation as misdemeanor. No person may wantonly waste or destroy any of the birds, animals, or fish of the kinds protected by the laws of this state. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
But like most laws, it leaves a lot to interpretation.
Who among us hasn’t breasted out a duck or a goose and thrown the rest away?
I plead guilty, even though I much prefer the whole bird – or at least the breast and legs. When I was living in Pierre, I dropped off most of my ducks and geese down at Steamboat Bait & Tackle, where the Gilkerson clan has over a couple of generations shown an adept touch at processing waterfowl, including some of the best commercial smoking techniques I’ve tasted.
Whole bird. Well processed. Well enjoyed. That’s the best way.
Sometimes, though, I didn’t have access to such a processor, or the time to wrestle my way through the picking and cleaning and fussing that goes with full-fledged waterfowl processing. So I took a shortcut. I think it’s a rare waterfowler who hasn’t, from time to time at least.
I have even breasted out pheasants, typically when the other parts were so mangled by a close-range blast or hard-mouthed dog they were of little use. But that’s pretty rare. Because usually there’s lot of good stuff besides the breast on a rooster pheasant, including those thighs and, yes, even the drumsticks – when cooked low and slow. My wife prefers those to the breast, and handles them separately, and well.
There was lots of good stuff in that dumpster, my friend says, that could have and should have been saved and used. I understand his point. And I have to admit that I was surprised about the breasting. Most pheasant processing I’ve seen – in Chamberlain while I was growing up, and in other parts of pheasant country during three-plus decades of covering the season, was whole-bird processing.
The governor’s hunt processing is a short-cut that, perhaps, is just fine with the visiting hunters. In fact, they might prefer just the breasts, even though that means a lot of good eating gone to waste.
But was that dumpster full of partially-processed rooster carcasses a violation of the law? As I read it, probably not.
Which doesn’t mean my friend is any happier about it.