The poet and novelist Jim Harrison once said that skinning a bird is a sin against God and man. I agree.

The skin holds flavor, provides fat, protects the meat from drying out during cooking, and provides a wonderful crisp when properly cooked. Retaining the skin of a bird requires you to pluck it.

Harrison’s warning should be taken especially to heart by turkey hunters, who handle only one or two of these birds per year, if they’re lucky. It takes minimal time and effort to do the job right; the reward is better looking, better tasting wild game dishes that will leaving you feeling proud of the fact that you utilized your resources to their maximum potential. An exception is diver ducks, don’t pluck them, the fat tastes a little fishy on most.

While I advocate gutting birds soon after killing them, it can be helpful if you hold off on gutting the bird so long as you’re going to pluck it within a few hours. This makes plucking easier, as the edge of the gutting incision is a tad bit harder to pluck otherwise.

If you decide not to heed Mr. Harrison’s warning, little instruction is required for skinning a bird. Just pluck a small area above the cloaca, slice through the skin, and start peeling. The job goes quickly.

  1. Hang the bird by the neck.
  2. Work slowly and carefully, removing just pinchfuls of feathers at a time by tugging upward and away from the bird.
  3. Be careful not to tear the skin, especially in the vicinity of the breast, where it’s most fragile.
  4. Keep plucking! The most difficult parts to pluck are along the wing bones and in the bird’s “armpit” beneath the wing.
  5. Once the turkey is completely plucked, you can gut the bird while it’s still hanging. Start the gutting incision at the cloaca and slice toward the point of the breastbone.
  6. Reach into the cavity all the ay up to the bird’s windpipe. Take a firm hold of the guts and draw them out.
  7. Retain the heart, liver, and gizzard. They are edible and good.
  8. Next you want to remove the breast sponge, a sack-like collection of fatty tissue that sits above the bird’s breast and beneath its crop. To do so, cut up each side of the wishbone, through the skin.
  9. Carefully slice the sack away, leaving just clean meat and bone.
  10. Next, remove the bird’s head. If you plucked the wings all the ay to the end, they can remain on the carcass. If not, pluck them at least to the first major point beyond the body and then sever that joint to remove the remainder of the unplucked wing.
  11. To remove the legs, cut around the skin that covers the joint where the rubbery, scaly skin meets the feathered skin.
  12. Snap the joint like a stick, then cut the tendons to free the leg. (Don’t just chop through the bone with a hatchet; the sharp edges of broken bone are annoying to deal with and they puncture vacuum-sealed bags.)