"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Cleaning, Preserving, and Cooking Wild Turkey
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

Hello Bill, I have a question concerning wild turkeys. How can I wrap a wild turkey after the hunt to protect it from freezer burn? Thanks. -- Chad

This week’s column opens with a question about wild turkey. 

In view of the fact that out wild turkey season opens in 90 of the state’s 92 counties--same as last year--April 21 (Wednesday), Chad’s question is most appropriate. Hoosier turkey hunters bag about 10,000 birds per year.

That translates into a bunch of wholesome chow, even if wild turkey wings and dumsticks are not so fleshy as their counterparts on domestic birds.

But if such a magnificent bird is to be taken, it is paramount in my book that nothing be wasted.

Thus, we asked Phil Hawkins, one of my most knowledgeable outdoors friends, for his thoughts and procedures for dressing (cleaning . . . actually undressing) a wild turkey and turning it into table fare that is fit for the proverbial king. Phil’s expertise, coupled with my own thinking on cleaning and cooking wild game, should prove adequate guidelines for getting the most out of a bird.

Phil’s wife, Charlene, turns the wild critters he bags into delightful dishes. Together, they have some definite thoughts on preserving and cooking wild turkey.

First off, Phil says the time lag between cleaning and cooking a wild turkey is important. He explains why.

If the bird is to be cooked fresh and consumed soon after it has been bagged, Phil picks the bird to keep the skin on.

However, if the bird is to be frozen and cooked later, He skins his bird because fatty tissues of many species of wild birds and animals will be found under the skin. He says fat in turkeys--as in other species of wild game and birds--can (and often does) become rancid with age in the freezer. 

At times, Phil slices the meat from the breast of turkeys before it is frozen. Phil freezes a lot of his wild game (including turkey parts) in large containers of water. He explains that this procedure keep air away from the meat. Air, Phil says, is the freezer burn culprit.

However, he also uses freezer bags for freezing some meat of wild birds and animals, making sure to squeeze out as much air as possible before closing the bag. If there are pockets of air in the bags after they are closed, he simply punctures the bag and squeezes out the air.
To be brutally frank, I have never been blessed with the time and talent required to bag a wild turkey. Thus, my procedures for freezing game birds and animals are confined to other species.
But I believe wild game is wild game, and that the rules for cleaning, preserving and cooking one species will do the job for another.
I was taught that cooking wild game with the skin on is the way to go. However, keeping the skin on some species (notably small game birds like quail and doves) slows the cleaning process so much that it is impractical. Picking birds like pheasant and ducks is slow, but immersing these pheasants in boiling water puts this job in the class of cleaning chickens, Adding sealing wax to the water will speed up the procedure for removing the feathers of ducks. However, this can get messy and can cause painful burns. If I have only a few ducks to clean, I pick them.
The term picking ducks is actually a misnomer. Although the thumb and index fingers of the dominant hand do pull off a lot of duck feathers and down, many of the--feathers and even more of the down is simply rubbed off the duck with the heel of the thumb.
I also think such game species as squirrel and rabbit would be much tastier if cooked with the skin on. But skinning such animals is so much faster than removing the hair (like butchering a hog) that the latter would be impractical.
I have experimented with freezing fish and game in water, but I prefer simply wrapping such items in a flimsy plastic to eliminate air, and later tightly wrapping the frozen item in a few sheets of newspaper, and taping the package to maintain the seal.
Regardless of the method employed in freezing wild game and fish, the big secret lies in planning to use the frozen fish or game as soon as you can to preserve the flavor.

RELATED PALAVER--Although the wild turkey season is billed as a 90-county thing, the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is asking turkey hunters not to take birds from several counties--even though it is legal.

The DFW rationale is that in late winter biologist’s trapped 156 birds at the U.S Navy’s Crane facility and stocked them in east central counties. Turkey hunters see the move as good for the areas freshly stocked with Crane birds, but a shoddy way to run a railroad.
Counties legally open to hunting, but which the DFW would like to be shunned by hunters are:

Blackford, Delaware, Henry, Jay; Adams County south of State Road 124; Grant County east of Interstate 69; Hancock County east of State Road 9; Huntington County south of State Road 124 and east of Interstate 69; Jasper County south of State Highway 114 and west of Interstate 65; Newton County south of State Highway 114; Randolph County north of State Road 32; Wells County south of State Road 124, and Whitley County south of U.S. 30.
Rush and Shelby counties, as in he past, were not scheduled to be open this year.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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