‘Meat’ by Shane O’Reilly

The local Orwell community shoot

The local Orwell community shoot which is more about people than shooting and all the game is for the pot. Never big bags but this group of people value the countryside and help conserve and protect the other wildlife as well as the game they hunt and eat.

As a rough, tough estate worker used to hacking through scrub and undergrowth in all weathers, there are certain things that are taken for granted; you eat any game meat that comes your way, you are able to prepare the game that does comes your way, you are definitely not squeamish about touching cold flesh. So up until fairly recently I had been able to hold on to this bravura until my good lady wife accepted some pigeons on my behalf. As it turned out I was given the choice of two pigeons or a pheasant. Two small dead things or one slightly larger dead thing. My brain was saying “Thanks, but no thanks” unfortunately for me, my vegetarian wife on my behalf was saying “Yes, please”

So it was a no brainer, deal with one or two dead things, “I’ll have the pheasant. Thank you very much.”

“Here you are then” I said, as I offered it across to the head cook.

“Oh no” she said “You want them cooked, you can prepare them.”

Plucking the pheasent

Plucking the pheasant

I certainly don’t remember ever wanting them but now I was trapped, there was no going back after all I’m a big tough estate worker and its well-known that we touch dead cold feathery things all the time.

I resorted to “Google” and the only knowledge gleaned there was to pluck birds in a bag to reduce the feather debris flying all over the place, very encouraging. I set to, grabbing the bird with a bagged hand and with a large cardboard box below as back up. I started on its chest and found that the small feathers came away from the cold delicate skin easily. I soon became accustomed to pinching small clumps and pulling “against the grain” of feather growth. Very quickly the chest appeared and I worked outwards encountering more resistance as the feathers increased in size. Suddenly I pulled too hard or had too big a clump and the skin tore, exposing red sticky FLESH. Undeterred, I now took single feathers with a more gentle pulling action and found that they too came out cleanly. Progress was being made and confidence rising until, Oooops, haste meant I tore the skin again.

Out with the scissors!

Out with the scissors!

With all the twisting and turning of the carcass, its claws were constantly getting in the way, so emboldened by my ability to touch bare flesh I took up some kitchen scissors and cut them off at the knee. While I was about it I thought I would deal with its large tail as well and snip that went too. Now the bird was under my control except for its head, lolling about and getting in the way. Snip, snip and that went. But that was a snip to far, as its now exposed crop began oozing “fluids”. It was only now that I noticed the large number of tiny feathers, or bits thereof, that were flying about. So much for doing it in a bag! Of course these feathers now attached themselves to my gooped-up hands. Pushing on, I finished off all remaining plumage and was left with the semblance of a proper prepared bird.

I offered it once more to the cook. “ Oh No, YOU’ve got to gut it now.”

Oooohhh this looks horrible

Oooohhh this looks horrible

Google, once more to the rescue. “Poke your finger up its bumhole and pull out all its internal organs . .


and if you are interested you can inspect the contents of its crop to see what it was feeding on before it died.

“Yeah right, that’s just what any normal person would do,” I thought. However, summoning up all my remaining reserves of courage, I did as directed and with a bit of help from the scissors did manage to remove all its organs; liver, kidneys, heart etc. I was left with the pheasant exposed of all apparel and without internal messy bits and to my eye every bit as well done as if someone who knew how to do it, had done it. All that was left for me to do was clean up the zillion little featherlets that had attached themselves to every available surface and dispose of removed organs and give it a wash in cold water.

There, not so bad after all

There, not so bad after all

Now I handed it to the cook and at last it was accepted for processing. Bless her heart, she spatch-cocked it, placed it in a dish with assorted vegetables and roasted the little fellow. That evening I dined on the best pheasant I have ever had, succulent and tender, a real joy. It’s what us tough estate boys do all the time, eat meat, sometimes we don’t even bother cooking it.

Strangely here was no evidence of shot wounds on its body so how it died I’m not sure but if I know its donor, it was probably talked to death. “Oh No!” here he comes now and this time he’s holding a brace of rabbits, quick tell him I’ve turned veggie.

A few more than two!

A few more than two!

 Eds note:

Seriously, this is what most people use to have to do to the chickens, duck, goose and turkeys once upon a time. No super markets then, just home produced or butchers selling in the fur or feather game and farm birds. It’s well worth preparing your food from the beginning to understand why you shouldn’t waste food and why you should appreciate all the effort that has gone into putting a meal before you on the table. Photographs were purloined from Riverside cottage and the link to preparing a pheasant in full can be found here. For those of braver courage you could always pick up road kill BUT you are not allowed to run it over and pick it up, that’s illegal, however if the fellow in front does hit a pheasant or the like by mistake you may pick it up as it will be fresh provided it hasn’t been completely run over!

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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3 Responses to ‘Meat’ by Shane O’Reilly

  1. Graham Teece says:

    Save all that bother; skin em and joint into a pot.


  2. Miranda Campbell says:

    Great article; well done Shane you got there in the end! Reminded me of the time a friend turned up at my door with a brace of partridge – very kind, but not something I felt quite up to tackling having just had a baby a few days before.


  3. betheatslocal says:

    We pluck, then freeze them as we often don’t feel like eating them directly after plucking and gutting. My boyfriend and I have a deal. I pluck, he guts. One longer, less gross job and one shorter, more gross job.


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