Before Dirk Matherne sits down to clean turtles, he has to dispatch them. For this, he uses a .22 pistol, placing each shot neatly through the top of the head.
“I feel it’s more humane this way,” he explained. “My dad used to use a hook to pull their heads out of the shell, and then cut their heads off to kill them.”
After killing a turtle, Mathern hones a fillet knife and a folding pocket knife sharp — real sharp. After cutting off the turtles’ heads, he sets the knives aside for the moment.
He grinned as he grabbed a set of limb pruners.
“These are my wife’s, but I couldn’t find my reciprocating saw,” Matherne said. “Some people use a jigsaw. My dad used a hatchet.”
He used the pruners to cut the shell bridge on each side of the turtle that attaches the back shell (carapace) to the belly shell (plastron). He then inserted the point of the fillet knife through the skin between the tail and the plastron, and cut the skin near the plastron in both directions to meet the cuts made earlier through the shell.
Matherne then firmly grabbed the pelvic girdle holding the two rear legs together, and with a twisting motion wrenches it lose from the carapace.
“You gotta have an attitude when you clean a turtle,” he grunted, holding his trophy aloft. ” Make up your mind to use force, but not cut yourself.”
He repeated the process with the front legs, but with more finesse, doing more cutting and less wrenching.
Before discarding the carapace, Matherne scooped up a handful of bright-orange eggs, not yet enclosed in shells.
“Daddy wouldn’t think of discarding the eggs,” he said. “I find them too dry-textured for my taste.”
Skinning went quickly. Using his pocket knife, he poked a hole in each paw and hung the legs from driven nail. The knife was used to trim the skin as he pulled it loose from the meat.
All the fat was trimmed from the meat, and then it was washed and cut into pieces for cooking or freezing.