The phone rings. I answer and hear a strong mountain accent utter the words…
“You wanna turtle?”
I replied “I’ll head that way“.
When the old ex-poacher heard I was trapping turtles out of a nearby pond, he proceeded to tell me tall tales of 200 pounders covered in moss that you could ride across the lake. I love listening to these guys, because there are pearls of knowledge mixed in with the grand tales and I like to pick their brains for different ways to put meat on the table. The pond owners had fished 4 or 5 good sized turtles out before I heard they wanted them gone and left me catching only these little guys.
So when Danny offered me a free turtle, I wasn’t going to turn it down, knowing that there would be a good story that came with it. When I arrived to find the turtle in a net and stuffed into a garbage can, the story began.
Now there are good storytellers, and great storytellers, and this guy has it down. With all the enthusiasm he could muster in his 5′ 7″, 260 pound frame, he proceeded to tell me how he had watched that turtle “sunnin’ himself” for hours on the bank. Then it “slid into the water” and swam straight towards the dock, so “I kindly grabbed the net and hid behind the pole and eased it in“. The pole in reference is a 4 x 4 support on the marina, so the image of this bulldog of man hiding behind it made me chuckle. I realized that even though at one time we were on opposite sides of the law, we are both the same. We share a passion for living off the land and catching our supper.
I thanked him and promised to bring him some meat next week and headed to the house to clean my turtle. Well one thing led to another and I kept him in a tank for two days until I could clean him. I had full intentions of posting a “how to”, but my wife, and photographer, had to head to work half way through the process.
So we will call this Part I:
1. Catch a turtle – with a trap, jug lines, limblines, noodling, crossing the road, or with Danny’s net
2. “Dispatch it” a.k.a. kill it. Operating as a professional hunter and trapper for years I was well trained that we “don’t kill animals, we dispatch them”. You can sugar coat the process all you want, but if you are going to hunt and trap your own meat you are going to “kill” animals. I use a hammer to the head and then cut it off, a.k.a. “stunning and exsanguination” an approved method according to the AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf
3. If you have a hose, you can stick the nozzle down the neck and use the water pressure to help separate the skin from the meat.
4. Cut off the feet, cut the skin free from the shell (carapace), and use a baton the cut the sides free
5. Use the baton and knife to cut down the belly (plastron if you want to sound fancy)
6. Then… you have to wait until I catch another turtle or Danny nets the “200 pounder”
The finished product of head meat, backstraps, front and hindquarters, tail, and neck ready to be bagged for the freezer.