By Josh Boyd
As we chase the thundering gobbles of lovestruck longbeards, for as long as the spring season will allow, we live for the moment that a calculated squeeze of the trigger spells checkmate for a weathered, old tom. We catalog these moments of victory in our mind, forming a highlight reel of sorts that we replay in fond recollection, time and time again.
For many hunters, it has become a tradition to preserve the spurs and beards of any gobbler that they take, keeping them as a memento of a morning when all came together as one would hope. However, for those that have never attempted to keep and preserve such items, knowing where to begin and what steps to take can often be an intimidating prospect.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you are not alone. I now think back upon the first time that I set out to preserve the beard and spurs from a turkey that I had taken, and can all too vividly remember being distraught at the prospect of failing in my efforts.
What follows is a guide to assist you in preserving your turkey’s beard, spurs, and fan for display in your home.
We all love the idea of watching a paint brush bearded gobbler strutting its way to our decoys. So it is only natural that most hunters jump at the opportunity to display the beards of the toms that they have taken.
Luckily, the practice of doing so could not be much easier. The first, and most important, step of this process is removing the beard itself. With your turkey laying on its back and a sharp knife in hand, trace the bird’s beard back to its junction with the body. Now simply put light outward tension on the beard, and cut directly behind the portion of gristle that binds each hair together.
Alternatively, several individuals have reported success by simply grabbing the beard, and giving it a firm yank to remove it. However, if in doubt, the above-mentioned cutting method will remove a beard flawlessly on every occasion.
Once you have successfully removed your turkey’s beard, trim any excess meat and gristle from its base. Doing so leaves less tissue for possible spoilage.
Next prepare a small cup of ½ Borax and ½ uniodized salt. Stir these two products together evenly, and stick the base of the beard into the cup, ensuring that all meat and tissue is covered. After a period of 5-7 days, the beard will be ready for display.
There are few greater joys for the avid turkey hunter than discovering that the tom they have just taken is packing a 1.25” or greater set of spurs. Spurs can be used for everything from making hat bands, to displaying alongside beards. No matter the reason, most turkey hunters who have several seasons under their belt typically have a pile of spurs to show for their efforts.
Preserving a set of spurs can be quite easy when a few simple steps are followed. First, begin by cutting each leg of the turkey off at a point that is approximately ½ inch above the spur. You will then cut underneath the spur at the same distance, separating it from the lower leg.
At this point, you will begin to trim all tissue away from the remaining bone at the base of the spur. This can be done fairly easily with a sharp pocket knife. You will also need to remove all traces of bone marrow. This is best accomplished by pushing a pipe cleaner through the hollow portion of the leg bone.
Next, you will boil the spurs in a pot of water with three tablespoons of dish soap. After your spurs have boiled for ten minutes, remove them from the pot, and carefully scrape away any remaining tissue.
If the bone that the spur is affixed to is still not as white as you would like, it can be soaked overnight in a small dish of hydrogen peroxide. This can be done by using a dish that is shallow enough to keep the spur cap above the level of peroxide. If the spur cap is submerged, discoloration can result. Once the bone has been whitened, the spurs will be ready for display.
Hunters choose to preserve a turkey’s fan for many reasons. Some enjoy displaying their turkeys’ fans, while others choose to use a fan for decoying purposes. Regardless of the intended use, preserving a turkey’s fan does not have to be difficult, as long as ample attention is paid to the fine details.
To remove a turkey’s fan, you must first locate the point where it attaches to the rest of the bird’s body. This can be accomplished by placing your index finger and thumb of one hand in a half-moon shape around the fan’s base while moving the fan about with your other hand. You will be able to discern the pivot point for the fan’s movement.
Once you have located this joint, make a cut between it and the remainder of the turkey’s hindquarters, freeing the turkey’s fan from its body in the process.
You will now trim as much meat and tissue from the base of the fan as possible. Continue trimming until the base of the feather quills becomes visible. You can then place the base of the fan in Borax overnight to assist in the absorption and removal of liquid fat.
After sitting overnight, wipe away any Borax and begin slowly cutting the triangle segment of bone away from the fan’s base. By working slowly with a sharp knife this boney mass can be removed, and any remaining meat can be trimmed, leaving only feathers and their connective tissue.
You will now secure your fan to a piece of cardboard for drying. When doing so, spread the feathers as they would be in strut, securing several of the feathers in place with thumbtacks. With the fan in place, generously coat its base with Borax, and allow the fan to sit for 7-10 days, periodically checking for a complete absence of moisture.
Preserving Your Trophy
Saving your turkey’s beard, spurs, and fan is a worthwhile endeavor for any hunter who would like to preserve the memories of their hunt. As your turkey fan adorns your wall, you will be allowed to reflect admiringly upon every moment that led up to the hunt’s successful conclusion.