Before you begin field dressing your gobbler, you need to make a decision. Do you want the bird to grace your dining room table, or the wall of your den? Either way, proper field care is important for birds that will be served as a main course, as well as for those to be mounted.
If you intend on eating the bird, follow these field-dressing instructions to ensure the finest tasting turkey possible.
- First, remove the beard by cutting if off close to the point where it attaches to the breast. Take care not to cut the butt or end of the beard as doing so may cause the individual "hairs" to fall out.
- Make a small incision at the tip of the breastbone with a sharp knife. Carefully peel the skin and feathers away from the breast, legs, thighs and back. Remove the legs at the knee joint by cutting the tendon and bending the joint until it snaps (some additional cutting may be required).
- Severing the head at the neck removes both the cape and the head. Next, remove the entrails by making a small cut in the thin tissue between the vent (anus) and the point of the breastbone. Make sure to remove the lungs (pink, spongy material) located on either side of the backbone high in the chest.
- Wipe the cavity clean with paper towel, and remove any feathers that remain on the carcass.
If you intend to have your bird mounted, follow these important instructions.
- If you know you will be hunting in an area that will allow you to get your turkey to a taxidermist the same day of your hunt, simply put some cotton balls and a few sheets of paper towels in your hunting vest. Have some newspaper in your hunting vehicle. Use the cotton balls to plug both the mouth and vent (anus) of the turkey. Use the paper towels to wipe blood and body fluids off the bird's head and feathers. Any remaining paper towels can be wrapped around the turkey's head.
- Carefully slip the turkey into your Game Bag
- Approach animal from the rear making sure it is dead and immediately attach transportation tag.
- First, put on shoulder-length field dressing gloves to protect your clothing and then short latex gloves to protect your hands.
- Grasp the genitals (buck) and cut them away from the abdominal wall and down to the anus. Some states require that genitals remain attached to the skin for sex identification.
- Carefully cut through the abdominal wall in the pelvic area making sure the intestines are not punctured. Once through the body cavity, form a V with the fingers of your free hand and continue to cut the hide and intestinal muscles from the pelvic area to the breastbone, using your fingers to hold the intestines and paunch down and away from your knife blade. This cut can also be made from the tip of the breastbone back to the pelvic area.
- Open the rib cage by cutting the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone with your knife or with a game saw or hand ax. (If you are going to have your trophy mounted, do not cut open the rib cage or neck, but cape your trophy according to your taxidermist's instructions).
- Cut open the neck up to the jaw to free the windpipe and esophagus.
- Move to the rear of the deer and cut down through the meat between the hind legs to the pelvic bone. Carefully split open the pelvic bone with your knife or game saw without puncturing the bladder.
- Cut around the anus and free the rectum from the pelvic bone by cutting connecting tissue. Pull the anus, genitals (buck) and rectum up into the body cavity.
- Cut the windpipe at the base of the jaw and pull down through the chest cavity to remove lungs and heart. Cut off the heart, drain out blood and place in plastic bag.
- Cut around both sides of the diaphragm (the thick muscle between the chest and stomach cavity) and continue to pull out entrails over the sides of the deer. Cut out liver and place in plastic bag.
- Drain out blood and other fluids by turning deer over and lifting up on the front part of the deer.
- Prop open chest cavity with a stick to promote rapid cooling of carcass.
- Enclose deer in a game bag before hanging to keep the meat clean and to reduce damage from insects.
- Bleed the bear by cutting the major blood vessels at the base of the throat. This will sever the jugular.
- Put on rubber gloves and position your bear on his back. With a sharp knife, make a cut from the breastbone to the neck area just below the animal's jaw. Cut through the ribcage muscles to expose the windpipe and gullet.
- Break the breastbone. You will probably need 2 axes for this chore.
- Slice open the stomach. Separate the genitals from the abdominal wall, but do not sever them. Cut the abdominal skin all the way down to the pelvic bone.
- Separate the anus from the pelvic canal. Pull out the anus, bladder, intestines and the rectum, taking great care not to let them or any droppings touch the meat.
- Separate the diaphragm and the ribs. Pull the esophagus and the windpipe out through the chest.
- Remove the heart and lungs. Drain any blood remaining in the carcass.
- Wipe out the body cavity with a clean, absorbent cloth. Do not use water, as it can promote bacterial growth.
- Cool down the carcass. Bear meat spoils rapidly out in the wild. Place ice bags in the body cavity to help speed things up .
Health and wellness Notes:Because of the various diseases that wild game can transmit to humans, always use extreme caution when handling the carcass. Use rubber or latex gloves and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after handling.