This time of year, many land management enthusiasts and hunters are biting at the bit to get back out and improve their property now that winter is winding down. There are a few important, yet rewarding tasks that should be on your radar this late winter/early spring. A good amount of these tasks requires some gas, safety gear, and a sharp saw blade.
One of these winter tasks that has drawn quite the attention from the land management industry in the past few years is hinge cutting. Hinge cutting is a process of cutting approximately 2/3 through a tree with a lateral cut, but the cambium layer must be kept intact in order for the xylem and phloem (water and sugar transport) to keep the tree alive. If a tree comes down to harsh, pinches the cambium layer, or only has a small amount of tree attached, survival for future years will be at a minimum. To help pull the trees gently in position we recommend having a tool to reach up higher on the tree to gently pull it down. Popular tree species to hinge cut are maple, ash, elm, white oak, and some less desirable tree species as well. Try to avoid soft wood trees (i.e. aspen, pine, birch) or dying trees as these tree types tend to snap and break which can be very dangerous. Before attempting any hinge cutting it is strongly advised to seek out a professional, take a chainsaw safety course, and wear proper safety equipment.
With winter comes brutal winds at times which can strip a deer of much needed heat and energy. Being that energy and heat are a big key to a deer’s survival in the winter it is ideal to create areas that deer can get out of the elements. If you look at your woods in the winter
and it looks like a park setting, it is time to provide some side cover. Not only will the side cover provide a sense of security for your herd, it will also help reduce the potential of those cold, gusty winds to impact their overall health. One popular way to provide this side cover is through the use of hinge cutting. Hinge cutting and select cuts are great for on top of ridges, along ridgelines, and along south facing hillsides. Typically bedding areas range from a few trees up to 1/8-1/4 acres in size. Minimal trees should be hinged or stump cut in an area as to avoid a “tornado” zone which can be impassable by deer herds. You should be able to walk freely through a hinge cut or select cut area without much bending or “sneaking” through downed trees. In addition, multiple escape routes should be provided to the deer as to escape potential predators.
Late Winter Browse
As the winter presses on, deer herds are consistently looking for adequate food sources that may be starting to dwindle depending the part of the state you are in. Deer being primarily browse feeders (concentrate selectors) prefer to forage on shrubs, bushes, and trees to gain much of their nutrients through the cold, harsh winter. One way to help them acquire this browse is to perform some timber stand improvement (TSI), or hinge cut select areas.
Removing or hinge cutting select trees during the late winter/early spring not only allows for future regenerative growth, but also will provide instant browse when the tops are left for the deer to eat on. This can be an emergency task if winters go on longer than expected and food is scarce. Furthermore, when a tree is hinge cut correctly it can provide temporary food for a few years as the tree continues to grow. Before performing any TSI or hinge cut work it is highly recommended to have a qualified forester review your wooded portions on your property and come up with a plan.
Travel Corridor Creation
If last deer season you couldn’t pinpoint how the deer entered a field, walked a ridge, or traveled through your woods it may be time to start hinge cutting or piling up brush from your winter wood cutting activities. Utilizing hinge cuts, tree tops, or brush piles to direct deer to certain areas can be very beneficial. This very concept allowed me to harvest a beautiful, mature eight point (pictured below) by cutting trees along a trail that was not ideal for my stand position. As the buck took this historic trail and hit my newly created obstacle, he turned an abrupt 90 degrees and headed up to my direction giving me a perfect 20-yard shot. Keep in mind that the trees, brush piles, or hinge cuts should be kept around waist high as to truly make a “fence”. As deer hit this newly created nature fence, they tend to use the path of least resistance. Putting a line of trees along a path that leads to your stand location can increase your success in the field greatly by now putting the odds of the deer walking past you in your favor. Another great tool is cleaning up fence lines and placing the spoils of your cut along the field edge to blockade certain entrances, and leaving only a few open areas for deer to readily access the field or area in which you are hunting over.
Chainsaws should be one of your main tools heading into this late winter/early spring as you prepare for the next year. Not only will you start benefiting your herd through land improvements, but you will also get some exercise while doing it. Your deer will thank you, and you will see an uptake in deer sticking on your land over the winter. However, you must keep in mind that using a chainsaw isn’t a something you should take lightly either. Make sure to invest in proper safety gear, take a chainsaw safety course, and contact a forester or another professional. Getting a plan in place is crucial to help set you up for success, and you must remember that once you cut it down you can’t put it back up.