How to Successfully Hunt, Clean, and Cook a Wild Turkey this Thanksgiving

by Kayla Zadel
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Thanksgiving time is upon us and we’ve got tips on how to tackle your turkey this year. More specifically a wild bird.

Wild turkeys typically taste better and have more meat on their bones. Plus you’ll get to have your victorious moment at the dinner table, and share your hunting turkey tales.

From finding and hunting down the perfect turkey, to preparing and baking the bird, these steps could take your Thanksgiving dinner to the next level. Let’s get right to it.

Hunting Wild Turkey

It’s time to talk turkey. And we mean hunting wild turkeys. According to The Federalist, there are five subspecies of wild turkey in North America. They’re as follows: Eastern wild turkey, the Osceola wild turkey, the Rio Grande wild turkey, Merriam’s wild turkey, and Gould’s wild turkey.

First up, scouting your wild bird. Field & Stream says finding turkeys in the fall is a little harder than locating them in the spring. But don’t worry, finding where they roost and where they eat will help you hunt down this wild bird.

When the weather changes to fall, adult gobblers wrap up their breeding-season and band together. As a matter of fact, they sometimes group together in flocks of a dozen or more. When it comes to hens and poults, they can be found in groups of all sizes. The clusters can be as small as five or six or as big as 60. Some keys places to find the poultry are wooded areas, open areas, and roosts.

Packing the correct gear, especially turkey calls is extremely important. Turkey’s speak the same language year-round, but which gender is making the noise during which season matters. In the fall you make female sounds to female turkeys and male sounds to male turkeys. 

Additionally, wearing the correct type of clothing’s important. As a matter of fact, this means wearing the right camouflage and footwear. Also bringing the right size of gun and ammo help when hunting.

Planning your means of attack in next. There are several different tactics. They range from scattering the birds and then hunting them down whether they’re in the air or on the ground, sneaking up on a roost, and even provoking a gobbler (with the correct call, of course).

Cleaning and Preparing Your Bird

There are many ways to care for and clean a wild turkey, but for beginners or those looking for a few pointers, these steps will have your bird ready in no time. Outdoor Alabama offers step-by-step instructions on taking your turkey from the field to the table.

First up, preparing the outside of the bird. According to the official site for the National Wild Turkey Federation, plucking is considered the traditional style of cleaning a wild turkey. It’s the perfect way to prepare your bird, no matter how you plan on cooking it. The NWTF says, “Plucking does take time and produces more of a mess than does skinning; however, the taste of deep-fried or roasted turkey skin is worth the effort.”

There’s also the skinning method which many hunters today prefer to plucking. Skinning is great if you plan on cooking just pieces of meat at a time. This allows you the option to skin and fillet the turkey breast and slice as much meat from the legs and wings as needed.

Quartering the turkey comes next, regardless if you pluck or skin first. Flip the turkey onto its back, grab the beard as close to the bird’s body, and then pull it away from the breast. Then with a knife, cut it loose. Leaving some skin around the base of the beard makes it easier to hold it together.

There are a couple of options at this point, especially if you’re planning on eating the whole turkey or just the breast. For cutting the breast out of the turkey, take both hands and push down on the turkey’s thighs to open up the legs. This will make it easier to get the breast out. Careful to only cut the skin, start cutting down the center of its breast. Then, pull the skin back on each side, therefore exposing the breast and breastbone.

Pick a side to start on because the breast will come out in two pieces. Then start cutting along the side of the breastbone. Get as close to the breastbone as possible so you don’t waste any of the meat. Following the breastbone, cut around the edge of the breast. This will result in one large piece of meat. Repeat these steps on the other side.

Following these steps, wash and wrap the meat in freezer paper or vacuum wrap it and freeze until ready to cook and eat. If you’re planning on preparing the turkey whole for Thanksgiving, then simply just skin the turkey. Leave the breast attached to the bone and just cut off its head and feet. Then clean out the intestinal cavity and cook accordingly.

If you plan on plucking the turkey and cooking it whole, start by preparing a large pot of boiling water. The safest place to do this is outside, with a large pot that will hold the entire turkey. Be careful not to fill it too full, so that when you put the bird in, boiling hot water will not overflow.

Once the water comes to a boil, dip the entire turkey in the hot water. This process scalds the feather and makes it easier to pluck from the skin. Then pluck all the feathers from the bird, and cut off its head and legs at the joints. Next, clean out the intestinal cavity. Once these steps are complete, the bird will be ready for cooking and eating.

A field dressing is a good idea if you harvest your bird hours before planning on cooking and eat it. A field dressing is extremely important, especially in hot weather conditions. Simply fill the cavity with ice. This will ensure freshness and preserve the meat.

Cooking a Tasty Turkey

Cooking your poultry is just as important when rounding out a successful Thanksgiving. There are many different ways to cook your bird, including roasting, deep-frying, baking, grilling, and even smoking your turkey.

Willie Robertson from the hit TV show, Duck Dynasty, offers up a recipe that’s sure to delight your dinner crowd. He gives his turkey a Cajun twist in this video and roasts his turkey in his Pit Boss stove.

Lemon herb-flavored poultry or just simply turkey breast and gravy will showcase the original flavor of the meat. If you’re wanting to fire up your deep-fryer and try your hand at something different this year, brining and seasoning your meat beforehand is a must. Brining is great for ensuring flavor and maintaining the juiciness of your bird.

Trying something different, like a Greek stuffed gobbler breast, might be in your wheelhouse. Plus leftover meat makes great leftovers. This Turk-fil-a sandwich will satisfy your guests’ second-day turkey cravings.

Now that you’ve tackled hunting, cleaning, and cooking a wild turkey, it’s time to cut down your Christmas tree!

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