Hinge-Cutting for Deer Browse

Sponsored by: Atsko Products

By: Wade Nolan Bowhunting Biologist

This week in the whitetail woods, we are getting proactive with a chainsaw. It probably comes as no surprise to you that whitetail habitat can be created and manipulated to benefit deer. Across the last two decades whitetail biologists have assembled new data on what constitutes quality whitetail range. Biologists, foresters and hunters alike now know that the “Edge Factor” plays a big role in providing deer with what they need to thrive.

Today most deer hunters do not own 200 or even 40 acres. Those family farms from a hundred years ago have been turning into sub-divisions faster than the current administration spends money. Today most hunters live in an urban setting and venture into suburbia or farm country to do their hunting. Many are buying small plots of 20-30 acres and dedicating it as their hunting property. One idea still resonates with small landowners….conservation.

We bowhunters are all conservationists. This implies that we believe in the wise use of the land and wildlife and we believe in management. Many hunting clubs and hunting leases are full aboard on these principles and improving habitat for deer is part of the puzzle.

One overlooked and economical strategy to improve whitetail habitat is creating browse to sustain deer through the winter. Browse is the woody stems and twigs of deciduous trees and shrubs. A whitetail deer requires browse during the winter to maintain health and metabolism adequate to hold his body temp at 104-degrees. During the summer, a deer relies on grasses, forbs and leaves as their base diet but may eat over a hundred different plant species and fungus varieties.

During the winter, a 125lb deer requires about 3000 calories of energy to maintain health. That may mean 5-6 pounds of high quality browse a day. To get that nutrition they are forced to rely on browse. Because a deer is a ruminant and uses a complex stomach and digestion process involving specific bacteria cultures it must eat similar types of food during the winter. In the fall deer load up on high nutrition foods including mast or acorns as well as agriculture surplus. At this time their stomach bacteria cultures are changing over so they can effectively digest browse. However, during the dead of winter they are fully relying on browse.

As a land manager, you can create more browse with nothing more than a chainsaw and some time. Deer can only reach to about the 5-foot level to access browse. When a tree is 6-7 years old most of the branches are above the level of a deer’s reach. That means a maturing forest becomes increasingly out of reach for hungry whitetails. Nevertheless, there is a solution.

A hinge cut is easy to make and will benefit whitetails for up to 5 years.

Bringing those trees full of browse back down to deer level with a hinge-cut (For video: Hinge Cut) is the answer. Making the hinge-cut is simple. With your chainsaw held at a steep angle cut down 2/3 of the way through the trunk at waist height. You can determine the drop zone by looking at the tree carefully and choosing the side it leans toward. Make your angle cut on the opposite side of the lean and step back. It will fall leaving a tongue of bark intact on the inside or bottom of the cut under the lean.

Smaller saplings also provide browse if they are hinge-cut. Note the tongue of bark left intact under the cut.

The tree will continue to grow if it is cut and leaned over as long as there is a tongue of bark left intact. The cambium layer holds those specialized cells that you learned about back in high school biology class. Xylem and phloem transport water and food from the roots to the branches and back down. As long as you leave a path for photosynthesis and water transport to be completed, the horizontal tree will still grow and put out new shoots.

These now prostrate branches of the fallen but living tree become buffet tables for browse hungry whitetails. Browse production actually amplifies when a tree is exposed to sunshine along its entire trunk rather just at the crown. More browse is created. I like to make my hinge-cuts in the late winter prior to the sap running. That’s late February and early March.

Don’t be bashful about creating big browse buffets. Cutting a 50-yard-by-50-yard conservation cut of these hinge-cut trees will create an opening so sunshine can reach the forest floor. I leave the mast bearing trees standing. Then big things happen as a trailing return. You are creating dense sanctuary and even quality fawn cover.

This tangle of low brush you are creating is sanctuary for whitetails. It will get twice as thick as shrubs and bushes begin to grow in response to sunshine hitting the forest floor. This is also valuable for fawn cover.

Another benefit of a concentrated hinge-cut is the seeds and seedlings that were waiting for sunshine to germinate or grow are liberated. Now you have some plant succession at work. Birds will deposit droppings containing seeds to the forest floor and bushes will begin to grow. Another pioneer plant that will likely show up is that nasty greenbrier. Greenbrier is good news as whitetails ignore the thorns and eat it like cotton candy all winter and it is nutritious.

A number of deciduous shrubs and bushes will invade the opening hinge -cutting creates. Greenbrier is a good example as well as honeysuckle.

The final benefit of a hinge-cut that has some size to it is that you are creating edge habitat. Edge habitat is the most valuable habitat to a whitetail. Deer are creatures of the edge and love dense thickets. So… crank up that chainsaw next weekend and make a difference in the whitetail range you hunt. Give something back. You just became a proactive conservationist.

I rely on whitetail science and research for my hunting strategies and Atsko scent suppression and sight suppression products rely on real science as well.

Next fall when you’re hunting those deer adjacent to the Hinge-cut sanctuary you created rely on Atsko’s four step system out outsmart their eyes and nose. www.atsko.com