As far back as Mic Wetzel of Little Falls can remember, poultry hunting has been a part of his life. Not just for him, but for his whole family.
“It’s been in our family for generations,” he said.
Recalling, Wetzel said it was his father, Michel, who taught him how to hunt.
“My dad taught me everything I know about duck hunting,” he said.
Since then, Wetzel has also learned a lot on his own through experience.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
The family hunts together every year. While they all hunt to eat the meat, there is so much more to hunting than just killing the bird. It’s about camaraderie, having a good time and sharing, and creating memories.
Looking back, Wetzel said that as he got older, hunting changed somewhat. During her high school years until a few years after graduating from college, the goal was always to hit the limit.
“You always had to do really well and try to show your buddies that you were doing better than them one day, because you were shooting more ducks. But now, as I’ve gotten older, it’s more about enjoying being outside,” he said.
All hunters have their own hunting dog. One of the things that makes hunting so much more enjoyable, Wetzel said, is watching her dog, Tuff. retrieve the birds.
Tuff is a 7 year old yellow British Lab. This is a breed that Wetzel is very fond of as they generally have a very calm temperament compared to others. Although Tuff is thrilled and ready to go hunting, he sleeps a lot during the time they’re in the field, Wetzel said. That is, until it’s time to retrieve the bird.
“It’s like they have two switches. Either they’re lying there like a piece and they’re quiet, but as soon as you tell them what to do, they’re balls against the wall, doing what they have to do to do their job, come back, sit down and then, they just lay down,” he said.
Wetzel said that like many other hunting dogs, Tuff has undergone extensive training.
“They go through different types of training, but it takes a lot of work to get them to understand, so you can send them on a dead bird that fell 100 yards through 10-foot tall grass and be able to talk to them when they don’t. can’t see you, he said.
“So they know when you say back or right or left, they just have to trust and listen to what you’re saying and not go off on their own. It’s a lot of work, but he’s got it now.
Wetzel said that as he got older, he focused a lot more on making sure he was shooting the bird well rather than just hitting it. However, this was not always the case. He remembers the first duck he shot when he was a little boy. He was with his father and Aunt Toni.
“I was 9 and everything was a blur. I just pointed my gun and shot into a bog flock. It was a horrible thing to do. You’re supposed to pick a bird, but I just shot and one fell,” he said.
On rare occasions, Wetzel has shot banded birds. As minor as it sounds, it’s a special thrill when you’re harvested. It’s like getting a buck with lots of antlers for deer hunters. A banded bird, he said, refers to a bird that has a band around its leg. Bird banding allows for data collection and individual identification, Wetzel said.
“They are always a prize. I’ve only killed less than 10. They’re so rare, but you can find out where the bird was banded, how old it is, where it’s been, so it’s always a good memory,” a- he declared.
Although poultry hunting is an expensive hobby, ranging from the purchase of guns, ammunition and blinds, to decoys, dogs and special hunting gear, Wetzel said that in worth it. Often, these elements are acquired over several years. Because of the cost, he recommends people get involved when they are young as they may receive some of the gear from parents and other family members for birthdays or Christmas.
Additionally, Wetzel recommends people who hunt poultry get a dog. That way, he said, the hunter doesn’t lose birds and waste them, because he can’t find them.
A common bird that Wetzel hunts is the mallard duck. He and other family members usually target the green-headed mallards – the males – to save the hens, so they can lay eggs in the spring to repopulate, he said.
When it comes to hunting, Wetzel said safety comes first.
“Always know where your gun is pointing. Keep your safety,” he said.
Additionally, Wetzel encourages people who hunt, whether new or seasoned, to respect the land they hunt on and ensure they don’t encroach, he said.
Once the family is done hunting for the day, Wetzel said they bring the birds home and pluck some of the feathers before the remaining feathers are removed by dipping each bird in a turkey cooker filled with water and canning wax. Then each bird is hung on a nail or tree for about five minutes until the wax hardens.
“Then you can peel the wax off the bird and it’s completely featureless,” he said.
Wetzel said a lot of time and effort is saved by removing the majority of the feathers by waxing the bird, compared to plucking one feather at a time.
The birds are then roasted in the oven with apple slices and bacon on top.
“The duck is delicious. A lot of people don’t like duck and I would say most of them didn’t eat duck the right way,” he said.
Wetzel said one of the reasons some people may not like to eat duck is the way it was prepared.
“Duck is not necessarily something you want to throw on the grill and do well because that would be disgusting even to me and I love duck. The duck is said to be rare or medium rare. It’s very good,” he said.
Wetzel said while the family was grilling birds, some of the meat was turned into sausage. Preparing it in the oven is by far his favorite, he said.
One of the ways the Wetzels prepare their birds comes from his grandmother. After the bird is plucked, slices of apples are stuffed into the cavity of the bird.
“My grandmother always used yellow apples. I do not know why. It probably makes no difference,” he said.
The bird is then sprinkled with salt and black pepper and strips of bacon are placed over the body, Wetzel said. The bird is then wrapped in aluminum foil and baked at 400° for three and a half hours,
“Just before they’re finished, you take them out. Remove the bacon bits from the poultry, pour cognac over the poultry and return to the oven, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. It firms the skin a bit. Then take them out and eat them. It’s so good,” he said.
Bird meat dipped in cranberries also tastes great, he said.
Wetzel said his wife, Brooke, has accompanied him on several occasions in the past. While she may not be as enthusiastic as him, Wetzel said he appreciates her understanding and support for him. It makes a huge difference, he says.
With hunting season approaching and the poultry opening scheduled for September 24, Wetzel said the Wetzel Family opening is like Christmas for many other people.
“It’s just as exciting for us,” he said.
Over the years, Wetzel discovered that poultry hunting was significantly therapeutic. Whether alone or surrounded by new or familiar people, some things rarely change, like the scenery. In a world where many things change every day, being in nature brings a different perspective on time and life, he said.