By Steve Bartylla
Hinge cutting is a method of dropping trees to maintain a connection with the root system.
About hip level, at a 45 degree downward angle cut, about 75 percent of the way through the trunk. On larger trees, take advantage of the tree’s natural incline for safety and to encourage it to fall in a way to better maintain root connectivity. On smaller trees, cut from any side and push it over.
The benefit of hinge cutting is trees will continue to live and grow. With the tops now at ground level, the new leafy growth and buds serve as browse and cover for deer.
The survival rate is further increased when the cutting is done before that year’s growth begins and the tree’s sugars are stored in the root system.
In addition to providing security cover, hinge cutting thins the upper canopy and opens the forest floor to new growth.
About half of tree species lack the flexibility to bend at the site of the hinge cut. Most aspen, poplar, birch and pines, among others will snap and sever the connection to the roots. Such trees still create a tangle of tops for cover.
Hinge cuts can provide four particular benefits for deer.
To create a man-made bedding area, cut every tree inside a 15-foot diameter area. The goal is to create a small tangle for the deer to use as back cover or mini sanctuary.
Whether creating buck or doe bedding areas, placement is important. You’ll rarely get a buck to bed on a bottom when he’s already using a ridge or knob. A northern exposure is a tough sell in winter when he’s used to bedding on a southern slope.
Hinging for bedding areas works best when it accentuates existing bedding locations.
Doe bedding areas are generally larger than buck bedrooms, as they must comfortably accommodate entire family groups. A typical doe bedroom should range in size from one half to a full acre.
For doe areas, some trees may be left standing. Those too big to cut safely and select mast producers or high timber-value trees can be left. Ideally, there should be no more than three or four standing trees per half acre.
Before and after does enter estrus, they often head for the thickest cover they can find to lose pursuing bucks. A 2- to 5-acre hinge cut area can serve this purpose, and provide bedding and browse. With such a big area, drop trees in a way to encourage trail systems, or cut trails after dropping trees.
Timber Stand Improvement (TSIs)
Cutting for stand improvement is usually done by professional loggers, since one of the goals is to increase timber value. Loggers will remove undesirable trees, thinning the standing timber for higher value specimens.
Few TSIs are aggressive enough to really thicken up an otherwise open woods. The goal is to make a pretty woodlot, a deer manager’s worst nightmare. When it comes to deer hunting, the uglier the better, generally speaking.
Using hinge cutting for TSI is a trade-off. The downside is the landowner often leaves timber value on the ground to provide extra cover for deer. The upside is the property’s long term timber value is still improved.
Remember, any cutting project over 5 acres involves a lot of work, and chain saws are dangerous tools. Always wear full safety gear, and consider hiring a professional for larger projects.