Mia & the Little Gal: Mia gives her tried-and-true tips for caring for your turkey after the harvest.
With big-game seasons closed, a lot of hunters are counting the days until turkey season. If you are successful, and put a big gobbler in the bag, you will need a plan for what to do with it. When you harvest a turkey and intend to take it from the field to your dinner table, the care and handling is different than if you are preparing to have your taxidermist create a full-body mount.
Full bird for cooking
After you harvest a bird, you will want to field-dress, cool and either cook it or get it into the freezer. This needs to be done as quickly as possible to prevent bacteria from forming on the meat.
There are various methods for cooking wild turkey. If you are planning on baking or deep-fry a full bird, you will need to pluck the bird first. Then, remove the innards, neck and feet just below the hock. You should wash the bird to ensure cleanliness and to avoid contamination. After that, season and cook the whole bird, or dry it and package it to freeze for use at a later date.
Breasts, thighs and legs for dinner
LG and I have found the breasts to be our favorite part of the turkey, but we’ve also ground the meat from the legs to make burger or sausage. There is no need to gut the bird in order to remove the breasts and legs. You can remove the breasts by making an incision down the center of each breast, peeling away the skin and feathers and cutting around the sternum (breastbone). Then, wash the breasts and season them for cooking, or dry and package them to freeze for use at a later date.
Wild turkey legs tend to be stringy. You can remove the legs by peeling the skin back from the breast area to expose the top femur joint, cutting through the tendons and removing the legs. If the thighs look meaty enough, you can remove and discard the feet and clean the thighs for cooking. If the legs look a little bit lean, you can cut the muscles away from the legs, wash and put them aside to season and grind into burger or sausage.
Caring for feathers varies, depending on what you plan to do with them. For a full-body mount, you cannot utilize any portion of the meat. Keep the bird intact, and immediately after harvesting it, smooth the feathers into their natural position. It is important to take extreme caution with the feathers so they don’t break during transport.
If you don’t have plans for your turkey’s feathers and fan, you can always save them for your friends. Native Americans use turkey wings and fans in their ceremonies. You can always check to see if they would like a donation. Another idea is to give them to your fly-fishing friends who like to tie flies. Also, preschools or artists might like them for projects.
A turkey-fan mount is an inexpensive way to display memories of an epic turkey hunt. There are many kits available for making your own turkey-fan mount. When preparing to make a fan mount, remove the beard and tail, take off as much of the flesh as possible, salt (or apply Borax) both sides of the fleshy area, pin the tail to a large piece of foam or cardboard (with the feathers as flat as possible) in a fanned out position and cover the cut area in salt (or Borax). Allow the fan to dry/harden this way for at least 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, it will be ready to attach to a mounting plaque.
The easiest way to protect a gobbler’s feathers after the harvest is with pantyhose or a game bag. Putting the full-bodied turkey into the pantyhose can be a bit difficult to do on your own, so, enlist the help of your little gal or hunting partner. One of you should hold the bird up by the legs, the other will pull the pantyhose upward, starting at the bird’s head, rolling the pantyhose up to the bird’s feet — as if pulling it up onto a human leg. Ensure the wings and feathers fold naturally toward the body as you put the turkey into the pantyhose. Cool the bird and immediately put it into the freezer. Your taxidermist will do the intricate trimming and cleaning when he receives your turkey.
Do you have any more tips for caring for your turkey after the harvest?
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