timber management for whitetails



PDF files are available at the bottom of Dbltree's post showing the pictures he posted


Cover is the single most important habitat improvement we can make, yet most landowners completely overlook it. Whitetails don’t need food plots, they are merely a means of manipulating deer to make harvesting them easier. They do however need thick cover for bedding and browse, both of which are blatantly missing in most hardwood timber and many northern forests.

There are many methods of improving cover, specifically changing wide open timber into thick, dense, brushy cover that may hold 10 or more times as many deer. Hinging weed trees to release hardwood crop trees is an excellent way to quickly increase cover and browse.

These pictures are from John's farm in IL, where the timber is wide open and the understory needs be thicker. Sound timber management requires identifying valuable crop trees and then releasing them by reducing competition from low value weed trees. We can accomplish this by double girdle, harvest or where feasible, hinge cutting the tree to leave it alive but on the ground where it's canopy will not compete with the crop trees. Reducing canopy will result in a marked increase in hard mast, and rapid growth of the high quality hardwood tree.

Trees compete primarily for sunlight, reducing canopy not only helps the crop tree but encourages a plethora of growth at ground level so timber management is a win win for both whitetails and landowner.

Whitetails have social groups not unlike us, they need privacy from other groups and safe, secure cover to bed. They also need native browse, after all they are browsers not grazers like cattle, God created whitetails to be creatures of the edge where timber meets field. That transition area consists primarily of browse, from young saplings and shrubs to blackberries, it is all on a whitetails dinner menu. This is what we create throughout the timber using hinge cutting as a management tool.

This is the summer after and already new growth has exploded and a new bedroom has been created. Native browse is what whitetails rely on and to feed more deer we need to provide more of it.

Instead of wide open timber, you can’t see much of anything and the last thing deer want is to be seen, but most landowners know little about whitetails and even less about their habitat.

Edge feathering was first lauded by quail biologists but is also a great habitat improvement for whitetails. We use this tool as a form of timber management, hinge cutting weed trees along the edge and girdling trees too large to safely fall.

These are pictures from an edge feathering job Jesse did last winter and I sent my friend Walt through the brush for pictures. This is an example of a hinge cut tree very much alive though fallen.

The object of falling trees along the edge is to create a dense screen between timber and field. This gives deer a sense of safety and allows the hunter to approach stands, do field work without scaring everything into the next county.

Quail enthusiast’s spray glyphosate along the edge first to kill csg (cool season grass) which encourages a flush of native forbs, they in turn grow 3-4 high quickly screening the edge.

This rapid growth of forbs and shrubby growth provides whitetails with exactly the type of browse they require.

The downed trees also provide blocking along the edge which means trees can be used to guide deer to an opening by a stand. We use a tractor and loader and build a wall of trees and limbs, this turns into a living fence that funnels whitetails past a stand. This jungle of thorns is also a mecca for small game and upland birds, full of seeds and berries.

When you combine thick, impenetrable cover with centrally located food sources you end up with a whitetail oasis, much of it created with elbow grease and a chainsaw ;)

Many thanks to chickenlittle for rescuing Pauls pictures.
PDF of this thread with Dlbtree's Photobucket photos


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Great write-up.... I need to do more of that.

I've gotten so we don't even hunt near food plots anymore (don't like blowing up the deer). Some hinge cutting would help that!

Cover is the most lacking piece of the puzzle at my place
Up here in jack pine country we generally have abundant cover. Heavy wet snowfalls and the wind do my hinge cutting for me. No doubt that if I had a "park like" setting above I'd be firing up the chainsaw.
Point well made Paul. I know I am guilty of going all out on food plots until the last 3 years when I got going on clear cuts and hinge cutting thanks to people like you on these forums.
I have tried to do exactly what you are describing since I had my selective timber harvest to remove the large junk trees that dominated my canopy and left the crop and mast trees. I now work small manageable areas where I hinge trees to release young crop trees as well as try to create that feathered edge where possible. Just the sunlight reaching the ground causes an explosion of browse plants and saplings. Cover is by far the most important thing on my place I increased my available cover by implementing CRP where it made sense, but have since improved my timber and CRP (and continue to improve more areas every year) and each year our hunting continues to do well. Addressing the cover aspect on my place has had far more impact than any other, maybe all the other projects combined (plots, fruit trees, water holes, and small sanctuaries. If anyone is interested in pics of what I have done I have a thread on the dark side that shows some of the before and after (I know some of you frequent there and some despise it). Cover is not only overlooked, but it is often the least planned. I try to tell people to plan, plan, and then plan some more and then act. I didn't do that. I fell for the "plant a food plot and the deer will come running" message that was out there. I live in heavy farm country, but was to dumb to see the forest for the trees. The plots helped define movements as Paul states, but NOTHING had an impact on my place by increasing and improving the cover I have. I still have lots to do, but as we all know its a process. One word of advice is to learn how to identify the trees on your property. You need to learn how to do it without a leaf or have a way to mark the trees when they do have leaves. I either flag the trees that stay or I mark the trees that go with an "X" with a hand saw or chainsaw - and then get to work hinging and the like in the off-season after deer season closes.
Paul, Jesse's cuts look really good. regrowth is thick. thanks for the thread Paul.
We bought our property in 2006. Probably not the best piece of land you've ever seen but it was cheap. We were told over and over "you can't do anything with this property. I'm sorry we can't help you." Last year i saw the biggest deer of my life on our property. This year there is more buck sign than we've ever seen. Rubs and scrapes everywhere. This past Friday, the day before the first day of muzzleloader, we had a logger move in to start cutting timber. We marked a 5 acre piece and had a very hard time finding 30 mast trees to leave, and that included shag bark hickory. I can't say how excited i am to have a logger there to start cutting. It took years for me to convince my brother that until we create more cover, the property would remain a bad piece of hunting property. He's watched me do project after project being a skeptic but finally he's starting to see where we need to go. Build it and they will come!
Jbird it's easier to mark with spray paint

Jbird it's easier to mark with spray paint
We are required to mark with red paint, a circle around the crop tree trunk. We buy quantities of spray cans and use a pistol grip can holder to eliminate hand fatigue. Easy to mark and see from any direction ;)
I have used paint before as well. It's a matter of what I have at my disposal at the time. I have marked with ribbon, spray paint, even a saw. Sometimes I mark those to keep sometimes I mark those to go.

When we cut the timber we marked each tree to be harvested with spray paint - we went around the entire tree wit a line and numbered each tree twice (my requirement) - one number would be on the log harvested and the other would be on the stump left behind (obviously the same number) - we then cataloged each number and the type of tree it was. I then did a second walk thru with list in hand to make sure I didn't change my mind before the actual cutting started. I also could check (and did) at any point to see if they cut a tree they should not have! I didn't want to end up missing an oak or walnut here and there.
Looks nice!
I like your idea of laying the trees down all in one direction near the stand. It makes sense to give them pathways thru the trees past your stand. Nice job.
NH Mtns. - You have any chestnut oak up there? We have a fair amount of them here in Pa. and the deer seem to like the acorns pretty well. I read somewhere that they're between white oak and red oak in sweetness of their acorns. It seems to be a banner year for the chestnut oaks. I've seen tons of their acorns on the ground in areas I hunt / cut firewood. They grow well in rocky ground ( rocky ridges ) where most trees wouldn't make it. I don't recall you or Ma Vt Flatlander or Maya mentioning them in a post before. Didn't know if New England states had 'em as native trees.
I did an every third row thinning of about 60 acres of plantation red pine trees four years ago. I would guess the trees to be 30 years old more or less as they were not all planted at the same time. It was originally scheduled to be done several winters before this time. Unfortunately, that was the year that there was 100+ inches of snow over the winter. The job was postponed as access to the woods was impossible.

After the thinning, I have more sunlight getting to the understory of the pines. The result has been an explosion of elderberries, black cap, black berry, and some red raspberry bushes. I could once see through the understory of the pines from fire lane to fire lane. Now the new growth has turned it into a veritable jungle. The deer are using the pines as never before.

I am extremely pleased how this thinning has increased the cover on my land. I only wished I had done it sooner.
What a great thread, I couldn't agree more with what Dbltree says here!
I hinge cut a group of hickories along a field edge to give my pear trees more light. The job accomplished that goal but more than that created a ton of cover along that previously open edge. Now if only I had taken my phone along to get pictures...

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