How To Hunt and Cook Coots

The American Coot is a common bird that is can be found almost anywhere there is water to swim in and vegetation to eat. The closest relatives to coots are rails, which spend most of their time in marshy vegetation. Coots are also related to cranes. Like other waterfowl species, coots are legal to hunt.

A coot’s diet is almost completely composed of aquatic vegetation and algae, so they eat similar food to other waterfowl species. They do not eat fish or mud.

While digging through internet forums I found a lot of different opinions about how good coots taste. Opinions ranged from “it tastes like steak” to “it tastes like rotten fish”. Ryan Callaghan and Spencer Neuharth of MeatEater recently tried coot. Their take was that it was genuinely good and tasted like chicken.

Coots are related to cranes (both are members of the Gruiformes order) and cranes are often touted as some of the best meat available. It’s not a very far logical jump to assume that coots may also be good table fare. Of course, I had to try coot out for myself.

Why Hunt Coots

Coots are very abundant on many water bodies and provide lots of hunting opportunities. They are often found in groups of 5-30 birds near flooded vegetation and shallow areas. This makes them ideal targets for jump shooting.

Because coots are plentiful and not heavily hunted, most states have generous bag limits (usually around 25 birds). This makes coots a good target if you’re looking to put some meat on the table.

How to Hunt Coots

I’m a very novice waterfowl hunter. In fact, I don’t own a single waterfowl decoy. But that hasn’t stopped me from learning a few things this year.

Currently, I live just a few minutes away from a wildlife refuge where waterfowl hunting is allowed. A couple of days a week I head out before work to see if I can get lucky and jump shoot a few birds. I primarily hunt for meat, so I’m not picky about the birds I shoot (I’ll even shoot mergansers), and whatever shoot is getting taken home for dinner.

When hunting with decoys, it’s quite common for a group of coots to come scooting through your spread. In that situation, it’s pretty easy to pull up and knock down a few for the table. The downside is that you’re stuck waiting for the birds to come to you. The upside is that you’re hunting for other species at the same time.

Jump shooting makes it easier to target coots but it’s not as easy to get in shotgun range as you might think. Because coots hang out in groups you have to defeat a lot of eyes to get in close for a shot.

I like to find places where trees or willows edge up against the water and use binoculars to find a group of coots working along the edge. Then I work out a plan to sneak in and intercept them. Where I hunt this usually involves belly crawling through short vegetation to get in range.

Birds have good eyesight and there are many times I thought they wouldn’t care about a little movement only to find them scooting out to deeper water a few seconds later.

Once you’re in range, the rest is easy. Coots need a running start to get flying. They’ll start kicking and shooting up a trail of water as they try to take off or try to hide in the weeds. If you’ve done your job right, you’ll have the element of surprise and that will buy you a couple of seconds to draw a good bead.

Be careful when shooting into a group. I took down 7 coots with 4 shots during the hunt where these birds were taken. While they’re not the most glamorous bird to hunt, coots do provide a challenging and rewarding quarry and are definitely worth your pursuit. The biggest downside is that they’re not very big, so you’re going to need a few to make a meal for the family.

Cooking Coots

If you’ve spent much time around waterfowl hunters you’ve probably heard a lot of opinions about how coots taste. Most of them probably refer to fish or mud (coots are frequently called ‘mud hens’). You probably also know that some folks think they taste about the same as steak or venison.

Differences in taste opinions could be related to different palates, different birds, different preparations, or a combination of factors. I decided to test out how coots taste with a very basic preparation.

Dressing and Prepping Coots for Eating

After the harvest, I took the coots home and parted them out into leg pieces and boneless breast fillets. I really wanted to pluck a couple to cook with the skin on but found them to be harder to pluck than most waterfowl and didn’t want to spend that much time on it.

I soaked the coot meat in a saltwater solution for a couple of hours to draw out any blood. For this batch of meat, I didn’t remove the fat. Off tastes in game meat are often attributed to the fat. I wanted to know how coot fat tasted to see if it could be contributing to the rumors of bad taste.

Cooking Coot Meat

After a couple of hours, I removed the meat from the saltwater solution and dried the pieces off with paper towels. I seasoned the meat pieces lightly with salt and pepper then heated a little olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.

When the skillet was good and hot I put in the breast fillets and gave them a good sear for 3-4 minutes on each side, then removed them from the heat to rest. I was shooting for doneness of medium-rare and overcooked them just slightly.

I cooked the leg pieces in the same way but seared them for a little longer on each side because they were a little larger.

How Does Coot Meat Taste?

My parents were visiting out of town. By the time they arrived all coot evidence had been disposed of but the meat. My parents don’t each much game meat (some deer provided by my brother from time to time) so they were excellent candidates for a taste test.

Neither my mom nor dad noted any unsatisfactory flavors from the coot. They thought it tasted similar to red meat: stronger than steak but milder than deer. My 4-year-old son thought it tasted just like venison. My wife thought it tasted like a venison-chicken combo and my 18-month-old daughter ate it up so fast I don’t think she tasted it.

The breast fillets were the favorites. The leg pieces have several smaller bones and some sinews that make them tougher to eat.

To make the leg pieces more palpable I put them back in the skillet with some stock, vinegar, and a little mustard and let them simmer for about 2 hours until the meat was tender enough to pull off the bone easily. After braising, the leg pieces were super tender and juicy. I put them on a bun with a little barbeque sauce and it did not disappoint!

I ate a few pieces of coot fat without any meat. I found the taste and texture mildly unpleasant but didn’t notice it when the fat was attached to a piece of meat. I would recommend removing the fat to get the best taste out of your coots. Next time (and there will be a next time) I’ll remove the fat from my coots before cooking.

Would I Eat Coot again?

I would absolutely eat coot again. Coot meat is perfectly palatable and tastes very similar to red meat from mammals. Next time I’m waterfowl hunting and find a group of coots they better watch out because I won’t give them a pass!

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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