Hunting cypress swamps in the late season in Eastern North Carolina is one of my favorite pastimes. Every aspect of the hunt is treasured. From standing in the knee-deep, just above-freezing brackish water, to the scent of the mud mixed with the wet labrador retriever, to the sounds of that over-cautious beaver slapping his tail on the water as an early warning sign. The faint first light at the crack of dawn means the ducks will be taking wing soon. Dressed for warmth in layers of fleece, wool socks, old camouflage hunting jackets, and armed to the teeth with an over under twelve gauge shotgun, waders, and the trusty Stormy Kromer cap keeping the head and ears warm against winter’s frosty sting.

A Hunter's Tale

First it is the squeal of the woodies as they navigate their way to their favorite hole and then the visual of the iridescent head of the drake as he twists, turns, and does aerobatics that would make a pilot for the Blue Angels green with envy. The bottom barrel of the over-under booms against the still quiet of the marsh. The duck crumples and falls with a splash on the surface of the water. The lab is trembling with anticipation as he obeys the command of ‘dead bird’ and does a beautiful swan dive off the platform attached to the tree. Swimming as graceful as an Olympic athlete, he returns with the morning quarry. This routine is repeated two more times in under a half hour, as a second drake woodie and then a hen fold to the steel pellets of the 12 gauge. The bag limit is filled, so the hunter and his wet lab trudge back to the duck camp with a game bag full of ducks, looking forward to the warmth of a wood fire for a quick rest.

From Field to Freezer

Once the hunting clothes are stripped off and hung with care beside the waders in the mudroom, the Stormy Kromer is put in its rightful place on the hat rack and the shotgun is cleaned and oiled. Now to take care of the ducks and prepare them for the freezer and a future culinary delight.  These ducks will be plucked and breasted out, vacuum sealed and frozen. Months from now, long after the last day of duck season has given way to spring and summer, as a wonderful reminder of cooler temperatures and a terrific day afield with a trusty four-legged companion, it will be time to thaw the breast meat and cook a meal fit for a king.

KC Wood Duck Poppers Blog a gun laying on the ground net to a duck

Satisfy Your Cravings

This is a duck popper recipe that has never failed and can be used as an appetizer or a main course. The recipe calls for four wood duck breasts, skin off, a green bell pepper, bacon, spring onions, two jalapeño peppers, and portobello mushrooms. Cut the breasts into finger-width strips and marinate overnight in four heaping tablespoons of bourbon, grape jelly, a teaspoon of garlic, a teaspoon of black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. The next day, I like to devein and seed the jalapeños and scoop the gills out of the mushrooms.  I like to cut the vegetables into strips. Wrap the marinated duck strips, mushroom, peppers, and onion in bacon, securing with a toothpick. I prefer to cook my poppers over indirect heat with hot charcoal and a chunk or two of hickory wood for smoke flavor. Cook until the bacon is crispy. If this is a main course I serve with wild rice and a salad or brussels sprouts steamed and then charred over the same charcoal fire. Serve with a nice wine of your choice and enjoy. Cheers!    

Wood Duck Poppers

Recipe by Cecil Cherry

Ingredients

  • 4 Skinless Duck Breasts

  • Green Bell Pepper

  • Bacon

  • Spring Onions

  • Jalapeño Peppers

  • 4 Tbsp Bourbon

  • Red Pepper Flakes

  • Grape Jelly

  • 1 tsp Garlic

  • 1 tsp Black Pepper

  • Portobello Mushrooms

Directions

  • Cut the breasts into finger-width strips and marinate overnight in four heaping tablespoons of bourbon, grape jelly, a teaspoon of garlic, a teaspoon of black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste, and let marinate overnight.
  • The next day, seed the jalapeños and scoop the gills out of the mushrooms.
  • Cut the vegetables into strips.
  • Wrap the marinated duck strips, mushroom, peppers, and onion in bacon, securing with a toothpick.
  • Cook over medium heat until bacon is crispy.

Notes

  • Pairs great with a nice wine.
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