Once you’ve taken down a wild turkey, duck, or goose, you have the choice to either skin or pluck your bird to prepare it for cooking. For many experienced hunters, skinning is faster and works well for most recipes. However, if you plan to roast or smoke your turkey, plucking the bird is the preferred method.
Depending on your preference, you may choose to either Dry Pluck or Wet Pluck. Both methods will leave you with a clean bird.
If you’ve decided to Dry Pluck, you can follow these steps:
- Hang the turkey by its head.
- Be very careful not to tear the skin below the beard.
- Pull just a few feathers at a time so as to not tear the hide.
- Pull the feathers upward, against the grain, for easy removal.
- Be especially careful around the breast, where the skin is sensitive.
- Cut the wing off at the first joint.
- After you’ve plucked off all of the feathers, be sure to remove the breast sponge, which is a fat deposit. If you leave the breast sponge in place, it will spoil.
- Gut the bird and remove the heart, liver, and entrails.
- If you’re traveling with your kill, this is the point where you will put it on ice.
- If you plan to cook the bird immediately, split the bird and prepare to roast or smoke the meat.
Wet Plucking is considered to be faster and more efficient, if you have access to the right tools. You’ll need at least a 20 quart pot and a heat source to boil water. You’ll also want a large cooler.
- Leave the head and feet on the turkey to use as handles. You can hang the bird by its head or feet.
- Cut off the fan and beard, as well as the wings at the first joint.
- Place the turkey in the large cooler.
- Pour your full pot of boiling water into the cooler, on top of the turkey.
- Close the cooler and shake the cooler well.
- When you remove the turkey from the cooler, you’ll find that the feathers can be very easily pulled off.
If you leave the turkey in the hot water for too long (and if he is already gutted), he will begin to cook from the inside out.
Once you’ve plucked the turkey clean, put him in ice water for 15-30 minutes to cool him back off.
A Few Notes
Southern turkeys have less down, which makes them easier to clean. If you have a turkey with a lot of down feathers, you can use a small propane torch or lighter to remove the down. Be sure that the turkey’s skin is dry when you do this, and that you don’t burn the skin.
Make an effort to use the entire bird if you can. An entire wild turkey can be utilized in a variety of ways. Not only can you enjoy both the white and dark meat of the bird, but you can use wing bones to make turkey calls, primary wing feathers to make arrow fletchings, and secondary wings, tail and body feathers to make fishing flies. Christmas wreaths, dry flower arrangements, pins, earrings, necklaces, bolos, blankets, hats and more can be created with wild turkey feathers, spurs, beards and bones.