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Proper Plucking - How to Defeather a Wild Turkey

 Proper Plucking - How to Defeather a Wild Turkey

 When it comes to getting the most flavor out of a wild turkey, plucking is the best choice. Skinning the bird might take less time and effort, but it doesn't provide you with that juicy, crispy skin on the roast or the tasty fat for the frying pan.

Once you've learned how to properly defeather a wild turkey, you'll find that it's not much more complicated than skinning it. All you need is an outdoor cooker, a sizable cooking bowl or basin, a couple of high-quality Microtech knives, and a rope or wire to hang the bird up by its feet.

 Why Plucking?

Plucking tends to be a more time-consuming activity than skinning, but it provides the following benefits:

  • The bird keeps its skin, making for more succulent meat.
  • You're not wasting any of the bird needlessly: If you decide you don't want to eat all the skin, you can give it to your farm animals or dogs.
  • Skin is an effective insulator, meaning the plucked bird freezes well.
  • The skin provides extra, essential nutrients that you miss from the bird otherwise.

Often when you think about the compassion of hunting, you envisage sustainable practices that help to preserve the natural environment and cut down on waste. Plucking is in line with this commitment to respect the wild animal fully, as you waste far less of the bird when defeathering than you would if skinning it.

If you try plucking a turkey, you'll also gain a new level of appreciation for this bird's majesty. Although there are often several adverse effects of fall hunting on wild turkeys, the act of defeathering these beautiful birds may cause some hunters to invest more fully in sustainable practices for future population growth.

How to Defeather a Wild Turkey Properly

The easiest way to defeather a wild bird is to scald it first. Hold the whole turkey under hot water for around half a minute before hanging it up to pluck. The water will get in the turkey's skin follicles and loosen the feathers at their root, making them a lot easier to pull out later.

1. Heat the water.

You'll need to heat a large vat of water. It's best to do this outside, on a bunsen burner, campfire, or weather-proof stove. You don't want hot water boiling over and raw turkey juices spilling in your kitchen.

Make sure your container is large enough to fit the entire wild turkey. Also, ensure the water level is high enough to engulf the bird. Ideally, you want quite a bit of space between the water's surface and the container's top, so the liquid's displacement doesn't cause an overflow once you put the turkey inside.

Heat the water to between 140°F-150℉. You want the liquid to be hot enough to loosen the follicles, but not too hot that it will cook the skin. This balance is crucial, so check the heat level with a thermometer before popping your wild turkey into the water.

2. Cut up the bird.

Although you don't want to waste too much of the bird, it's often easiest to cut off the turkey's head, neck and wing ulna bones before dousing it in hot water. That's because there's hardly any meat on these sections, so they're not worth keeping. You're also making the bird more streamlined, helping you fit it into the pot more easily. Keep these parts for your pets to minimize waste.

You'll need a high-quality knife to cut through the cartilage on these joints. Custom tactical fixed blade knives are ideal for this work.

3. Put the bird in the water.

Once the water is at the right temperature, you can lower your headless turkey carcass into the pot. Keep it under the water for about half a minute. After 30-35 seconds, take it out and check the feathers to see how loose they are. If they're not quite loose enough yet, put the bird back underwater for 10 more seconds.

Ensure you don't keep the turkey in the water for longer than a minute; otherwise, you'll ruin the meat.

It's also a good idea to put the turkey straight into some ice-cold water after it's out of the hot pot, just so you can stop the cooking process and firm up the skin in preparation for defeathering. 

4. Hang up the carcass.

When you're satisfied that your turkey is ready to pluck, tie it to a tree branch or rack by its feet to drain. Try to hang it at a suitable height, as you don't want to be straining down or up to get the feathers out.

5. Pluck its feathers.

When plucking, try to be gentle. Don't pull out more than four or five feathers at the same time. If you start ripping out chunks of feathers, you'll also remove the skin.

It's easiest to pluck downward, starting with your hands around the feathers and pulling toward the ground. You can start anywhere on the body, although, if you're new to defeathering, it's best to begin with the back. The back has the largest uninterrupted surface area of skin. Try to find the perfect balance between yanking and lightly pulling by using short, sharp tugs.

Don't worry about any extra fluff or baby feathers you can't remove. You can singe them with a lighter at the end of the defeathering process. 

The Takeaway

If you're serious about hunting and cooking your own food, it's vital to know how to properly defeather wild birds. A plucked turkey provides a more nutritious meal than a skinned one, and the act of plucking is far less wasteful.

With a little preparation and practice, you can defeather a wild turkey quite easily: Just make sure you scald it for the appropriate amount of time first.

Moreover, the plucking process can feel very cathartic: As you move across the turkey's skin and defeather it, you feel a deep sense of respect for the bird. There's also nothing quite like working a bit harder for your dinner. When you taste the fat and juices from the bird's crispy skin in your evening meal, it'll make the defeathering process worth it. 

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