Whitetails 365: Enrich Deer Habitat with Hinge Cutting

By Aaron McKinney

Practically every timber in Iowa could benefit from hinge cutting to create cover and browse for whitetail deer. Hinge cutting is when a tree is cut, about waist high, partially through. The tree then falls with the top of the tree resting on the ground, and the severed trunk suspends the tree horizontally off the ground. The trunk “hinges” downwards. Because the tree is only partially cut, it still stays semi green for a couple of years. It will also send up tender shoots, which creates a tender food source for deer. Hinge cutting one of the most underutilized ways to immediately create and improve deer habitat. We will look at a few benefits of hinge cutting trees.

Control Deer Movement
One of the benefits to hinge cutting is to manipulate deer movement. Deer often will skirt a treestand due to hunting pressure or detection of human presence. To prevent deer from detouring around your stand, you can use hinge cutting. For example, if you have a path that “Ys”, you want the deer to funnel past your location for a chance at a shot. However, experience tells us they will choose to circle the area around you. To prevent the detour, where the path “Ys” off into a different direction, hinge cut a tree so it obstructs the path. You want to make it difficult for the deer to choose the obstructed path. You can drop a tree or a couple across the path, so the deer will prefer to walk past your stand. We know deer are somewhat lazy in that they will not put a ton of effort to get through an obstacle when they can go around it. To create funnels and control how deer move through your property, use hinge cutting to block paths you don’t want the deer to access.

Create bedding
Arguably the biggest benefit to hinge cut tress is the bedding areas they create. If you have an old timber, like the ones we see in southern Iowa, there may not be a lot of scrub and brush areas for deer to safely hide. This is because the old timbers are filled with oaks and hardwoods and fewer conifers and understory trees. To add structure, decrease visibility, and add bedding, you can utilize hinge cutting. Now, you will have timber filled with oaks and other hardwoods, and instant bedding areas created. To hinge cut an area for bedding, you will select several trees in your designated area. You want to make the bedding in a convenient spot for you, take into account topography and hinge cut in some low laying valleys. I recommend choosing trees that are roughly eight inches in diameter. Just about any species of tree will work for hinge cutting However, I like leaving my hardwood trees alone and choosing lesser valued trees like cottonwoods. A lot of times favorite bedding areas of deer include thick cedar groves and brushy bottoms – habitat that takes several years to grow. When you hinge cut standing trees to create bedding areas, you get to select the location of the bedding. You can move and designate secluded areas of timber just for hiding for deer.

Screening
Screens are used when you want to block the view of deer. Hinge cutting can help block the view from field edges of your entrance and exit paths. This way, you can sneak into a blind or treestand without disturbing much wildlife. The problem is, there could be deer on the other side of the trees. You still want to enter and exit without them hearing and smelling you too. Screening gives wildlife a sense of security. They are well hidden from the rest of the world. It also helps relieve social stress on deer. Timid does can feel safe from boss does, small bucks aren’t being picked on by bully bucks, and big bucks can be left alone, as they often prefer.

On that note, I have observed bucks locked down with does and how they use hinge cutting to their advantage. They will try and drive the doe towards a hinge cut area to hide her from other bucks. Once in the hinge cut part of the timber, he guards her from curious approaching bucks. It can be hard to hunt a hinge cut area, but if you cut a designated zone and limit your accessible deer paths entering and exiting the area, you can set up on one of the paths to intercept that buck locked down with a doe.

Additionally, some properties are easy to see into from the road. It is frustrating when you put a lot of work into a place and some hunters will road hunt, reaping the rewards from your hard work. Hinge cutting can, again, be used to create a screen so humans cannot easily see in your hunting grounds.

Safety
Before you start your quest, you always need to use protective equipment. This includes chaps, safety glasses, and ear protection. Hinge cutting is dangerous enough, so do everything in your power to keep yourself safe. One down side to hinge cutting trees is it does take some experience to drop a tree exactly where you want it. If you are not skilled, you can create “widow makers”, where tree tops will get hung-up on another standing tree, and the area rapidly becomes unsafe. You can always consult a forester for techniques and tips for hinge cutting too. Hinge cutting can quickly create prime wildlife habitat; however, it is only worth the effort if you tackle the task safely.