Hinge-cutting serves several purposes in regard to improving both whitetail habitat and your hunting experience. There are two main types of hinge cuts including a cut for screening and funnels and a cut for bedding. Hinge cuts for screening and funnels should be done somewhere between the knee and waist to block a deer's vision as well as block a travel path. Hinge cuts for bedding should be done around chest high so that there is room for a deer to bed underneath.
With both types of hinging, the goal is to keep the tree alive by cutting it just enough to fall over while still keeping part of the trunk attached. Certain types of trees will hinge better than others and the best time to hinge is while the sap is low in the tree, typically in the winter months before spring green up.
Another benefit of hinging, regardless of style, is that more browse is made available at "deer" level by bringing tender buds to the forest floor and also allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor which will stimulate growth out of the ever-present seed bed. With browse making up a substantial portion of any whitetail diet, the more the merrier.
I've always wanted to somehow "extend" my deer season into the off-season. Hinge-cutting has been one method of keeping me interested year-round. I find myself thinking about ways to create funnels, screens, and bedding areas while on stand during season and waiting for the season to get over to get to work on hinging!
We had a glaring problem with our 20 acre woodlot which was the fact that deer could essentially enter and leave the woods at any point around the entire perimeter. Without much consistency, it made patterning and hunting there more of a challenge than it already was. Hinge-cutting has made a profound affect on controlling deer movement. Instead of struggling to figure out where the deer would enter or leave the woods along a 500 yard edge, we have now limited it to three different areas. This is done by hinging along the edge to most of the trails and leave the trails open that we feel will create the best hunting opportunity.
Hinging along the edge of the woodlot also helps to screen the interior of the woods and any deer inside. Not only do the fallen trees help to break up your outline, but new growth from the sunlight that reaches the forest floor starts to come up including grasses, weeds, and suckers growing off of the still-living stumps of the hinged trees. Screening to stand locations is very important as what good is the perfect location if every deer in the area can see you walking there?
This style of hinge-cut also works perfectly in creating a pinch point or funnel for any woodlot stand setup. If you love a location, but just wish the deer would travel 30 yards closer to you, then drop a couple trees and push them that way. It is amazing how simple it is to do.
Bedding areas can be created quickly and effectively by using chest high hinge cuts. Deer love safe, secure cover. Many times, I've found beds that are canopied by one thing or another whether it be an outcropping or fallen tree. Hinged trees will provide the overhead cover desired accompanied with creating new browse and thickening the forest floor once sunlight is able to reach it. Areas as small as a 1/4 acre will work for this and the beauty of it is that you can control where you create them! You are able to start to create a line of movement from bedding areas to food sources.
While I have lots of work ahead of me, hinge-cutting will remain a huge part of my whitetail habitat improvement plan. Creating more bedding cover and additional browse will help keep more deer on my property throughout the year. It is only one portion of a larger habitat improvement program, but it is a key component that cannot be left out.