Benefits of Hinge Cutting for Your Deer Herd

As we all know, our forests play an intricate part of our hunting world and is home to the deer that we so eagerly pursue. As hunters we are always looking for ways to improve habitat, to improve our herd health, and to improve our odds against one of nature’s most majestic creatures. A technique that has been used for many years, and more so of late, is half cutting. Better known to you and I as hinge cutting. The benefits of hinge cutting for your deer herd can greatly tip the odds of success in your favor.

Does your farm have the cover needed to hold big bucks?

Does your farm have the cover needed to hold big bucks?

While I was attending Penn State University for Forest Science this was a technique we learned plenty about. Hinge cutting is a type of timber stand improvement (TSI). As it pertains to our forest, hinge cutting presents many benefits to our timber health. By releasing trees we allow sunlight to reach the forest floor helping with regeneration. This allows for younger vegetation to grow at a much better rate. It also allows sunlight to reach trees which are not yet mature and aids them in growing healthier and larger at an increased rate. The proper technique for hinge cutting a tree is to begin at waist height, cutting the tree at a 45 degree angle and cutting only 2/3 to ¾ the way through and allowing the tree to “hinge” and fall while still retaining attachment on the stump. This will allow the tree to still grow foliage for a couple years. While this practice is obtainable, doing your homework is of the utmost importance. A chainsaw is not a toy and can severely injure you if it’s not respected.

A chainsaw and a vision for greater things on the acreage you hunt are really all that are necessary for a successful hinge cutting project.

A chainsaw and a vision for greater things on the acreage you hunt are really all that are necessary for a successful hinge cutting project.

Before cutting any trees, I make a plan first. I study the area I am going to cut from all angles, studying what trees are going to be more obtainable than others. Then I decide which trees I will cut. Dead trees go first followed by less desirable species. While some may cut fruit or nut bearing trees, I will not. I only cut trees that do not provide any food for the species which inhabit my land. I urge you to do your homework, study your forest, and always wear the proper safety equipment. Whenever I step in the woods with the intent on releasing a tree, I am wearing cut resistant pants, chaps, boots, gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a safety helmet with eye and ear protection, all my equipment is SAF approved. (Society of American Foresters).

Creating cover is one of the keys to holding deer on the property you hunt.

Creating cover is one of the keys to holding deer on the property you hunt.

I do not own a lot of land. One parcel is 25 acres, the other is 15. Both pieces of land are middle-aged forests consisting of Pine, Oak, Maple, Locust, Beech, Ash, and Birch. With the understanding that my main goal is to improve the health of my forest, my second goal is to improve my odds while hunting. Two years ago I was seeing plenty of deer, yet they were not following my script, and the normal wind direction didn’t allow me stand placement where I needed it. One Sunday I did some heavier investigating and found that I had a 1 acre piece that was a natural funnel full of smaller oaks, a few larger birch, and some large maple. I let archery season finish out, and then made my plan. I would cut 24 non-desirable species, and leave all the oaks. I did this a week before Christmas. After I finished the final cut I took a few pictures and wouldn’t return until the day after Christmas.

Food plots tend to get all the glory when it comes to whitetail management.

Food plots tend to get all the glory when it comes to whitetail management, but don’t overlook the need for whitetail cover when assessing the overall plan to hold more deer.

It snowed heavily on Christmas eve and Christmas day. As I approached my new cut the day after Christmas I was greeted by a dozen fleeing tails. When I reached the spot where I had hinge cut the trees, it was easy to see that it had worked. The small cut was littered with beds, tracks, and deer. The trail leading in had also done what I needed it to do. They were now passing within 30 yards of my stand. I hunted that small cut 5 times that season, seeing between 10 and 15 deer every time I sat. In the spring before the snow was completely gone I went back in to check things out. The tree’s canopies had been heavily browsed, deer were bedding under the trees for cover, as well as traveling back and forth on the trail where I needed them to be. I improved the health of my forest, and I changed the pattern the deer used. Two years later my oaks are larger, the ground vegetation is growing very well creating an edge thicket, and the deer are still traveling that trail. And just this spring I found turkey eggs while in that immediate area.

Again, the benefits of hinge cutting can pay off big when it comes to enhancing your hunting grounds. But the benefits aren’t all necessarily hunting related. This method of felling trees pays many dividends beyond wildlife management.

The author successfully uses hinge cutting to put big bucks within bow range on the properties he hunts.

The author successfully uses hinge cutting to put big bucks within bow range on the properties he hunts.

Hinge cutting pays many dividends for the health of your forest. While I am not a professional forester, I do have the education to know what and how to cut safely and effectively, as well as where and why. If you own a piece of land and think this may help your property, consult a forester in your area or a friend with a background or education in forestry practices. This can be paramount not only to your success but to your safety as well.

Despite what many think, enhancing your property for the health of your deer herd and forest can be relatively inexpensive. With a little sweat equity you can be on your way to putting deer right where you want them when you put hinge cutting to work on your property.

Comments

  1. Lady Liberty says:

    VERY cool topic! My husband was already planning to pick a spot or two to do this…

    Reply
  2. Michael says:

    Very interested in finding an area on my land to do this, but I was hoping I could have a few tips or anything on my land first of all. Just to make sure I did everything properly before cutting anything.

    Reply

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