Common Snapping Turtles: Catching, Cleaning, Eating

One old timer so much enjoyed eating turtles that his friends would often give him the snapping turtles they caught while fishing. Once, when giving him two turtles, a friend said, "Boy, I don't see how you can eat those nasty things."

"You mean you haven't eaten turtle?" replied the old timer. "I'll tell you - I'll clean these rascals for you and give you my favorite recipe!" Unfortunately for the old timer, his friend never gave him snapping turtles again. He kept them for himself!

We really don't know how many Missourians catch and eat snapping turtles, or softshell turtles for that matter. The Conservation Department tracks the commercial harvest of these species, but there are no records of those taken for personal use.

As the name implies, common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) are native to Missouri and the Midwest. The alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, which lives mostly in the southeastern U.S. and can weigh over 120 pounds, is a close relative. In Missouri, the alligator snapping turtle inhabits southern and southeastern streams and oxbow lakes and is classified as rare. There is no open season on these turtles.

Common snapping turtles average 10 to 12 inches in upper shell length and weigh from 15 to 25 pounds. They can live in a wide variety of aquatic habitats: large creeks, rivers, river sloughs, swamps, marshes, farm ponds and sewage lagoons.

Snapping turtles will eat just about anything (alive or dead) they can find in their watery habitat including fish, frogs, drowned animals, crayfish and aquatic plants.

A Missourian, with a current fishing permit, can capture snapping turtles in a variety of ways. Catching snapping turtles is relatively easy. Anglers fishing for catfish usually catch snappers while using jug or limb lines baited with cut or live bait. Chicken livers and gizzards also work well. However, gizzards are probably less attractive to fish and tend to stay on the hook better. Turtles caught with jug lines will usually move near shore, making them easier to handle. The daily limit is five.

Other turtle catching methods include "handfishing" along rivers and streams or, during the winter months, spotting and catching them through the ice. This can be effective if you have both clear ice and water; look for turtles half buried in the mud, chip through the ice and grab them by the tail. As you might guess turtles are slow at this time of the year.