Cleaning a wild turkey is a simple process, though you may enjoy the use of a plucker to speed things up. Below, we'll go over the general process with you and add a couple of tips along the way. Let's get started.
Plucking the Feathers
A plucker is often available for rent from local farm stores (or they'll know who has one). They're pretty costly if you aren't regularly plucking poultry, but they are hand savers. We'll leave the automated plucker instructions to the plucker itself since many differ. Instead, we'll talk about hand plucking.
If you aren't keeping the fan, go ahead and start by plucking the tail. Work your way up the back, grabbing one handful of feathers at a time (fewer on older birds) and carefully pulling them down rather than out. You'll rip less of the skin that way.
Once your back is finished and the bird is looking a little naked, start working along the wings. The flight feathers are hard to get out and you may need a pair of pliers if your grip is starting to fail you, and don't be ashamed to use them. Most people start to get tired right around here. Take a break if you need to. There's no shame in it.
Pluck the wings until you get all the feathers off. From the wing, clear feathers from the base of the neck (where you'll be cutting off) and along the sides.
Now, it's time to roll the bird over. Start from the top of the breast, just where you want to cut the neck off, and keep plucking down toward the cloaca, making sure to clear the legs in the process.
Once you get to the cloaca, you'll find that the feathers become a great deal more downy and soft. We recommend wearing gloves as this area may be pretty nasty. Pluck all these tiny feathers off and your bird should be looking a great deal more like what you'd find in the store. Go ahead and remove the bird's beard, too.
There is also the option of skinning the bird, but this ruins the fat layer and some of the taste of the meat.
Gutting the Bird
Grab your favorite knife and sharpen it up. Wash the bird's carcass to get rid of any fecal matter or dirt. Put the turkey on its back and open the abdominal cavity by inserting your knife just below the breast bone and gently, carefully, slicing the skin open.
This will give you room to insert your hand into the turkey. Press the backside of your hand up along the inside of the breast bone and gently curve your fingers as you reach the base of the neck. Slide your hand back out and tip the contents of the bird into a gutbucket. You should get nearly everything all at once, though this motion may take a couple of times to perfect.
You may wish to retain the gizzard, liver, lungs, heart, and any unlaid eggs in hen turkeys since these fry up as good as laid eggs. Do not give pets the intestinal tract and do not retain it for yourself. It contains salmonella and can make you or them sick.
Once you've gutted the bird, take off the feet at the "ankle" joint. These make great raw bones for very large dogs, just make sure you wash them and remove the nails and spurs first.
At this point, remove the neck and head. This is another great treat for big dogs.
Last but not least, go ahead and remove the crop. This is a thick, usually full bag of processed food near the bottom of the neck. Don't be surprised if you accidentally puncture it. It isn't harmful. Just rinse the mess off your turkey and remove the rest.
Final Clean Up
Give the turkey a good wash as you would any bird from the store. Make sure that you wash the inside of the abdominal cavity as well, since this may contain bits and pieces of "gunk" that you simply don't want to put on your nice dining room table.
For those doing this for the first time – yes, it's as easy as it sounds. Just be careful that you don't puncture or pop any part of the digestive tract (other than the gizzard or the crop as these are relatively harmless, just messy) and you'll probably do just fine. People have been harvesting poultry from the wild for a long time and we prefer these animals so much because they are just that easy to work with.
Feel free to portion your bird out by cutting along the fat lines and across the joints, just as you would a chicken from the store or any other livestock animal. Now you're ready for spring turkey season, and congratulations on preparing your own turkey!