Hinge Cutting for Whitetails

Use the positive effects of hinge cutting to improve whitetail habitat on your property.

Hinge Cutting for Whitetails

In recent years, hinge cutting has gained wide popularity for creating outstanding whitetail habitat. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to impact the property you hunt immediately, as well as for seasons to come. Before diving in, cutting trees on property you don’t own, get the land owner’s permission. If you own the property, make sure you clearly outline your goals and determine how much you want to cut before getting carried away. This isn’t a project that needs to be completed all at once, and more isn’t always better. Take your time; ensure that you are making the property you hunt more desirable to deer. The following should help you develop a well-defined plan.

The Benefits of Hinge Cutting

Carefully placed hinged trees can be a game-changer for hunting and herd management. Deer see the world differently than humans do so approach your habitat creation from the perspective of a deer. Doing so will pay dividends for years to come in regard to both cover and food. Combining correctly placed trees in the correct terrain can create habitat for doe family bedding, buck bedding, fawning cover and steering trails to influence the direction of travel. By maximizing the forage and security cover on your property, deer will benefit significantly from your efforts.

Improving the cover on your property makes the ground you hunt more attractive to more deer for more time throughout the year. The added security cover that hinge cutting provides not only allows you to offer more bedding to more deer, but it also allows you to establish bedding in specific locations. Hinge cutting is also a great tool to provide more secluded bedding, which is especially critical for wary bucks. Bucks often want to avoid competition for bedding; the more secluded bedding areas your habitat offers, the more mature bucks your property will likely hold.

The additional forage hinge cutting provides deer is a huge benefit. Opening the canopy allows more sunlight to reach the forest floor. This results in new growth of diverse vegetation, making your property more attractive year around. When a tree is properly hinge cut, it remains alive and leafs out for multiple seasons. These buds offer deer more food, especially in the early spring and winter months when they need the added nutrition. 

The Gear

Sure, it’d be easy just to grab a saw and start cutting trees. There really couldn’t be a worse approach for this kind of work though. Anytime you’re dealing with a chainsaw, safety must be priority number one; no questions asked.

Here is a short list of minimum safety equipment you need to execute hinge cutting properly. This equipment can be found at your local farm or hardware store.

  • Hearing protection: It’s no secret chainsaws are loud; you want to protect yourself from potential long-term hearing loss.
  • Helmet with face shield or eye protection: Protection from limbs and falling trees is critical and a mesh face shield keeps sawdust and wood chips away from your eyes and face. 
  • Leather or mechanic gloves: Keep splinters out of your hands and fingers with a pair of durable gloves. They also protect you from rough bark and prevent blisters from forming. 
  • Chainsaw chaps: Arguably, chaps are the most critical protection item when using a chainsaw. Accidents happen in the woods and protecting your legs from any kickbacks, or misjudged cutting can literally be a lifesaver.
Hinge cutting is dangerous work. Always wear the proper safety gear.
Hinge cutting is dangerous work. Always wear the proper safety gear.

Once you’re safe, here are a few pieces of equipment to help you get the job done. This equipment can also be found at most farm or hardware stores, or ordered online.

  • Chainsaw: Choose one small enough that you can lift and carry for hours at a time, but with enough horsepower to handle a variety of tree sizes. 
  • Chainsaw fuel: Take more than you think you’ll need. This allows you to keep a good pace and rhythm without having to run back to town for more. 
  • Bar oil: Important to keep your saw running smooth and cool.
  • Habitat Hook: A product by Nations Creations, a Habitat Hook is one of the most versatile and useful tools for tree work. Great for pushing and pulling trees into the desired position.
  • Wedges: An assortment of size options are available and help with hinge cutting larger trees. Best used with a hefty hammer to drive the wedges in.
  • Rope: Small rope or a para-cord can be a huge help tying trees into position, creating travel funnels and positioned structure.
A Habitat Hook works well for pushing and pulling hinge cut trees.
A Habitat Hook works well for pushing and pulling hinge cut trees.

How to Make the Right Cut

Not just any tree is ideal for hinge cutting; know what kind of tree your cutting before you cut it. Trees such as hickory, elms and maples are excellent choices because of their pliable wood and the fact that they don’t hold much economic value that may negatively affect the value of your property if removed. Try not to cut too many valuable trees or trees that have brittle wood. Trees such as pin oak, red oak, poplars, and other similar species can splinter or break if you cut too deeply. If you want to cut these types of trees, try cutting no more than halfway through depending on the diameter of the tree. Then, use a wedge to expand the cut and a rope or habitat hook to place the tree in your desired location. Choosing a tree that’s diameter isn’t too big should be carefully considered. Cutting trees that are too large can be dangerous and difficult to control the direction they fall.

Make your cut parallel to the ground straight into the tree about waist high. Cut about 70 percent into the tree and stop; one of the most common mistakes people make while hinge cutting is cutting the tree at an angle, the issue with this cut is that the tree becomes prone to buckling and kicking back on the saw and person. This keeps the Cambrian layer well attached on the opposite side of your cut, leaving plenty of fibers that allow ample nutrition and moisture to flow, keeping the tree alive. When done correctly under the right conditions, hinge cut trees can survive for many seasons. This provides essential benefits with structural cover for deer as well as bringing an entire canopy of vegetation to the ground, offering deer additional forage.

Next, it’s preferred to use an extendable tree hook to push or pull the tree over to form roughly a 90-degree angle. An extendable habitat hook improves safety and can make you much more accurate when trying to drop a tree in a specific location.

Final Thoughts

Take your time, think, and use caution while performing hinge cutting operations. With a short list of safety gear and tree equipment, it’s incredible what a little time and sweat equity can do to the desirability of the property you hunt. The result of your hard work will provide a feeling of accomplishment, and hopefully reward you next fall and beyond.

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