Cleaning A Turkey

| Last Updated September 27, 2020

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First time turkey hunters are often intimidated when it comes time to clean the the first turkey they shoot. Wild Turkey just like a chicken, pheasant or duck are most often cleaned using one of two basic approaches:

Plucking a Wild Turkey

If you want to help keep the moisture in the turkey while cooking it whole, then you should pluck the bird. Remove feathers from the turkey just as you would pluck a chicken. This method does take more time than skinning and it is messy. Grasp the feathers as close to the skin as possible and pull out small amounts of feathers at a time.

Skinning a Wild Turkey

Skinning your turkey harvest can be a faster and cleaner way to go, but the down side to this approach is that you will need to wrap the bird in foil or place in a baking bag to cook it whole. Here are some tips to make skinning your wild turkey easier: 

1. Hang The turkey Up

Hang the turkey by both feet at chest level. The turkey should hang so the feet are 12 to 18 inches apart.

2. Save The Turkey Beard

If you want to save the beard, remove it now. Grasp the beard as close to the body as possible, give it a half-twist, then sharply pull it away from the breast. The beard will pull away with a little tissue on it.

3. Remove The Turkey's Fan

Now remove the fan by cutting the skin away from the tail.

4. Cut The Wings

Cut off the wings at the elbow or second joint.

5. Skin Tail First

Grasp the skin at the tail and begin pulling it down. Work the skin off around the wings and pull it down to the neck.

6. Cut Off The Neck

Cut off the neck and the skin. The feathers and head will come off in one piece.

7. Remove The Guts

Open the body cavity and remove the entrails, if you have not already done so in the field. Be sure to remove all lung material from the backbone, as it tends to spoil quickly.

8. Remove the Legs

Cut off the legs at the knee or sec-ond joint. If you don't want to cook or freeze a whole turkey, consider cutting it up into smaller portions. Remove the breast and other meat from the carcass and cut off the legs and wings. Package in appropriate servings for cooking. The turkey is ready for cooking or freezing. Double-bag the turkey in plastic freezer bags and seal as airtight as possible to prevent freezer burn.

9. Find A Great Turkey Recipe

Now that your turkey is ready to cook find a great wild turkey recipe right here on our website.

Two Ways That Hunters Clean Their Birds:

  1. They just "breast them." Cleaning a turkey completely does take a lot of patience and time -- well spent, but many don't want pluck to the feathers or have the patience to skin out the wings and legs. All you have to do if you want to is cut open the stomach up to the chest, and pull out the two breasts, and that's it.

  2. Guide Phil Schweik's personal preference is to clean and use the entire bird. A perfect set-up for that great Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is to do it all. And, by the way, forget about prepping and cleaning the bird in your home. Do it in the back of your pickup (with plenty of coverage on the bed to absorb all the waste products); in the woods; or in your backyard. Schweik opts for the back of a pickup. Good solid base, and no need to bend over and twist your back as you work. Pluck the feathers one-by-one or by the handful -- usually a combination of both. Gut the bird and clean the innards thoroughly. 

    Using a wire cutter, clip off the feet and the legs or wings at the first joint (some people love the feet -- that's their choice). OR, to make things REAL SIMPLE, take a first-class, VERY SHARP, filet knife, forget about plucking the feathers, and just skin the bird. "Amateurs need not apply." Make sure you know what you're doing, or have someone along who can teach you. If not, "go the long way around." You'll end up at the same place -- albeit it'll take you somewhat longer.

    Be sure to pack out your trash. Don't leave the woods in a mess for others. Finally, enjoy the finest turkey dinner you've ever had. And it will be.

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My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.