We sit in the kitchen of the Maine cottage, trash cans between our knees, too tired to carry on the meagerest conversation. An all-day hunt, a long drive up the coast, and a pile of ducks on the counter. Its time to get to work, and no matter that its closing in on midnight.

I pick up a brute of a mallard drake and set to the task. I hold the duck in the palm of my left hand, grab a wad of breast feathers between the thumb and forefinger of my right, and strip towards the neck. Its not that complicated. And its that first pull that tells you what youre in for. Each grab and yank on my greenhead reveals a growing swath of pink-orange skin, cleanly plucked, with hardly a smidge of down left behind. Nearby, my buddy wrestles with a black duck riddled with pinfeathers. He has his work cut out for him. Its the luck of the draw.

I dont pluck all of my ducks, but Im plucking more of them more often. Maybe its due to my obsession with a perfectly seared duck breast. Maybe its because I want the hunt to last just a bit longer. Maybe its because Im increasing loathe to waste any part of a bird or animal. So, I pluck. Me and a glass of whiskey. Ive tried the other methods, namely the cold/hot water bath and the hot paraffin wax spa treatment. They work, but Ive come to appreciatenote that I did not say lovethe intimacy of hand-plucking a big puddle duck.

Whoa, look at that fat, I mutter, almost to myself. The pebbled skin is stretched taut over a thick layer of cream-colored fat. This bird could have laid on the groceries as far away as the boreal wilds of Quebec, or as nearby as a midriver island in the Kennebec. I finish the breast and pluck the back and then the legs and its not so bad after all. At least not until duck number 6 and a cramp in my thumb that I cant seem to rub out.

There are waders to dry out and duck packs to unload. But all that can wait. Right now, I hold a chunk of wild Maine in the palm of my hand and the woodstove putters and the flames dance and the ice in the cocktail glass could use another shot. And the feathers fly. The hunt is never really over until the feathers fly.