Feathered Feast: Dressing Game Fowl
Guinea Fowl (Numididae) searching for food in a field.

Whether you’re in a SHTF situation or choose to live off-grid and hunt game for added sustenance, you’ll need to know how to dress fowl properly prior to cooking it. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be close to any stores, so you’ll have to do all the feather-plucking and butchering yourself.

In this article, we show you how to dress your game fowl the right way before cooking.

The most common Guinea fowl you’ll encounter is the Helmeted Guinea Fowl (ModernFarmer.com/2014/10/get-watch-bird/).

Dressing Guinea Fowl

Guinea Fowl has been domesticated all over the US, but many have escaped into the wild. The good news is they never reverted to a feral state, and are mostly encountered in the southern states. Whether farm-raised, store-bought or hunted, this game bird is prized for its tasty meat and low cholesterol.

To dress a Guinea fowl, follow these steps:

Step 1. Remove all visible dirt, feces, and blood-shot areas.

Step 2. Proceed to feather-plucking; remove each feather by firmly gripping the feather at its root, then pulling in the direction that the feather grows.

Step 3. Cut off the feet and head, leaving the neck.

Step 4. Lay the bird flat on its back on a clean, flat level surface.

Step 5. With a very sharp (not serrated) knife, make an incision at the base of the breastbone.

Step 6. Continue the cut towards the vent (anus), making a cut about an inch long.

Step 7. Open up the cut you’ve made by cutting further along the sides of the cavity, outwards towards the sides of the breasts.

Step 8. The innards should be visible; with one hand, gently but firmly pull out all the guts in one motion. Be careful not to rupture any of the guts, especially the blue-green gall bladder. Rupturing this could spill bile on the meat and ruin the flavor; bile doesn’t completely rinse out so be careful during this step.

Step 9. Inspect the liver. Its color should be a rich, deep red to indicate good health. If the liver or the other entrails emit a strong odor, have a greenish discharge or have black blood, don’t eat the meat and discard the carcass properly. If the liver and heart are fine, set them aside for cooking. Discard the rest of the entrails or use them for fish bait.

Step 10. Cut the carcass at the base of the throat. Make a vertical cut up the neck and remove the trachea. Widen the opening at the base of the throat, and remove the crop.

Step 11. Keep the carcass whole and rinse out the cavity, if you plan to cook it whole, or cut into pieces.

Dressed and butchered Guinea fowl parts ready for cooking (GreedyGirlGrub.com).

Dressing Turkey

Who says wild turkey should only be eaten on Thanksgiving? These wily birds can be found in the wilds of many states across the country. They’re the biggest indigenous birds you can eat, and you can surely benefit from its generous amount of breast meat.

Whether you harvest a domesticated one or successfully hunt one in the wild, here’s how to field-dress a turkey:

Step 1. Clean any feces, dirt or blood off the carcass.

Step 2. Proceed to dry-plucking the feathers; start at the wings.

Pull out the feathers a couple at a time, while securing the skin with your other hand. This ensures that you don’t tear the skin up and ruin the carcass (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/)

Step 3. Cut off the wings at the first joint, since there’s not much meat past that part of the bird.

Once most of the feathers have been plucked from the upper part of the bird, cut off the wings (GeorgiaPelligrini.com).

Step 4. Cut off the tail at the base, but above the vent; continue to remove the remaining feathers.

Step 5. Bend the feet at the joint, then cut them off at that point.

Cut off the bird’s feet at the first joint connecting to the legs (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/).

Step 6. Cut off the head high at a joint where it meets the neck; save the neck for stew, making a stock or roast along with the rest of the bird in an oven to give it more flavor.

Save the neck after cutting off the head; the neck has a lot of meat and bones that can be good for making a stock (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/).
Be sure your knife if sharp enough as you will have to cut through hard bone (GeorgiaPelligrini.com).

Step 7. Make a vertical cut on the base of the tail, continuing upwards to the breastbone to expose the guts. The resulting opening should be big enough to fit your hand.

Step 8. Gently but firmly grip the guts and pull it all out in one motion. Cut the colon where it connects with the anus. As always, be careful not to rupture any of the organs as you pull them out.

After you’ve pulled out the guts, cut the colon free from the vent (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/).

Step 9. Examine the entrails. Inspect the liver for any spots, discoloration or greenish discharge or clotted up blood. If any of these signs are present and the entrails smell bad, don’t eat the meat; discard the carcass properly. If the liver turns out ok, sort out the entrails and separate the liver, heart and gizzard from the rest. These are savory parts of the bird and should be cooked and eaten.

Discard the entrails but take the gizzard, liver and heart. Nutritious and tasty, don’t let these parts go to waste (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/).

Step 10. Remove the bird’s crop; this is a special part of the turkey where food is stored before it’s digested; you’ll find this at the point where the bird’s neck meets its chest. Cut down the neck, then carefully remove and discard the crop.

Remove the bird’s crop by slitting open the neck and cutting down. Don’t worry about cutting into the crop, it may be empty or filled with undigested food, like grain, insects or even snails (GeorgiaPelligrini.com/2011/04/19/blog/field-dress-turkey/).

Step 11. Now that the carcass has been gutted, clean it out with water to remove any remaining blood or lung tissue. You can then cook the carcass as is, or cut it into pieces.

On dry-plucking

Wet-plucking a bird of its feathers is possible, but this process removes the skin and fat, lessening the flavor. Dry-plucking is more laborious, but the effort is worth it for a tastier meal. When dry-plucking, take note of the following:

  • As the carcass goes cold the feathers become tougher to remove. So start at the wings and tail.
  • Use one hand to pluck, the other to secure the skin.
  • “Pluck” with your thumb and forefinger. Plucking is done with a quick jerk of the wrist in the direction the feather is growing.
  • Don’t casually yank at the feathers as this will only break the feather or risk breaking the skin.
  • Grip and pluck a couple of feathers at a time; if you grasp a bunch of feathers you may break the skin.
  • Be precise in plucking; any parts with broken skin on the bird will result in uneven cooking.

Notes on temperature

The temperature at which your game is hunted and the environment in which it remains after it’s killed is worth noting.

You never want to eat raw game (or any meat for that matter), as the bacteria present can give you any number of nasty illnesses. Do note that if the ambient temperature is within the range of 40 to 140 degrees (F), the bacteria in the bird’s carcass will double in as quick as 20 minutes. Simply put, the hotter the weather, the faster your game will spoil.

Freezing the bird will only halt or slow the bacterial growth, but not kill the bacteria. This is why you should field-dress and clean the bird as soon as you can, and of course cook the meat thoroughly, such that its internal temperatures range from 160 to 212 degrees (F).

The last word

Whether you’re dressing a turkey, Guinea fowl, chicken, duck, pheasant or other bird, the process and safety precautions are very similar. There may be differences in the color of the meat and sizes of the parts, but most birds share essentially the same anatomy.

Remember to use a sharp knife to avoid any mishaps from using excessive force, like damaging the entrails and causing bile or other undesirable substances to spoil the meat. Wear protective gloves if possible, and don’t field-dress on the same surface twice to avoid cross-contamination. Finally, season the meat with some herbs and spices and learn a recipe or two, and you can create a survival meal that not only provides you with precious calories and nutrients, but tastes good too.

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