So, by some method, you have come into the possession of 1 or more legally edible turtles. Congratulations! They are legendarily good eating. Or, if you're into catching, cleaning, and eating turtles, there's a good chance that you might refer to them as good eatin', if that makes any difference.
What do you do with it (them)? Well, that's where this instructable comes into play.
Note: Some of the photos depict some pretty graphic turtle-ness. If you are a card-carrying Sierra Club/PETA member, or just don't want to see some turtle guts pictures right now, then don't look at this instructable.
I'm sick of people leaving comments saying that this is mean. Can you please be concerned about something infinitely more important, like the millions of innocent human beings that die each year?
If you eat meat, especially, realize that the meat you eat was once an animal. The difference between it and these turtles is that (except in the case that someone hunted the animal and gave/sold its meat to you) these turtles, while alive, were free to roam around the lake they lived in and wherever else they chose to go. The animals whose meat you buy in the store were probably kept in ridiculously small pens, fed ridiculously low-quality feed, until they were fat enough to kill profitably.
Caution: Obviously, you'll be dealing with a turtle (quite possibly a mean, old snapper), so be careful around its mouth (esp. if a snapper), and watch the claws. Also, be careful, you're using knives. And scissors, and maybe a bone saw. That bit's up to you.
Step 1: Assemble Materials and Tools.
Well, you're going to need at least 1 turtle. You can catch turtles (at least in many states) by rod-and-reel fishing (same rig/bait/techniques as catfishing), with float lines (baited hook on a line, tied to a float, tied to a tree/dock), with traps, or even noodling (although I'll just stick to one of the others, and not risk my fingers).
You'll also need:
1 sharp knife (such as a short (4-6") fillet knife
1 piece of stout wire for each turtle (I used 14 ga electric fence wire (had it around), it worked for a 5 and a 7 lb turtle)
1 pr wire clippers
1 very heavy knife or a hand axe (I would recommend a hand axe)
1 stout stick that can survive the turtle's bite (for snappers)
Gloves (leather work gloves or fishing gloves, for grip and protection)
Kitchen shears/heavy-duty scissors
serrated knife/small saw (for cutting through bone/tough shell bits)
Here, I have two turtles, and some of the tools (I took these pictures as I went along, before I knew just what I would/wouldn't need for sure).
A lot of people recommend putting the turtles in a big barrel (55 gal), with clean water, for 7 days. Replace the water ever couple days or so. This is to purify their system (so when you accidentally puncture the bladder/bum pouch, it doesn't stink up the room or risk possibly tainting the meat). This is optional.
Step 2: Pre-cleaning Preparations
First of all, you remove the turtle's head in this step.
With a snapper, you can usually get them to bite onto that stick you should have, then they'll hold on pretty hardcore. Pull the neck out as far as possible, and then, cut the head off, leaving as much neck as possible. If it won't snap onto the stick, then just wait for it to poke it's head out enough.
The key is to cut off the head cleanly, in one chop. A hand-axe would help greatly, especially if you positioned the turtle's neck over a board. Minimize the animal's suffering. One thing my dad always taught me when we were fishing, was that you never mock your catch, and if you're going to kill it, you should do it as painlessly as possible for the animal. Do turtles feel pain? I don't know. But it'll be better for you (less gore, less mess) and the turtle (suddenly over, no bleeding in the face or whatever).
Now, take the pliers, and hold the wire with them. Poke the pointed end that you clipped into the wire through the turtle's tail, or (if a soft-shell), it's shell at the very tail-end. Wrap the other end around a tree branch, and leave it for a while, so it will bleed out. Small turtles= less bleeding, I would assume. So, no set time. I bled mine until the blood stopped dripping and started clotting on the neck.
Step 3: Clip, Dip, and Scrub.
Because a turtle has both nasty claws and terrifying reflexes long after death, it's a good idea to remove the claws after bleeding out. Use the wire clippers. These are some gnarly toes.
Next, fill a big pot with water, and bring it to a boil. Dip the turtle in there, and then scrub the turtle with a hard brush. My turtles were too big to fit, so I dipped them halfway (holding the bleeding-out hook was handy), and then pulled them out, then dipped the other half. You can figure something out, I'm sure. Check out the pictures for some more details of the process. It's pretty self-explanatory.
A skin might come off of a soft shell turtle. Maybe these twe were mutants.
You might be thinking, "Why boil it?"
Well, that's because this is a turtle. It's spent it's life wallowing in rotting fish parts, decayed plant matter, all sorts of aquatic critter poop, and it's been pretty unconcerned. Maybe you shouldn't have asked questions. Just scrub. Rinse well afterwards.
Step 4: Remove the Meat
Start by laying the turtle on its back.
Note: While cutting-try not to open the organ sack. Try not to stab anything that looks like a little water balloon. Chances are, no matter what it is, when your knife pokes it, one of the foulest mixtures of liquid hell will pour out. Just avoid stabbing at the turtle in general.
Cut around, and remove the bottom plate. A serrated knife/saw comes in handy at times here.
Then, cut the back legs and tail off the top shell in 1 piece. Cut the front legs and the neck off.
Throw away the carcass (the shell and guts). You can look in the stomach to see if you can find your bait and hook. Here, I found the hook, with the whole liver still on it, in both stomachs, unharmed in each of them! (Both meaning both turtles, not two stomachs in one turtle).
You can either skin it, or cook it with the skin on (in a soup, maybe?).
Once you've skinned it (sorry, no more pictures), if it's an old granddaddy snapper (12 + pounds or so), parboil the meat first, to tenderize it. After that (or if it was a younger turtle), you can roast/fry it just like chicken. Or make the ever-popular turtle soup.