Turkey Hunting 101: What to do with a Turkey Once You Shoot It

For passionate hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, the thrill of turkey hunting is an invigorating and rewarding pursuit. However, the culmination of a successful hunt – the moment when a majestic turkey is brought down – marks the beginning of another essential phase: what to do with the bird once it has been shot. From dressing and processing to preparing the meat for consumption, understanding the proper post-hunt procedures is crucial for ensuring a successful and ethical hunt.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the essential steps and best practices for handling a harvested turkey. Whether you are a seasoned hunter looking to refine your techniques or a novice eager to learn the ropes, this article will provide invaluable insights into the process of responsibly handling a wild turkey after a successful hunt. Join us as we delve into the fundamental principles of post-hunt care and learn how to make the most of this cherished game bird.

Quick Summary
Once you’ve shot a turkey, field dress it by removing the entrails, then pluck or skin the bird and hang it to age for 1-3 days in a cool place. After aging, you can decide to cook and eat it or freeze it for later use. It’s important to handle the turkey with care to ensure food safety and preserve the quality of the meat.

Field Dressing The Turkey

Field dressing a turkey is a crucial step in the hunting process, as it maintains the quality of the meat and ensures food safety. To begin, place the turkey on its back and make an incision from the breastbone to the vent. Then carefully remove the internal organs, being cautious not to puncture the digestive tract, which can taint the meat. After removing the internal organs, rinse the cavity with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Next, you can choose to either pluck or skin the turkey depending on your preference. Plucking involves removing the feathers by hand, while skinning involves carefully cutting and peeling the skin away from the turkey. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to remove any remaining feathers and thoroughly clean the bird to prevent contamination. Once the turkey is field dressed, it’s crucial to cool the meat as quickly as possible to preserve its quality and flavor. This can be done by placing the turkey in a cooler with ice or hanging it in a shaded, cool area.

Proper field dressing is essential to ensure the quality of the turkey meat for consumption. By following these steps, you can effectively prepare the turkey for further processing and enjoy the fruits of your hunting success.

Proper Storage And Handling

After a successful turkey hunt, proper storage and handling of the harvested bird is essential to ensure the meat remains safe and enjoyable to consume. The first step is to field dress the turkey as soon as possible to remove internal organs and cool the meat. If you cannot process the bird immediately, it’s crucial to keep it cool, ideally below 40°F, to prevent spoilage.

Once field dressed, store the turkey in a cool, shaded area, such as a cooler, refrigerator, or walk-in cooler, to allow the meat to age. Aging the turkey for a few days can improve its flavor and tenderness. Additionally, if you plan to freeze the meat, ensure it is properly wrapped to prevent freezer burn. Proper storage and handling not only ensure the quality and safety of the meat but also contribute to a more enjoyable dining experience for you and your family.

Processing The Meat

Once you’ve shot a turkey, it’s essential to process the meat properly to ensure that it’s safe for consumption and of the highest quality. Begin by field dressing the bird as soon as possible to remove the entrails and to cool the meat quickly. Next, pluck the feathers or skin the bird depending on your preference. After the initial preparation, you can then proceed with further processing such as deboning and portioning the meat as desired.

Processing the meat can be done in various ways, including butchering the bird into cuts suitable for grilling, roasting, or ground meat for burgers and sausages. Be sure to remove any shot pellets or stray feathers that may have been missed during the initial cleaning process. It’s essential to handle the meat with care to prevent contamination and to maintain its freshness. Additionally, storing the processed meat properly in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags will extend its shelf life and preserve its flavor.

Taking the time to properly process the meat ensures that you make the most of your harvest and enjoy delicious, healthy meals. Whether it’s preparing a traditional turkey feast or experimenting with new recipes, the quality of the meat is a crucial factor in the ultimate success of your turkey hunting adventure.

Cooking And Recipes

After successfully bagging a turkey during your hunting trip, the next step is to prepare and cook the bird. There are various methods for cooking wild turkey, including roasting, grilling, frying, and smoking. The preparation process can involve brining the meat to enhance its flavor and juiciness. Additionally, there are numerous recipes available for cooking wild turkey, such as turkey chili, turkey pot pie, turkey sandwiches, and turkey stir-fry. Utilizing the different parts of the bird, from the breast to the legs and thighs, provides opportunities for creating a diverse array of delicious meals.

For those who are new to cooking wild game, it’s essential to remember that wild turkey meat is leaner and less fatty than its domestic counterpart. Consequently, it requires careful attention during the cooking process to ensure it remains moist and tender. Recipes and cooking techniques specifically designed for wild turkey can help ensure a flavorful and enjoyable dining experience. Whether grilling up turkey kebabs, preparing a hearty pot of turkey stew, or trying a new and exciting recipe, cooking wild turkey can offer a rewarding and satisfying culinary experience for hunters and their families.

Utilizing The Feathers And Bones

After a successful turkey hunt, utilizing the feathers and bones can be an effective way to make the most of your harvest. The feathers can be used for a variety of crafts and decorations, such as fly tying for fishing, making unique jewelry pieces, or crafting elaborate dream catchers. Many artisans use turkey feathers to create stunning decorative items, and they can also be repurposed as quills for writing or as fletching for arrows.

As for the bones, they can be utilized in multiple ways. One option is to save the bones for making turkey broth, adding depth of flavor to soups and stews. Additionally, turkey bones can be used in creating homemade stock or bone broth, which is not only a delicious and nutritious base for various dishes but also a way to minimize waste. Some individuals even use the larger leg bones for crafting unique and rustic knife handles or as artistic elements in woodworking projects.

By utilizing the feathers and bones from a harvested turkey, hunters can continue to honor the bird and make use of every part of the animal, ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

Taxidermy Options

Once you’ve successfully harvested a turkey, you may want to consider preserving its memory through taxidermy. There are several options for this, including full-body mounting, which involves preserving the entire bird as a lifelike display. With this option, the turkey is expertly posed and displayed in a naturalistic manner.

Another option is the fan and beard mount, where the tail feathers and beard are preserved and mounted as a display piece. This is a more space-efficient option and can be a striking way to showcase the unique beauty of the turkey. Additionally, some hunters opt for a European mount, where the skull and antlers are cleaned and preserved, providing a more minimalist yet still impactful way to honor the turkey.

It’s important to research and choose a reputable taxidermist with experience in bird preservation to ensure a high-quality, lifelike result. Understanding the various taxidermy options available can help you make an informed decision about how best to preserve and display your prized turkey harvest.

Donation And Sharing

Once you have successfully harvested a turkey, consider giving back to your community by donating the meat to local organizations or individuals in need. Organizations such as Hunters for the Hungry facilitate the donation process by connecting hunters with participating butchers or food banks that can distribute the meat to those who can benefit from it. Donating your excess game meat not only helps those in need but also reduces food waste and ensures that your efforts in the field contribute to a worthy cause.

Sharing your turkey with friends and family is another rewarding option. Whether you prepare a delicious meal to share with loved ones or gift them with portions of the turkey meat, sharing your harvest fosters a sense of community and appreciation for the outdoor experience. By inviting others to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you can create lasting memories and encourage others to explore the joys of hunting.

Safety And Legal Considerations

When it comes to safety and legal considerations after shooting a turkey, it’s essential to follow the local hunting laws and regulations. Always ensure that you have the appropriate licenses and permits for hunting turkeys in your location. It’s crucial to be well-versed in the legal hunting seasons, bag limits, and any specific requirements for tagging and reporting your harvest.

In terms of safety, be mindful of your surroundings and any other hunters in the area. Ensure that you’ve identified your target correctly before taking a shot, and always be aware of your firing zone. After harvesting a turkey, handle the firearm responsibly and safely, and be cautious when transporting the bird back to your vehicle or camp. Additionally, it’s essential to properly store your firearm and ammunition when not in use to prevent accidents and unauthorized access. By staying updated on the hunting laws and regulations, and prioritizing safety at all times, you can ensure a successful and responsible turkey hunting experience.


In the thrilling pursuit of turkey hunting, successfully shooting a turkey is just the beginning. Properly handling the turkey after the hunt is essential to ensure the best quality of meat and the most satisfying culinary experience. By promptly dressing and cooling the turkey and then processing and cooking it with care, hunters can fully appreciate the rewards of their skill and patience in the field. Whether it’s roasting a succulent bird for a celebratory feast or creating delicious turkey jerky for future outdoor adventures, the responsible and skillful handling of a harvested turkey is an important aspect of the hunting journey. Embracing these post-harvest practices not only contributes to a memorable hunting experience but also upholds a deep respect for wildlife and the sustainability of this time-honored tradition.

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