Besides a good meal, turkey legs, spurs, beard and feathers are trophies worthy of preservation. Best of all, they are every bit as beautiful as a trophy buck, but won’t take up as much space on the wall. You can also care for the trophy yourself instead of paying big bucks to a taxidermist because turkeys—overall—are easy to preserve, but some parts are easier than others. Let’s look at beards, legs, spurs and wings. I will address tails, which are a bit more involved, in a separate post.
When removing the beard, you always want to cut it off making sure to leave a small bit of skin at the base. This will hold it together and give you some material to work with when attaching it to a display. However, prior to allowing the skin to dry or attaching the beard, coat the skin with a preservative such as borax. Once you complete that step, presto! Your beard is done and ready for mounting.
Legs and Spurs
The legs are almost as easy as the beard. Start by cutting the leg just below the feathers. You’ll need to inject some type of liquid preservative (formaldehyde for instance) into the feet and in a couple of places along the leg. Next, you’ll need to manipulate the toes into position and secure them to a piece of stiff cardboard or foam with pins and let dry.
I prefer to freeze-dry the legs. All you have to do is place the legs in the freezer (uncovered) for a few weeks. If you do not a have a dedicated freezer, or an overly understanding spouse, you can also allow the legs to dry in a cool, dehumidified environment. An air-conditioned room will normally get the job done.
Once dry, paint the legs with clear non-glossy shellac or something similar. As a quick tip… coat the cut end with a persistent roach poison to keep the pests away. Depending on your personal preference and type of mount, you can also cut the leg a little above the spur. To do this, remove the skin from the bone around the spur and clean out the hollow bone. You can leave the leg scales on or remove them. It is a matter of personal preference.
Whether your turkey has sparkling white tips or creamy brown, the color features are the turkey’s calling card. It also makes for interesting conversation when you harvest multiple species or hybrids.
Cut the wing close to the breast, leaving some of the shoulder feathers attached. Don’t worry if there is a little extra skin; you can remove it at a later time. Make your cuts from the underside of the wing. Because you will display the back of the wing, don’t be too concerned about the condition of the skin on the underside. If you are so inclined, you can also remove the wing bones. They are great for making a wing bone call. However, if this is not your intent, just leave the bone in the wing.
The wing is comprised of three main sections: a meaty segment at the shoulder, the middle, and a smaller segment at the wing tip. You will have to dig around to get all of the meat from between and under the wing bones—and yes, this is necessary. It is extremely important that you do not cut the bases of the feathers that project into the skin. To preserve the wing, inject the tip with liquid preservative and apply borax to any raw sections.
Once you remove the flesh and apply dry preservative, spread the wing to pose it and let dry. You can carefully place weights, such as books, on the large feathers to secure the wing in position as it stiffens. When you place the weights, leave the incision exposed to aid the drying process.
The wings and feathers will begin to stiffen within the first couple of days. Check it during this time in case an adjustment is required. Within a week, the feathers will become permanently set. If you removed the bones to make calls, replace the bones with a similar support. You can sew or glue a rigid piece of cardboard or a piece of thin wooden dowel to the skin from the underside as a replacement. It is best to wait until the wing is dry before replacing the bone.
There are a host of different uses for turkeys including displays, necklaces, bookends, and just about anything else your imagination can dream up. Each one will be an enduring memory of the hunt too.