Making a strut zone for toms
Clear the way to a successful spring turkey hunt by giving toms a place to strut their stuff
If you want to see more gobblers in the places you hunt, give them a reason to be there: create a strut zone. I cleared one on my property last January and took a long-spurred tom just one hour into the spring season.
Most toms visit a series of different strut zones each day of the breeding season if they’re left undisturbed—put a new zone in your turkey woods, and they just might add it to their circuit. And that includes those annoying birds that strut in fields or on property you can’t hunt.
When to make it
To clear a strut zone, you’re going to need a chainsaw and more than a few days for all the brush clearing, tree cutting and stacking of the resulting cordwood. That’s going to create quite a disturbance, so all the work should be completed before the end of February, when the turkeys are still flocked up within a small range close to a prime food source. That way, you won’t scare them away from your newly created strut zone once the warmer, longer days of March get the flocks moving around more.
As a bonus, hungry deer will benefit from eating the branch tips and buds from the trees you cut down during the winter. In my case, my chainsaw served as a dinner bell for the local whitetails-thanks to my trail cam, I knew they were chowing down on the freshly cut foliage soon after I’d snowshoed back over the ridge to my house.
Where to make it
A strut zone is not just a clearing-it’s a clearing in the right place. When looking for a good site, keep in mind that a tom wants to be seen, yet still needs to feel safe. When he struts, his goal is to be eye candy for the ladies. But he also wants to avoid the predators he’ll attract by gobbling his innards out. He therefore needs a clearing that allows the feathered babes to see him, while letting him watch for approaching danger.
Look for a ridge or hilltop, a level bench on a hillside, a hummock in a swamp, a riverside flood plain or any other land formation adjacent to mature forest from which a gobbler can see at least 50 metres in any direction. If you know where turkeys roost but can’t hunt there because you don’t have access, choose an appropriate site as closely as you can to the roost.
If you’ll be hunting mainly in the morning, meanwhile, consider a spot with an eastern exposure for the early sun. And don’t make a strut zone within sight of a road or well-used trail, or other hunters may see your tom strutting and take your spot. Ideally, you’ll want to clear a 30-metre area.
How to clear it
If you hunt on someone else’s land, ask for permission before clearing a strut zone. Only remove trees that have no value as lumber because they’re the wrong species, diseased or crooked, or they’re crowding other more valuable timber. As well, don’t cut down trees that produce fruit or hard mast such as acorns and beechnuts, which are high-quality foods for wildlife. Once the cutting is complete, the nearby remaining trees will flourish thanks to less competition for sunlight, water and soil nutrients.
You also need to cut down all saplings and remove the understorey brush. Not only will this clear the way for a tom’s love dance, it will also remove hiding places for predators. Pile the brush and treetop branches off to one side of the clearing, then cut up the trunks for cordwood and stack the pieces neatly for removal.
If you can’t get the firewood out before turkey season begins, don’t worry—I couldn’t either, but my neat piles of cordwood didn’t spook the birds. Just be sure to give the dude with the snood a clean dance floor on which to strut, fan and fight challengers.
This article was originally published on January 31, 2011