By Mark Kenyon
I’ve got calloused hands, a sore back and tired arms. Why? Because I spent the better part of this past Saturday with a chainsaw working on improving my main hunting property. My goal, as it is for most other folks, is to optimize my hunting property to improve the likelihood of it to hold mature bucks, and to improve my chances of eventually killing one of them. With that goal in mind, the most important two factors to consider on any property are food and cover. Over the past couple years I’ve been hard at work on improving the food available on this piece of ground by planting several food plots. But this year I decided that it was time to devote a little more time to the second part of the equation, cover.
With that in mind, I grabbed the chainsaw Saturday morning and trekked back to the main block of timber/swamp on my main hunting property with the goal of thickening up one of two main bedding areas that I’ve identified in this swamp.
My goal was to take what is currently a small doe bedding area on the edge of this swamp, and expand it into a much larger and thicker bedding area that will be used by both does and bucks. Additionally, by improving this bedding area and another one later, I’m hoping to encourage more buck movement between the two bedding areas during the rut.
So, like I was saying, I grabbed my chainsaw and headed to the woods. My plan was to “hinge cut” about a 3-4 acre area to improve the aforementioned bedding area that already existed. What is hinge cutting you ask?
“Hinge cutting” is the act of partially cutting a tree, and then pulling the tree top down to the ground, while keeping the trunk intact. This allows the tree top to be at deer level, while not actually killing the tree. A hinge cut tree brings the food from the tree top and leaves to the ground for deer to use as feed, and it also provides substantial cover. Additionally, since the tree does not die, the tree will continue to produce new growth and new shoots often grow up from the partially cut stump as well. On top of all that, by removing tree tops, you’re also opening up the canopy to allow more sunlight to reach the ground, which encourages more growth from the understory. So with one small chain saw cut, and a little bit of elbow grease you’re able to improve both food and cover pretty substantially!
That said, lets talk details. Hinge cutting typically works best on trees of 3-9 inch diameter. So Saturday I pretty much hinge cut every tree I found that fit within that sprectrum of size. Once I found a tree of the proper size, I would analyze the natural lean of the tree and determine how I wanted the tree to fall. Almost always, I would try to fall the tree in the way it was naturally leaning. Once I had this figured out I would begin a 45 degree downward cut into the side of the tree opposite of where I wanted it to fall (Editors note: I later found out that making the cut perpendicular to the tree is a better option). I would make this cut about 60-70% of the way through the tree and then begin the bit more laborious process of pushing and pulling the tree down. As mentioned above, the goal is to bring the tree top down without completely breaking the trunk in half. So it takes a good bit of pushing, rocking, and pulling to finally bring a substantial tree down to the ground with it’s trunk only cut 60% through. That said, after getting a few trees down you sort of develop a rhythm and things get a little easier.
Before I knew it, four hours had passed and what once was a small doe bedding area looked like it had the potential to become a dense, tangled mess of a bedding area that would hold plenty of does and hopefully a mature buck. Mission accomplished.
Hinge cutting isn’t too difficult, and really anyone with a chain saw and the will to work can use this strategy to immediately improve bedding cover and food availability on a property. That said, let me lay out a few words of caution. First off, when it comes to hinge cutting an area, I’d typically recommend cutting as many trees as possible. For bedding areas, the thicker the better. But, be careful to look out for mast producing trees like oaks. These are typically best left alone, so that they can provide acrorns or whatever mast they produce in the future. Secondly, when hinge cutting, the main tool used is a chainsaw and that is an inherently dangerous tool. When you’re out there cutting, be sure to follow all proper chainsaw protocol. Also do your best to use proper protection such as eyewear and chain saw chaps. Most importantly, take your time, stay focused and be careful.
As long as it’s done safely, hinge cutting can be a very efficient and effective means of improving a hunting property. By improving the bedding areas on my piece of ground, I will be more likely to hold mature bucks and I’ll have an easier time identifying where a mature buck may be spending his time during the hunting season. In my opinion, thats a no-brainer, win win.
So if you’re interested in holding and hunting more mature bucks on your property, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Fire up the chainsaw and hit the woods! (But be sure to have some Tylenol on hand for the stiff back the next day!)