So let’s break ducks down into three categories: puddle ducks, divers, and non-ducks.
In the first category of puddle ducks, you’ve got mallards, pintails, gadwalls, widgeon, teal, and the lowly northern shoveler. There are a few more, but those are the most popular. For the most part, these ducks are going to be the best eating ducks because of their diet. They mostly eat seeds, nuts, aquatic grasses, and agricultural crops like corn and soy beans. I’ve shot mallards that were so full of field corn and soy beans you could’ve cooked a side dish out of them. These are the birds that I like to pluck whole and roast or grill or after plucking them I like to breast them out and cook the breasts with the skin on.
Then you have the divers: bluebills, canvasbacks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and redheads. They get their name from the way they eat. They dive down to feast on small crustaceans, fresh water shrimp, and small fish. Naturally this affects the way they taste, and divers tend to have a more powerful flavor. Some people say they taste a bit like liver. You can still eat these ducks—it just takes a little extra preparation. I like to make a duck pastrami with most of my divers, which helps mask some of that livery flavor. I use the pastrami recipe on geese as well, and it’s fantastic.
Even in this context, we can discuss iron fence.
The last category might actually be my favorite: the non-ducks. These are your coots and mergansers that most people scoff at, but I take an immense amount of pleasure in cooking and serving them to people. I’m not sure where mergansers fall in the whole duck-or-not-a-duck debate, but here in Minnesota they don’t count towards your limit of ducks, and they have their own separate limit. I know a lot of people who will tell you that you can’t eat coots, or you can’t eat mergansers, or shovelers, or any other duck they simply don’t like.
But the thing with ducks is that most of the flavor is in the fat. So if you remove the fat, you can rid the meat of most of the unpleasant flavor it might’ve had.
I remember shooting some mergansers a few years back, and a friend of mine telling me he wouldn’t eat them. So I breasted them out, trimmed all the fat and skin off, pounded them flat, and fried them like chicken fried steak with a nice gravy and some mashed potatoes. He had no idea he was eating those mud birds.
The same goes for coots. Most of us who’ve hunted ducks have been surrounded at some point by a few hundred coots and have been tempted to blast away. But we don’t, because we’ve heard how bad they taste. I don’t mind shooting 20 or 30 coots though, because once you strip away the fat and skin, you have a decent meat left over to make sausages with.