Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Art of Blowing a Ptarmigan Stomach

Well you asked for it and I finally have a good internet connection to do this post.

John goes Ptarmigan hunting pretty much whenever he gets a chance and we eat a lot of ptarmigan. Ptarmigan are weird birds, they have feed like rabbits all furry and warm looking, and they change colors with the season. Ptarmigan mostly eat pussy willow buds, so you can almost always find them in the willows eating away. 

These birds have a "storage stomach" so when they eat it goes into this storage stomach to be stored for when they actually NEED the food. Elders say that when you get Ptarmigan with really full storage stomach's it is going to get stormy because they prepare by eating a lot of buds and storing them for when they cannot go out into the storm to eat. All birds have these stomach's but Ptarmigan's can get really BIG.  As you can see from the above photo there is two ways into the stomach, an enterance from the mouth and an exit to the actual stomach of the bird. This is how you blow them up:

FIRST, you need a good man to go hunting for you and to NOT shoot thru these stomachs, they are right below the head between the breast meat.  You need a good man to pluck the ptarmigan in the feild when it is a lot easier to do while the blood is still warm. (this helps by me not having to do it so I have more motivation to blow the stomach's out. :D) 

When you start to skin the Ptarmigan you should do it from this spot first, so you have less of a chance to cut or rip the VERY thin membrane.You should be very careful to slowly pull this stomach out from in between the breast meat, gently  tug while it separates from the rest of the body. Cut it off the bird and make sure you leave enough so that you can tie it off. Get yourself one of those cheap bendy straws from the store, and slit the bottom of it so it can fit into a narrower space. Then you tie off one end and put the straw in the other end. I usually have John hold it for me because its hard to do on your own. 

You blow the straw until it cannot hold any more air, then you tie it off with dental floss and tie the two ends together and hang until it dries. Elders say that having these hang in your house is good luck. They are very cool when they dry out, you can shake it and the buds in the inside are like a rattle. Since there are no stomach acids or any digestive juices in this they smell VERY GOOD, like willow buds in the spring time.


This one was a big one, full of buds.

Here is a close up shot of all the buds in the inside of the storage stomach.


  1. Hey, thank you for writing about this -- you are a subsistence-lover after my own heart. I am always wanting to do stuff like this and trying to find out how. So, thanks! Next time I get a ptarmigan I will do this. :) Is it OK if I link to you in my next post on my blog?

    AND I like your post above about selling your eggs! Did you happen to find out any more about what it might cost to ship them with your connections?
    TX! Cate

  2. Hi Cate, I didnt look into getting them to Hooper Bay from Kotz, the next time I'm in Bethel I'll send some to you though.

    I dont mind if you link this on your blog at all.

    Thanks for the props on being a subsistence girl, I love it!


  3. What? You mean you don't just stick your lips to that membrane and BLOW??! Like old times?! haha. Cool. You should sell this story for a "how-to" on google! :) I wonder if they'd buy it!

  4. What a great idea -- I always wondered where those how-tos came from. I wonder where the connection to good luck came from? Preparation for hard times maybe? I love hearing about the wisdom of old ways.

  5. I just love reading your blog (and your sisters and your husbands, too!). I have lived in Chicago all my life except for 1 year in Anchorage, and that year I fell in love with all things Alaska. My favorite place to go was the Alaska Native Heritage Center and I loved learning about traditions and subsistance ways. Some day I hope to visit above the arctic circle! I can't wait to see your chicken poop igloo!

    Heather from Chicago