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How To Dress & Clean A Turkey

Copyright © 1998 - 2002  Roger W. Raisch * Nadine Adele, all rights reserved


Before cleaning your bird, tastefully display your trophy and take pictures. Then jot down its vital statistics for future reference:
  • Weight in pounds and ounces
  • Beard length
  • Spur length of each leg
  • Time and place bagged


Field dress a turkey as soon as possible to preserve its flavor and prevent spoilage. A bow-killed turkey should be dressed within one hour, because its intestinal tract is often damaged or ruptured from the arrow. This results in feces coming in contact with the body cavity causing the flesh to become tainted and bad-tasting. A turkey shot in the head with a shotgun will last for several hours before dressing if internal organs were not punctured and the weather is cool.


Unless the weather is cold, you should not leave a gutted turkey inside a vehicle or in the sun where it can spoil. The bird's dark feathers will soak up a lot of sun and become over heated quickly. Always keep the feathered carcass or fully-dressed bird in a cool, shady location. If the weather is warm, you can keep a feathered carcass cool for several days by keeping the body cavity filled with ice.


To gut a turkey, cut a slit from the end of the breast bone nearly to the vent (anus). Insert your fingers into the opening and gently pick up the large intestine. Then, with your other hand carefully cut a complete circle around the anus, which will free the intestine. Next, carefully reach inside the body cavity, find the gizzard and pull it out along with the intestines. Reach back in to remove the heart, lungs and liver. Finally, rinse the body cavity with fresh water.


If you are going to have a taxidermist mount the bird, do nothing further but get it to him as soon as possible. If you are not going to have it mounted, either skin or pick the bird. Skinning a turkey is easily done with a small knife. You can also dry pick the bird, which is time consuming, or you can use scalding water to do it more quickly. Many hunters prefer to pick a turkey because they want to preserve the skin which helps to keep the bird moist while cooking. Another way to end up with a moist bird is to bake a skinned bird in a plastic cooking bag.


A spring gobbler's breast sponge is an unsightly mess, but leaving it intact will not affect the quality of meat when you cook the bird. It will come out if you skin the bird. If you pick the bird, leave the breast sponge intact or cut it out by removing the breast skin. Cover the resulting gap with aluminum foil when you cook the turkey to keep the meat from drying out.


Subjects in the Secrets Library
About Turkeys
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Fall Hunting Tactics
Camouflage & Concealment
Turkey Calls & Calling
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Bow Hunting Tactics
Safety & Ethics
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