In general, you want to gut a turkey as soon as possible.
Waiting to gut the bird introduces the chance of bacteria growth that could cause the bird to spoil.
It is okay to wait up to a few hours if temperatures are moderate but if it is warm out, get it done ASAP.
Keep the Bird Cool
First things first, take off your gloves and make sure to tag your turkey if your state requires it. The last thing you want is to get written up after a successful hunt.
Temperature is the key to keeping your turkey from spoiling. That’s why we recommend that you gut your turkey immediately after the kill.
If you have a short walk back to your truck or short drive home you can wait but be cautious if it is warm out. In general, if the temperature is 80 degrees or above you want to get the guts out of the bird as quickly as possible.
By removing the guts shortly after the kill you remove a lot of the natural heat stored inside the turkey. The faster you can get the temperature down the better. Since it only takes a few minutes to gut a turkey we don’t think waiting is worth the risk.
Once you have gutted the bird you can safely place the bird in an ice chest to keep it cool.
The only exception is if you are planning to have the bird mounted. Ideally you will have contacted a taxidermist before hand to find out their preference as far as how to bring the turkey to them.
Aging Wild Turkey Meat
Hanging a bird to age the meat is a common practice among bird hunters. The basic idea is that the enzymes in the meat will break it down. This is supposed to improve the flavor as well as make the meat more tender.
One of the most important things to take into account when aging a bird is the temperature. The temperature should be kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything warmer encourages bacteria growth and may cause the meat to spoil.
Some hunters leave the guts in the bird when aging but we think it is a good idea to gut the bird immediately in the field. Leaving the guts in allows more opportunity for bacteria growth and takes longer for the core temperature to drop.
When aging a turkey, hang it in a cool, dark place for 1-3 days. Like mentioned above, make sure the temperature where you hang the bird stays below 50 degrees.
After aging you can finish cleaning the bird and cook it however you prefer.
How long does it take for a wild turkey to spoil?
This all comes down to temperature. You can store a turkey in the fridge for a day or two but beyond that you are going to want to put it in the freezer. Once in the freezer a turkey will last well over a year without spoiling.
Do you have to field dress a turkey?
Our recommendation is that you field dress a turkey as soon as it is killed. At bare minimum, gut the bird to lower its temperature to prevent it from spoiling. The only exception is if you are planning to have the bird mounted as noted above.
In summary, you generally want to at least gut the turkey immediately after the kill. If you want to wait to finish cleaning the turkey that is fine but removing the guts greatly decreases the chances of the meat spoiling.
Hang the turkey anywhere from 1-3 days in a cool, dry environment if you want to age the meat. Any longer is unnecessary and increases the chances of the meat spoiling.