Honoring the Hunt

Wild turkey displays are a way to remember your hunt and a good conversation-starter. And you can create lasting pieces yourself.

Turkey hunting is serious business. Does it matter in your quality of life? It does to me. And you never know when failing health or the grim reaper might intervene in this hunting chess game.

Make the most of every hunt. Do what you can to remember a special event. When you harvest a gobbler, pause to reflect. Pay your respects, and be thankful for the opportunity. Clean your trophy. Take good pictures, and imagine how you can honor the resource and remember the experience.

If you have experienced an exceptional gobbler or hunt, you might want a whole-body mount. They are nice but take up a lot of space and are expensive. As I write this, I’m looking at a simulated gobble from a Gould’s wild turkey taken during an exciting hunt in Mexico. My hen talk and gobbler response knew no language barriers. My wife objected to a gobbler peering down at our bed in the bedroom, so I had my garage built into a room I call my blind, where the gobbler can roost in more friendly confines. There, I can display the results of many hunts. I even picked light paneling so my dark beards will show up nicely. When my 4-year-old granddaughter walked in, she exclaimed, “I just love your room, it has everything.” That was all the confirmation I needed.

Do-It-Yourself

A mount of beards, spurs, fans and even wings is a simple and inexpensive option for a display. It’s almost a two-dimensional turkey that goes on the wall. You can do this easily yourself.

First, decide what kind of display you want. If you plan to include the wings, cut them off, and trim the flesh around the wing bones. Cut off the fan (all the tail feathers joined at the base) from the juncture in the bone where the feathers are attached. Leave some shorter covert feathers covering the base of the fan. Pull the skin around the base away. Cut off the meat from both sides of the base of the fan. Leave enough tissue where the tail feathers join to keep them together.

Leave some flesh when you cut off the beard. That will hold the beard together. Also, ample tissue lets you cut a hole and thread a cord through if you want to display beards that way. Apply liberal amounts of borax to anywhere it will stick. That will dry flesh and help preserve everything. A used coffee can works fine for borax. Dry everything completely. Sun and low humidity help.

If you are saving the legs and want them to look natural, position them so the toes will dry flat horizontally while the legs remain vertical. Otherwise, the digits will draw in when they dry. It’s wise to wedge the legs between a cabinet and the wall, with the legs at a 90-degree angle or slightly less. If you only want to save the spurs, cut off the spur section of the leg with a hacksaw, and scrape the skin and red flesh from the leg section. Push out the bone marrow in the middle of the leg with a stick. Drying spurs in the sun will keep the leg bone white.

Apply borax to the fleshy fan base, and position the fan on a flat surface. Arrange it so it dries while in a full semi-circle. The best way to do this is to put two or three books or weights across the fan, and push the small bone at the fan base — the pygostyle — outward until the fan is in a full semi-circle. Straighten any disheveled feathers. If you keep the fan in low humidity, it will dry in a few days. It will take several weeks to dry the legs with the toes at a 90-degree angle.

When everything is dry, you can put your display together. Here’s an opportunity to be creative. You might want to include the wings, a picture, the shotgun hull, data about the turkey or hunt, and a band, if you were lucky. You can cover up any exposed dry flesh with a small section of wood or leather.

To highlight an exceptional pair of spurs, you might display only the legs. You can do it with the legs just standing or on an attractive wooden base, such as driftwood. I have some pieces of American chestnut I use for this. Adult gobbler legs appear pink to reddish, which comes from the tissue underneath the skin. As the legs dry, the skin will separate from tissue underneath, and the legs will transition to a grayish color. You can paint the outside of the legs to resemble the natural color. Take a picture when you shoot the gobbler so you will know what color the legs were. Toenail polish comes in some appropriate turkey leg shades but is too shiny. You can get flat reddish paint from a hobby store. You might need to mix some to get it right.

Keep mounts where your dog, cat, mice or other foragers cannot get to them. I recommend spraying them with a pesticide once a year to keep insects away.

Preserve and Reflect

Make every effort to respect and remember every special hunt. A turkey display is a good, inexpensive way to remember something so important.

— Dr. Jim Dickson served as president and chairman of the NWTF and compiled and edited the comprehensive and award-winning monograph, The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management, known as the turkey bible. Dickson is a three-time Texas turkey calling champion and can be reached jgdickson14@gmail.com.

Article Category