Locating the Strut Zone
Photo by Tes Randle Jolly
Some say that locating a wild turkey's strut zone is the telltale sign to putting a bird in the back of your turkey vest when the season rolls around. While several other factors are obviously being overlooked, those folks may be on to something.
For those who are not familiar with the intricacies of turkey hunting, a strut zone is simply an area where a tom turkey routinely goes into full-strut to show off for hens. These zones can be frequented throughout the year, but they are particularly hot during the early spring. Gobblers are trying to pair up with hens, so they are putting themselves on display.
For the turkey hunter, locating strut zones is often made far more complicated than it needs to be. The problem for many hunters is a lack of pre-season scouting via the naked eye or even with a trail camera. Just a little bit of knowledge paired with some scouting can help you to locate those strut zones.
Once located, a strut zone can be your hot ticket to bagging a big longbeard in the first week of your spring turkey season.
Why Strut Zones?
The reason why you hear so many turkey hunting nuts making a big deal about strut zones is pretty simple. We want to be where the big turkeys are at. A frequently visited destination zone is always going to be preferable to a infrequent travel route. We also want to set up where a big tom is most comfortable. It doesn't hurt your chances at bagging that big bird if he's comfortable and focused on hens.
All of this adds up to increased odds if you can locate the strut zone and hunt over it. Just like finding a big whitetail's home-core area is integral to success in the deer woods, a strut zone is integral to targeting specific, mature tom turkeys. Not to mention the fact that hunting a heavily used strut zone can provide some of the most awe-inspiring turkey action that you can find. You just have to find that zone.
Finding Strut Zones
Strut zone locating is sometimes over-complicated. Turkey hunters tend to look for the dream scenario while ignoring what the turkeys are telling them. Strut zones are not magical places in a far-away turkey hunting fantasy land. They are all over the landscape. You simply have to know what to look for. Most importantly, you have to let the turkeys tell you where the strut zones are.
In general, strut zones are going to be located in clearings. It could be a bald ridge-top in the timber, the corner of a big agricultural field, in a small meadow, or on an old logging road. Just think of the visuals. Turkeys are creatures of eyesight. Gobblers will strut those beautiful feathers in an area that they can be spotted easily by hens. Visibility is the very essence of the strut zone.
Think of clearings. Those clearings may look vastly different across the country, but it will always be about the visual. Nothing compares to actually watching turkeys strutting their stuff with the naked eye. That can be rock-solid confirmation of a strut zone. You can also get the job done by hanging trail cameras, as our picture above indicates. Once you get eyes or camera lens on that potential strut zone, utilize your woodsmanship to confirm it.
Head to that hot-spot during a dormant period of the day and look for as many tracks and signs of scat as you can. Finding that last bit of irrefutable evidence will let you know if that strut zone is a frequent or infrequent one. You can formulate your hunting plan accordingly.
Hunting Strut Zones
Strut zone hunting can be some of the most relaxed in terms of style and aggression. Not exactly the dream scenario for those of you who love to run-and-gun. It is widely noted that soft-calling and subtle tactics work best in strut zones. That makes sense considering the intimacy and familiarity that big toms will have with that strut zone. Arguably the most familiar spot in their habitat.
It would be understandable that a big turkey may have pause if he shows up to that strut zone to find several odd decoys, a symphony of calling, and a big blob sitting on the ground just off of the clearing. Again, a turkey's eyes are his meal ticket. He didn't survive for three or more years by ignoring the signs of danger in his most frequent areas. Keep that in mind if you locate that strut zone and plan to bust in on it on opening day.
Many hunters really scale it back in strut zones. Going back to soft hen yelps, clucks and purrs, and maybe some scratching in the leaves to add realism. Decoying is also scaled back by many. Some not even using the visual element in fear of a gobbler hanging up. The primary thought is to mock a tentative hen who just needs a little more convincing to emerge from the woods. Bringing that gobbler closer to your subtle calls for that moment of truth.
Timing Your Arrival
All turkey hunters are familiar with that lull just after the birds fly off of the roost. Often times, that is when big toms are heading to their strut zones. Making the strut zone one of the first stops once his feet hit the ground in the morning- depending on the phase of the season. Regardless, you have to get in early if you are going to set up over a known and frequent strut zone.
Preferably putting your behind on the seat of your turkey vest before the sun even starts to illuminate the landscape. Hunting strut zones is like the special ops of turkey hunting. You are more than likely on top of the roost or very close to it. Jumping into that turkey's first planned destination. Getting in early and getting quiet is a must.