The first wild turkey to come out of the Dungannon family oven wasn't simply overcooked and dry. Try more like fossilized.

The first wild turkey to come out of the Dungannon family oven wasn't simply overcooked and dry. Try more like fossilized.

"The beagle wouldn't even eat it," says Duane Dungannon, of Talent.

It was a pretty embarrassing way of rewarding some extended family members who had invited Dungannon to hunt wild Rio Grandes on their property, yet somebody had to at least try it.

"I choked some down and got the worst case of heartburn I ever had," he says.

"You've heard of Montezuma's revenge," he says. "This was Rio Grande revenge."

Relatives notwithstanding, Oregon hunters don't need a bottle of Wild Turkey to make their wild turkey palatable this Thanksgiving.

Seasoned turkey hunters say following a litany of wild turkey do's and don'ts can ensure that the gobblers they shoot this fall will actually be gobbled at their table without killing taste buds or igniting gastric revolutions.

"Wild turkeys really have a bad rap," says Tiffany Haugen, a Wilsonville author whose latest cookbook, "Cooking Game Birds," should be on sale as early as Thanksgiving weekend. "I always hear people complain that they're too tough, too dry.

"I think a lot of people are afraid they need to cook the wild out of it, and that's just not the case," Haugen says.

Perhaps the most significant error hunter/cooks make begins the second they shoot their turkeys. They should be gutted, field-dressed, cleaned and cooled as quickly as possible.

These birds have small bones and thin membranes, so the meat can become quickly flawed to a point where marinades and other cooking versions of deodorant simply can't save it.

"The biggest mistake people make is dragging their big tom around town showing it off to their friends for five hours," Haugen says.

When field-dressing, hunters should make sure they clean out any acorns, grains and other morsels turkeys store in their craw and remove the slimy membrane there, says Mike Ayers, a Medford hunter who eats wild turkeys exclusively for Thanksgiving.

"If you take that out, they're great," Ayers says. "If you don't, well ..."

And the big tom with the long beard might work well for the hero shots but not for the oven.

Jakes, hens and 2-year-old toms are more tender than the bigger birds, so field selection is critical, Haugen says. But if you do have a big tom, you can age the meat in the refrigerator or cut it into smaller pieces to be marinaded and later grilled.

Once the carcass has reached your kitchen, you have to get rid of the Norman Rockwell image of dad carving the big bronzed bird at the table.

Don't even think of cooking that bird whole in the oven because the meat is so lean and variable, Haugen says.

"To do that with a wild bird is a big mistake, especially if you stuff it," Haugen says. "They tend to dry out."

This is not your grandma's Butterball. Wild turkeys are heavy on breast meat and light on dark meat for a reason.

"It's because they actually run," Haugen says.

It's better to cook the breasts separately, and there are plenty of tricks for keeping them moist.

Slow-cookers and crock pots are quite useful. Ayers likes to put his turkey meat in one of those plastic turkey bags with a can of mushroom soup and cook it in the oven.

It helps to keep the skin on because it helps seal in juices. If the bird is skinned, consider taking the skin off store-bought chickens and coating your wild bird with them, Haugen says.

Adding fat, such as layers of bacon, can infuse moisture, as well as different tastes.

For those not worried that they could become one of the 600 cooks in the United States who will burn down their home this Thanksgiving deep-frying their turkey, cooking in hot oil is an option.

The quick cooking time helps seal in juices, making it about the only way to cook a wild turkey whole, Haugen says.

Ayers will occasionally deep-fry a turkey in peanut oil, and his experiments in various spice rubs have come with mixed success.

"If you put a Cajun rub on it, it'll come out as black as a clump of coal, but it'll taste good," Ayers says.

Haugen has taken the art of gamebird cooking to new levels by combining birds and and wrapping them together — smallest to next biggest to largest — with layers of bacon, sausage and spices in between.

A duck inside a goose inside a turkey becomes Turgooseduck. A duck-chukar-turkey blend is the Turkchukduck, while a dove-pheasant-turkey trio is the Turkpheasdove.

Haugen's favorite is deboned quail, pheasant and turkey along with a hodgepodge of spices and a pound of sausage all rolled together into, of course, the Turkpheasquail.

"That really has a nice 'Ta-Da!' factor to it," Haugen says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email Follow him on Twitter at

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email Follow him on Twitter at