This helpful tutorial on how to clean a wild turkey is excerpted from 99 Turkey Hunting Secrets, a download from Turkey & Turkey Hunting.
Even if you don’t plan on turkey hunting, this can be used as a template for dressing out any domestic or wild bird. The cuts described below are similar to the cuts you’d make on a whole grocery store turkey.
Remember that buying a whole bird – or any animal protein – and breaking it down yourself can save some serious money, too. Use what you save to buy gear and other preps. Your own hands are often the ultimate cost-cutter.
How to Clean a Wild Turkey
Many hunters prefer to fillet the breast meat and legs off their turkey, and why not? It’s clean, easy and saves freezer space.
Using a sharp knife, slice into the gobbler’s skin at the point of its breast. Then, with your fingers, pull the skin away from the sides, top and bottom of the breast, exposing the meat.
Next, grab the turkey’s breast sponge, on the top edge of the breast meat, and use your knife to peel it off. Also, pull out the turkey’s crop while removing the sponge.
When the crop and breast sponge are out of the way, begin filleting the breast. Make an incision along the center of one side of the breast plate, and then gently cut the meat off the bone.
When you reach the upper portion of the breast meat, follow the wishbone with your knife up to the wing joint. Slice through the tendon that attaches the small, underlying “tender” portion of the breast, and then finish cutting off the breast.
After the breast is free, trim off excess fat or connective tissue. Then, remove the other side of the breast using the same process.
How to Clean a Wild Turkey: The Legs
Many hunters don’t take the legs from their turkeys, but that’s a mistake. The thighs and drumsticks provide great meat for stew, soup or gravy. To remove the legs, pull the skin down past the drumstick, and then pull the leg free, as if you are taking off a turtleneck.
Then, firmly grasp the top portion of the thigh between your thumb and forefinger, and quickly push the thigh bone upward, separating it from the body. Use your knife to cut through the tissue connecting the thigh to the torso.
How to Clean a Wild Turkey: Removing the Skin
Many folks like to save the entire bird but don’t want to pluck it. Skinning provides an easy option.
First, remove the beard and lower legs, and then cut off the wings, starting at the second wing joint from the body. You can also remove the tail if desired.
Then, gut the bird. Make an incision just below the gobbler’s breast bone. Work your hand into the bird’s chest cavity, grasp the viscera just above the heart, and pull out the innards.
Cut around the bird’s anal area and remove the intestines and other guts. Slip your fingers between the lungs and ribs, and gently pull out the lungs to the side, away from the spine. You might have to use a toothpick or paper toweling to further clean out the lung tissue.
Then, slice off the bird’s head close to the torso. Grab the skin atop the breast and slowly peel it off, working from top to bottom.
As you work the skin off the bird, make sure to remove the breast sponge and crop. You might have to use a knife to cut around the ends of the wings and drumsticks.
When you’ve removed the skin, thoroughly wash the bird inside and out, and remove excess skin, feathers and breast sponge tissue.
How to Clean a Wild Turkey: Plucking Feathers
This can be a chore, but if you like roasted turkey, it’s worth it. If you don’t pluck a turkey immediately after killing it, the skin tightens, and you’ll rip much of it off with the feathers.
However, you can remedy this by dunking the bird in a vat of scalding-hot water.
You can remove the wings, viscera and lower legs of the bird before or after plucking, but it’s probably easier to do so before.
If you want to save the beard, be sure to cut it off before dunking the bird.
After the water is ready, submerge the bird for a couple of minutes. Then, pluck it immediately.
Grab the feathers near their bases, and rip them upward. Take special care to remove all the small feathers under the wingbone and along the lower legs.
When the bird is clean, wash it thoroughly, cook it, and enjoy.