By Tikaan Galbreath
While much of Alaska’s summer bounty is coming to an end- the salmon runs are done, moose season is wrapped up, berries are frozen on the ground- there are still some harvests to be had. October bears the fruit of freezing temperatures at night and termination dust making its way down the mountains, causing us all to prepare for the coming winter. For those of us who were unsuccessful in landing a moose, the empty freezer can be a scary sight.
Fortunately, as we prepare for the long, cold winter so too are the animals. As we sit in the limbo of fall and winter, our lovely state bird becomes a stand out target on the landscape. With their feathers now white, they practically scream “eat me” and for those of you who haven’t, I recommend heeding their call with a taste test of this northern delicacy.
This fall I had the opportunity to get off the road system with a .22 and search for ptarmigan. Fall is a time of restlessness for ptarmigan as they travel great distances, forming and breaking flocks. What this means is, day to day, hour to hour, you never know what to expect when hunting for these birds. Some use dogs, some use snares, some use shotguns, and some use .22’s.
No matter the method, a day in the woods searching for ptarmigan is a day well spent in my book. Some cases instead of ptarmigan you find spruce hens, a close relative. Both the birds provides a decent amount of meat off the chest while the bones can be used for a delicious stock. They are easy to pluck and skin, and make a tasty wilderness-to-table meal.
For detailed information check out the wonderful publication provided by Alaska Fish and Game Department:
Processing Spruce Hen 101:
1. First take the bird by its head and whip the body downwards. This will remove the head from the body.
2. Next lay the bird on its back and pull back the chest plumage; the skin commonly tears at this point allowing you the peel it back, removing the rest of the feathers.
3. Remove wings and legs using a knife.
4. Make a small incision below the breast while being careful to not cut into any vital organs.
5. Scoop out the vital organs with your fingers.
Voilà! A prepared bird ready for cooking!
Throw the meat in a pot along with your favorite herbs, stock, and stew vegetables for a hearty autumn meal.
Subsistence & Wildharvesting Contributor: Tikaan Galbreath
Fermented by the fine culture of Fairbanks, 20 years makes a unique sourdough. After 4 years of higher education and traveling, Tikaan Galbreath has returned to Alaska with a renewed passion for food and the positive community created around it. As his love for food spills over into his Athabaskan heritage, his concept of sustainability is currently under reconstruction as he engages with traditional practices of the past.