The Early Season

Cooper and I managed to hit the blind for a few days during the “Early Season” this year. The 20 degree mornings balanced out the blue bird skies and full moon, which resulted in quite a few birds flying through the Shenandoah Valley. On this particular morning, my calling proved enticing enough to have four mallards lock up about 20 yards from our blind. The ol’ A5 “Hump Back”cycled cleanly, I hit my targets, and Cooper made perfect retrieves.  I couldn’t ask for a more picturesque morning….

Cooper waiting to be released back into the water.
Cooper waiting to be released back into the water.


Hunting ducks in the Appalachian Mountains is not always fruitful, especially during the early season.  Our region sits on the fringe of the Atlantic fly way, which normally results in a bag limit filled by resident Mallards. Now, I do not say that as if I am some kind of picky bastard.  I am more than happy harvesting the National Bird of Fraternal Organizations. And they taste damn good too. All that I am saying is that it is rare for us to get Widgeons, Teal, Canvasbacks, or Pin Tails.  Often times, our mornings are spent practicing our hail calls at Mallards who are heading to the local parks to get their belly full on gum ball machine corn. Oh, and I drink copious amounts of coffee infused with vanilla gelato. If you haven’t tried it you are truly missing out on one the finer things in life. However, when the weather really plummets into the low 20’s and below, we can truly have epic duck hunts….and those days will be here soon.

Wild Duck with Apple Butter Syrup.
Wild Duck with Apple Butter Syrup.

Wild Duck w/Apple Butter Syrup and Garlic Roasted Vegetables:

My good friend advised that I allow my birds to sit un-breasted for a few days to allow for proper seasoning of the meat.  It WORKS!  I set these birds in the fridge for 4 days before I breasted them.  I highly recommend it…

Meat Prep. and Cooking:

  • Once breasted, allow the meat to sit at room temperature for an hour. This helps in the searing process.
  • Coat breast in salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and brown sugar.
  • Using a cast iron skillet, or whatever, get pan to highest heat possible without melting metal. Add a stick of butter.
  • Place breast in HOT pan seasoned side down.  Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes (depends on how high the temp and how you want the meat cooked. I cook mine very rare)
  • Flip to other side and cook for the same amount of time. Both sides should be golden brown.
  • Remove breasts.
  • Cut meat into thin strips.

Apple Butter Syrup:

  • Using same pan, bring heat to medium.
  • Add half stick of butter, 1 cup apple cider, dash of cinnamon, and table spoon of brown sugar.
  • Increase heat to high so that the sloppy mess begins to boil. Do not reduce heat.
  • While boiling, constantly stir with whisk until sloppy mess reduces down into a beautiful Apple Butter Syrup.  This will take about 3 minutes.
  • Spoon syrup over meat. Get ready for awesome!



Wes Hodges Fly Fishing

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