Enhance Your Turkey Woods

Give them a reason to be there

Dump out the pockets in a turkey hunter’s vest, and you’ll see an astonishing array of gadgets. Of course they’re all essential in the game of outwitting old ‘three toes’. But it got stranger still for me when I added snowshoes and a chainsaw to my turkey hunting gear. As a result I took a long spurred tom on opening morning. No, I didn’t get him with my chainsaw, but the gobbler was headed for a strut zone that I had made for him with the chainsaw back in January, with opening morning in mind.

Zone In
You will hear and see more gobblers where you hunt if you give them a reason to be there – give them a strut zone.

If you own a woodlot, create a clearing in January or February thirty to forty yards across. If you hunt someone else’s land get for permission to make a clearing that will benefit his timber and wildlife. Only cut trees that won’t ever have value as lumber because they are the wrong species, diseased, crooked or are crowding other more valuable trees.

Leave standing any fruit trees or hard mast trees like acorns or beech nuts which are a high quality food source for wildlife. They will produce more food if nearby trees are removed because they’ll have less competition for sunlight, water and soil nutrients. Lumber species will flourish as well with less competition.

Cut down all saplings and understory brush so your tom will have easy walking with no foot snags and predators will have no place to hide. Have it all neatly cleared before March when flocks of turkeys begin moving around.

Take In the View
Keep in mind that a tom needs a clearing with a view so, choose a ridge top, a hill top, a level bench on a hillside, a hummock in a low area, a riverside flood plain or any other land formation that allows a 50 yard view adjacent to mature forest. If you have such a spot close to where turkeys roost, even better.

In late March start hen yelping long and loud from your strut zone to help toms or hens find the clearing and begin using it as feeding area or strut zone. Don’t hang around to see what shows up because you don/t want to spook turkeys off it. Set a trail camera or check periodically for feathers and droppings to see if turkeys are using it.

When the season opens be cautious about hunting right at your strut zone. You don’t want to spook toms off it. Instead set up along their route to it.

The forest will try to take back your clearing so you will have to mow or weed whack the saplings each spring right after you are done turkey hunting there. Then allow the non-tree vegetation to grow or plant a food source like clover or chufa as brooding cover and food for young turkeys and deer.

Create a Roost
Even better than a strut zone is a roosting site in your hunting area because you will know where turkeys start and end their day. You may be able to encourage roosting site with a few tweaks if the main elements of a roost are present.

Turkeys like to roost in mature trees, deciduous or conifers, which have clear ground below them on their eastern side. This keeps them sheltered from the prevailing west winds and exposes them to the sun’s warmth and light early in the day.

If you have such a field edge or opening in your woods you can make it more attractive as a roost by clearing all the dense underbrush below the trees so predators have no place to hide and the turkeys have a clear landing strip when they fly down.

Create a roost

The other thing turkeys need are sturdy, horizontal limbs ten to twenty feet up the tree trunk to sleep on, preferably with no branches below them. This gives them unobstructed sight and flight lines to the ground and makes it harder for predators to climb up to them while they sleep. So with a pole saw remove all the smaller branches below sturdy, horizontal limbs on the trees along the eastern edge of the stand and you may encourage flocks to roost there.

Both of these projects are good treatment for mid- winter cabin fever and will allow the woods to sustain more wildlife in the future.

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