Skip to main content

The Whole Bird: How to Use Every Part of Your Spring Gobbler

Steps to processing your wild turkey harvest.

The Whole Bird: How to Use Every Part of Your Spring Gobbler

Meat is the main attraction, and plucking a whole bird is a tasty option, but almost every other part of a turkey has a good use. (Photo courtesy of National Wild Turkey Federation)

Congratulations! That big gobbler that's been giving you fits for half the season now lies at your feet. Your hide was perfect, your calling spot-on and you made your shot count. The proof is right there—all 22 pounds of him.

And once you get home, it'll be straight into the freezer with him, right? Well, hold on just a second.

Sure, that bird's going to taste great, but is merely turning it into a few meals truly making the most of it? While prized for specific portions of meat, there are plenty of uses for much of what is found on a turkey, and that goes beyond what you throw into the deep fryer or the crockpot.

So, let's discuss what's on the menu above and beyond … well, what’s on the menu … when it comes to processing your spring gobbler.


We begin with the parts of your gobbler destined for the dinner table. Most turkey hunters, I believe, dress their bird by removing the breast fillets and preparing them any number of ways, inlcuding as breaded strips or, my personal favorite, vegetable stir fry.

But don't forget about the legs and thighs. Thighs can be prepared by themselves; the drumsticks, however, are often a bit chewy and filled with knife tendons. My play is to debone both legs and thighs and use the meat for stew or, better yet, combine it with chunked breast meat and pressure can it in broth.


There's a reason domestic, store-bought turkeys come with a small bag including the neck, liver, heart and gizzard, aka the giblets. One word: Gravy. There's no reason you shouldn't do the same with your wild bird.

Hand-pluck the neck to the base of the head and—if not shot-damaged to the point of being unusable—remove as much of it as possible. After removing and separating the breast halves, legs and thighs, simply remove the liver, heart and gizzard. Don’t forget that the gizzard must be butterflied and rinsed, and the tough, inedible lining needs to be peeled away.


I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the option of plucking your gobbler whole and transforming it, more or less, into the wild version of a Butterball. I'm partial to dry-plucking; however, scalding and wet-plucking is certainly a viable alternative.

Either way, turkeys are a cinch to pluck, albeit a bit time consuming. Gut your bird, saving the internal organs as discussed above, then rinse well and he's ready for the oven or deep fryer.


I always tossed my gobbler heads into the refuse container until a buddy convinced my wife and I to begin saving ours. He gives them to a taxidermist friend who freeze-dries them and uses them—quite realistically—for his customers' full-body turkey mounts. No sense trashing that which can be used.


The list of uses for wild turkey feathers is practically endless. Wing feathers—the primary flight feathers—are coveted by do-it-yourselfers who use them as fletching material for hand-made cedar hunting arrows or for making old-time quill writing pens. Crafters, artisans and interior decorators are also usually delighted to find a source of beautiful primary or tail feathers. Body feathers can be used in trout and panfish flies.

After plucking the feathers, make sure they're clean and dry and store them in paper bags according to type (plastic bags can trap moisture and lead to mold and/or rot). Then, put the word out, perhaps by social media, that you have feathers available. However, be sure to check your state and local regulations as they pertain to the gifting of any portions of legally harvested wild game.

String spurs from multiple birds on a rawhide lace for decoration, or mount a set with a beard and fan for a single-bird display. (Photo by M.D. Johnson)


In seasons past there were three general paths a gobbler's fan might take. Many were (unfortunately) discarded. Others were dismantled, with the individual tail feathers used for decorative purposes. And some were preserved in their entirety, mounted on an attractive wooden plaque and displayed.

Today, while the latter two remain popular uses for fans, many successful hunters are turning their gobbler's fan into an extremely effective piece of hunting gear. Many believe nothing reflects light more naturally than an actual gobbler fan, and using one with a full-strut decoy lends unmatched realism. Or use it on its own as part of a fanning—or "reaping"—strategy.



Spurs—and entire legs for that matter—can be preserved and used in any number of ways. Taxidermists, for instance, will typically have a use for them. However, the portions of the legs to which the spurs are attached are often removed, cleaned, dried and strung on a rawhide lace, making for eye-catching yet inexpensive mounted memories.


There's nothing like using a part of one turkey to call in another, and this can be done with a wingbone yelper. Three bones from a gobbler's wing—the radius, ulna and humerus—make up such a call. After removing the trio, it's a matter of fleshing, boiling, cleaning, drying, cutting, fitting and gluing. Time consuming? Sure. Difficult? Not really.

Note: This article was featured in the Midwest edition of April's Game & Fish Magazine.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now