Photo courtesy of Ken Buyers

Photo courtesy of Ken Buyers

By Joe Arterburn


Let’s say your hunt was a success. Your turkey is down. Congratulations! Now, once the excitement dies down and your heart stops pounding, it’s time to take care of that bird.

Well, first, take photographs. Treat every animal you kill with respect, so make sure the bird is tastefully displayed, and that you can see his beard and bright head.

Turkeys should be field dressed as soon as possible to allow the carcass to cool faster and help prevent the meat from spoiling. It doesn’t take long and all you need is a small sharp knife.

If the weather is cool, spoilage is not an immediate concern but don’t leave a turkey, gutted or not, in the sun—either outside or in a vehicle—because dark feathers will soak up heat. Hang it in the shade if you can’t process it right away. Filling the body cavity with ice will also help cool the meat.


1. Lay the bird on its back with its feet toward you.

2. Feel for the tip of the breastbone where it comes to a V pointing at the anus. Pull up on the tip and make a shallow cut in the skin. Then cut carefully through the skin—only the skin, don’t puncture the intestines—down to the anus.

3. Carefully cut a circle around the anus, again making sure not to puncture the intestines. You can reach in and follow the intestines to the anus, then carefully cut completely around the exterior.

4. Reach into the body cavity and pull out the entrails. You should be able to feel the gizzard, grab it and pull it out with the entrails. You will probably need to reach back in to remove the heart, lungs and other tissue. Make sure nothing remains in the body cavity. Some keep the gizzard, heart and liver, known as giblets, for gravy or stuffing.

5. If you have clean water, rinse the body cavity and drain. Or pat the cavity dry with paper towels.


If you plan to mount the bird, stop right there and get him to the taxidermist as soon as possible. A tip: in your pack, carry a nylon stocking or pantyhose, preferably an old throwaway, perhaps from your mother, sister or aunt. Or an inexpensive stocking purchased for this purpose. Slide the turkey headfirst into the stocking. The tight nylon will hold feathers in place and prevent damage. If you can’t get to the taxidermist right away, put your stockinged turkey in a garbage bag, then in the freezer.

If you are not going to mount the bird, you can remove the beard by grasping it close to the body and give it a sharp twisting pull away from the body, using your knife to trim it free. To remove the fan, also a nice trophy, carefully cut the skin away from the tail, pulling gently as you cut. Save the spurs too.

The next step is preparing your turkey for the table.