dbltree's hing cutting thread

Lost Arrow

Note: I do not take credit for any of this information. Dbltree is the creator of these threads and I am simply putting them here to preserve them and share his knowledge. All information in these threads comes from Dbltree and Outreach Outdoors (http://www.outreachoutdoors.com/). All of this information comes from Dbltree's hinge cutting thread at Outreach Outdoors. I have not made any changes to the information other than putting it in order into one thread.

The term "hinge cut" refers to cutting partially through a small tree so that it can be tipped over but yet remain alive. Doing so can create hiding places where deer will bed, feeding places via browse from the downed tree top and shoots sent up from the stump. These downed trees also can be strategically cut to funnel deer past a stand.

This is an example of a hinge cut tree

Smaller trees generally are most conducive to hinging and some tree species more then others but attempting to hinge larger trees can be dangerous and it usually best to just tip them over leaving a 2-3 foot stump. Threes should be cut at this height to keep the tree off the ground to provide cover for bedded deer and other wildlife.

I would caution landowners to first contact your local forester, put together a Forest Stewardship program, and initiate a Timber Stand Improvement program first. Once crop trees are identified and marked (these will generally be white and red oak species) then cull trees can be girdled or tipped over via hinging without worry of killing valuable trees.

Look over various cost share options that can actually pay for "hinging"

Iowa only....REAP Practices must be approved by IDNR Forester and paid once inspected by the IDNR Forester and bill submitted.

TSI - Timber Stand Improvement 5 acre minimum - allowed $160 an acre X 75% =$120

Tree Planting - 3 acre minimum $600 allowed per acre X 75% = $450

Tree Planting/Weed Tree Removal - $160/$600 x 75% (weed tree removal may be less acres then total planted)

Federal Programs...these two have identical practices but EQIP practices allowed are different by county/state while WHIP is nationwide.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP)

Check by State

The following is just a brief list of a few of the options available...check this link for the complete list and the payment rates.

2011 Iowa EQIP Practices and Payments

314 Brush Management (weed tree removal)

647 Early Successional Habitat Development/Management (Timber Edge Feathering)

490 Forest Site Preparation

666 Forest Stand Improvement (TSI or Weed Tree removal)

422 Hedgerow Planting

338 Prescribed Burning

391 Riparian Forest Buffer

612 Tree and Shrub Establishment

380 Windbreak or Shelterbelt Establishment

In all cases either the forester or NRCS Tech will need to inspect the finished practice before the operator/landowner can be paid. Usually a simple bill will suffice (10 acres TSI X $160 for example) but in some cases they will want an itemized (seedlings, herbicides, fuel, labor etc) that add up to the total cost share.

The federal programs are not cost share, just a payment per acre so slightly different then the state programs.

Talk with NRCS and your local forester/private land biologist for more details but even they get confused, so look over the links and be informed yourself!
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Creating safe secure bedding for whitetails involves hinging a large area of trees (if possible) where deer and more importantly, mature whitetail bucks will bed safety and solitude. This does not involve creating one bed but I whole area where "bigger is better" is applicable.

Hinging trees often leaves an area looking like a tornado went through it and depending on the soil type will eventually grow back thick and wild. Some soils will take longer to respond with new growth in which case adding some fertilizer and pel lime can help encourage browse and cover.

Birds tend to roost in brushy downed tops and in turn drop seeds that sprout new blackberries and grapevines to add to the tanglement and help diversify wildlife cover in general.

These are hickory hinge cuttings on a ridge where re-growth has been slow

Deer immediately responded to the cover the tops provided and began to bed in it within days after cutting

The area was full of tracks as deer fed on the downed tops

Note that deer prefer to be on a ridge or slope where they can lay behind the hinge trees and see danger from below and escape over the ridge

They also love south facing slopes with conifers as a backdrop and hinging trees around those areas is also helpful

So use care to not damage young conifers or even plant them in the tree tops for additional thermal cover and screening

Most timber tends to look open or park like which tends to be pleasing to the eye of the landowner but it is the opposite to whitetails seeking safe secure bedding.

Using care to leave good mast producing trees one can dramatically increase cover by hinging and girdling trees to allow sunlight to the forest floor.

Larger trees often break off rather then hinge but they must be tipped over to open up the canopy and by cutting them high on the stump, create more cover.

Observing the natural bedding habits of deer is a great way to learn what they like and how to improve your habitat. Late winter is a great time to go for a walk and notice natural beds and then get down on their level to see why they chose that spot.

These natural fallen tops provide some clues

Deer lay behind them and are able to see approaching danger yet use them as cover should the need to flee arise

Every landowner may have different species to work with, but for me it is often shagbark hickories that have little to offer for whitetail habitat

Tipping them over helps create bedding and browse and allows shade intolerant oak seedlings to emerge

Many landowners spend an inordinate amount of time on foodplots while ignoring the fact that whitetails are browsers and must have natural browse available at all times. Hinging is a a great way to provide browse and bedding at the same time.

Browse comes in two forms...first from the hinged tree itself and secondly from the new shoots and forage that springs up once sunlight is allowed in. Blackberries are a preferred source of browse and they almost immediately spring up when sunlight reaches the soil.

These are pictures of hinge cuttings that are 4 years old and have grown up to blackberries and other new growth in a low area

In summer months, those areas look like this!

Note the shoots sprouting from these stumps while the tree itself also remains alive

Thick cover and browse summer

and winter

The tender sprouts that shoot up from cut stumps provide a source of food and thick cover

Some species such as this honey locust tend to die when hinged but the thorny mass does provide cover

Others such as this shingle oak are more inclined to remain alive and though not a valuable food source do provide dense bedding cover, as the leaves tend to remain on all winter.

The following is a list of deer browse in order of importance or preference from this link:

Winter Deer Foods

Preferred or Best Liked

Cedar, white or arborvitae Yew Apple
Sassafras Mountain maple Maples*
Wintergreen Witch hobble Flowering dogwood
Alternate leaved dogwood Basswood Staghorn sumac

Second Choice

Elderberry Red berried elder Mountain ash
Highbush cranberry Highbush blueberry Willow*
Silky dogwood Red osier dogwood Honeysuckle
Nannyberry Cucumber tree Hemlock
Wild raisin Arbutus

Readily Eaten

White ash Sugar maple Oaks*
Black birch Yellow birch Hickory
American chestnut Black cherry Witch hazel
Spicebush Choke cherry Elm
Black walnut Shadbush, Winterberry Lowbush blueberry
Butternut Black ash Hazelnut
Wild grape Bush honeysuckle Leatherwood

Starvation or Poor Food

Scotch pine** Pitch pine** White pine**
Red pine** Beech Aspen or poplar
Mountain laurel** Rhododendron** Gray birch
Paper birch Musclewood (Blue beech) Ironwood (Hop hornbeam)
Spruces Alder Black locust
Grey-stemmed dogwood Red cedar Balsam**
Raspberry and blackberry Sweet fern Pin cherry
Sheep laurel Tamarack Gooseberry (current)*
Buckthorn Hawthorn

*There is considerable difference in palatability and preference of the different species of this genus.

**This species is often browsed heavily enough to appear to be second choice food in areas where winter food is inadequate.

More links to favored deer browse

MO Deer Browse

Cutting Browse for Deer Feeding

Openings allow all kinds of new lush thick growth to come up such as this elderberry bush

Plants like this are often referred to as soft mast

and creating openings creates a whole new world of cover and feed

Edge feathering is often used to provide screening, browse and funneling affects and is simply a matter of hinging or falling non-mast producing trees along a forest edge. This creates excellent small game cover as well and is a favored method of enhancing quail habitat.

Personally I use it to help block off multiple runways entering a field and to create screening at the same time.

I often fall the trees into the field and then swing them around to create a blocking effect and create a giant brush pile of cover and browse.

Edge feathering often brings up the subject of scrapes and I always leave a small tree with overhanging licking branch at the edge of any runways I do not block off. I do not hunt scrapes because I hunt mature animals that rarely use scrapes in daylight hours but these spots are excellent trail cam sites.

There is nothing more frustrating then seeing deer traveling multiple runways and tipping over trees along the edge is a great way to funnel them through a couple main field entrances.

Deer will also follow these thick edges feeding on the succulent browse

All of this also serves as a screen along the timbers edge to allow for daylight approach to a stand and provides a sense of security for bedded deer. These edges are generally to thick for bedding so no worries about deer bedding to close.


Bottlenecks and funnels are essential to consistently harvesting mature whitetails, especially with a bow. Most hunters seek out natural funnels for stand sites to increase the odds of success and landowners have the luxury of enhancing or creating bottlenecks using hinge cut trees.

As with bedding, observation is the key and this is usually accomplished while hunting key spots and observing natural travel not just by deer but mature bucks. Trail cams can help narrow down natural travel routes, which are often different for does and fawns and mature bucks.

Archers need to keep deer moving within 30 yards or less and sometimes that can be a difficult proposition during the rut when mature animals tend to cut "cross lots" in search of a hot doe.

Hinging trees parallel to natural runways and then crossways not unlike the vanes of a feather can help keep deer traveling by your stand.

Usually it amounts to making an impenetrable mess!

In the woods

or along the edge

but doing so will dramatically increase traffic down specific runways

The downed tops create a natural blocking or funneling effect

and while does may step into it to feed on the new browse traveling bucks will avoid wasting their time trying to get thru it

Extra runways can easily be blocked

and deer will quickly develop new travel habits

Often it does not take much to discourage deer from using a "short cut" and keeping them headed out a main runway

Funneling deer allows me to keep better tabs on mature deer using my property by using trail cams at strategic funnel sites.

Of all the habitat improvements a landowner can make, hinging cull trees is perhaps the single most effective improvement. It requires virtually no expense other then a chainsaw and some effort on a late winters day.

Late winter and early spring are usually the most effective time to work on hinging when sap is rising. If you have invasive trees such as locusts add some Tordon RTU to the stump to keep it from coming back. Others such as maples however usually provide browse and cover and should be left alive.

In areas that have few oak trees I hand plant them each spring into the downed tops. It is important NOT to hinge your entire property in one season, so it in portions so that one has different stages of new browse coming on over a period of years.

Eventually one can start over in the fist cutover area tipping the trees over once again.

As I mentioned in the beginning, always start by walking your property with your forester to learn to identify good mast trees. Cost share for TSI is usually available through a variety of programs and your NRCS office can be helpful in that area.

TSI is NOT hinge cutting, it is culling competitive trees around crop trees however in many cases the trees can be culled via hinging and two birds killed with one stone.

Get started on improving your whitetail bedding and browse just by firing up the chainsaw!
Angle of hinge cuts

I angle the cut to help tip the tree and encourage bark to "peel" allowing the tree to stay alive after being tipped over.

Larger trees are more likely to break off and can be dangerous because of the weight and size so often I cut them nearly thru and allow the wind to topple them.

Interplanting mast trees in hinge cuts

If the area you hinge cut is lacking in mast trees such as oaks and chestnuts, hand planting seedlings in the downed tops is a great way to get then started.

The tops help protect the seedlings from traveling bucks and foraging deer.

These are Swamp White Oaks planted last spring into hinge tree tops, marked with flags and sprayed with an Oust/Surflan mix.

You can see the flagged trees in the downed tanglement of hinged trees

Big Timber

Some landowners are going to encounter different challenges with large acreages of big timber that often looks like this:

You can see nearly a 1/4 mile through timber like this and with the exception of mast semi mature stands of timber are like a "desert" for wildlife offering almost nothing in the way of browse and beding cover.

As mentioned at the beginning of this thread every landowners should start with a walk with their forester to create a Forest Stewardship program and then Timber Stand Improvement to cull competing trees away from crop trees. Your forester and can help you mark crop trees so that none are killed because of misidentification and the best tress saved for mast production.

I urge you to read through the threads on doing TSI before starting hinge cutting: Timber Stand Improvement

Landowners will need to know what to do when they encounter stands of white oaks such as this one, which to kill and to leave.

You need to be able to identify white and red oaks and kill competing cull trees such as these shagbark hickories near several oaks.

Perhaps your stand is ready to be logged which can rocket your habitat forward by removing some crop trees and opening up canopy while leaving giant tops behind for cover.

In time logged areas will begin to re-grow due to sunlight and nutrients becoming available where once giant trees stood.

Soon the re-growth becomes a jungle of whitetail browse and bedding cover

Shade tolerant trees such as hickory, maple, ironwood and other such trees are of no use to whitetails unles they are utilized for browse and cover. It takes only a few "released" oaks per acre to provide a tremendous amount of high quality mast to hold whitetails and you forester can help recomend the proper rate for your land.

In my case 50 crop trees per acre was the maximum rate and in some areas is much less.

In the background here you can see a 250 year old Savanna White Oak that has low timber value due to it's sprawling low limbs but it produces a tremdous amount of mast and a parent tree to produce new oak seedlings

Hinge cutting low value shingle oak and hickory trees around it lowers competition, allows whitetails to feed and bed nearby in relative safety and new oak seedlings can survive among the downed trees.

Understanding Deer Beds

There is often "much to do" about creating beds for whitetails but one can learn a great deal about a whitetails habitats by simply going for a walk and observing their natural beds in late winter.

Looking over the terrain and getting down on their level helps one understand what and why they choose certain bedding spots. These areas may be slightly different in late winter then summer because sunlight on south facing slopes will be favored while cool shaded areas preferred on hot summer days.

Notice the wind blown tops in this stand of white pines as I stand at the bottom of a ridge

It's a sure bet I will find a lone bed against one of these tops

Note the downed top behind the bed

and the ability of the deer to see danger coming from a long ways off looking down the slope

I literally laid on the ground to get a view from a bedded deers point of view

This slope while semi open is filled with morning sun, welcome relief from bitter cold winter weather yet provides protection. The downed top is the backdrop that allows the deer to blend in and a means of quickly putting cover between him and danger within seconds of being approached.

Hinged trees need not always create a "jungle" because even a few scattered along a ridge will encourage deer to bed there.

When we create funnels or do edge feathering we are in essence 'blocking" deer movement or diverting runways from their previous helter skelter pathways to one or two main runs.

In small natural funnel areas blocking can be done in the interior of the wooded area but when dealing with large timbered areas, it's often more feasbable to use the edge feathering approach. In cases where the landowner is hunting the timbers edge then extrior blocking can help funnel deer and lower frustrating movement down little used pathways 50-60 yards away.

The term "edge feathering" came about as a means of improving quail habitat and then I just adapted that concept as a means of improving edge browse and then trail blocking.

These are some pictures looking out towards a field where I di edge feathering along the edge and more hinge cutting on the interior to create a blocking effect, improve browse, lower competition from low quality cull trees and re-establish oak seedlings through hand planting.

The whole area looks like a tornado when thru it!

and deer skirt the edge of this mess until they reach the main runway leading to the field

If you leave even the slighest small opening...they will use it, as I noticed here

I stuffed a few thorny locust branches into the hole and I have a few cull trees left to tip over such as this shingle oak
I stuffed a few thorny locust branches into the hole and I have a few cull trees left to tip over such as this shingle oak

This maple...

While using care not to kill trees such as the burr oak in the center here

This is an example of "interior blocking" to create a funnling affect in a natural travel corridor roughly a 80-100 yards wide.

Deer have several fence crossings along this stretch...

which meant that it was impossible to cover them all with one stand and deer could easily get down wind of me. I set up over the most used natural runway following a small ravine in natural cover.

and then hinged trees along that trail to encourage them to use it. I then "blocked" runways parallel with the fence to funnel deer towards the natural runway

This mess is not meant to be a bedding area but simply to create a blocking effect

In the first post I covered the value of the browse that hinging trees creates because many landowners get caught up in the "food plot" frenzy and completely overlook the fact that deer are browsers, creatures of the "edge"...the place where forest meets field.

They are also adaptable however and are quick to take advantage of other high quality food sources and while doing so are highly visable creating the illusion that they do not need or require browse. Deer however must have browse and the obersvant hunter will notice deer returning to the timber at daylight will almost always stop to feed on blackberry leaves or tender buds and twigs of small trees and brush.

Don't overlook the value of browse that hinging trees creates nor the need whitetails have for it.
Every hinged tree will send up new sprouts from the stump and new growth upwards from the downed trunk

Note the sprouts here:

and the growth from the body of the tree, all within easy reach of browsing deer

while at the same time being utilized to create small game habitat and trail blocking along a field edge

These areas are nearly 4 years old and thick with blackberry brambles and new growth

Compared to this open area I have yet to do

Hinge cutting is just another tool in our overall habitat program and only part of our Timber Stand Improvment projects. Stands of screening Native Warm Season Grass will help protect deer and enhance their safety and security and give mature bucks areas where they can bed in solitiude.

Releasing mast producing trees and planting early producing hybrid oaks will insure deer don't need to travel for natural feed. Planting a combination of crops that provide year around food sources will help round out your habitat program.

Consider planting fenced (protected) fruit trees for soft mast and small conifer plantings in your hinge cut areas depending on your habitat needs. Diversity is very important in holding whitetails on your property and improving it for wildlife of all kinds.

This thread is only one of many here on Outreach Outdoors so I urge you to lool through the others and ask questions that in turn will help others with the same concerns...
Imatreehugger wrote:
first contact your local forester, put together a Forest Stewardship program, and initiate a Timber Stand Improvement program first

Do you find it hard to find a forester that wants to listen to what you want to do...some seem set in there ways and have a different objective than the landowner. I think sometimes this makes it hard for beginners to know what to do. I know we are more confused after the forester left than when he came. Seems he had a hard time writing a program for us.

Of course...foresters have a chief goal and training to help you improve your timber for timber production, not whitetail habitat. This is why every landowner should should be knowledgeable enough to utilize important information gleaned from a forester to adapt to their own habitat improvement needs.

Utilize your forester to identify species or types of trees you don't want to mistakenly cut and let them know if you would prefer not to include elm or some such in that list. Determine if you have marketable timber and ask them to help you mark quality crop trees that need to be released.

Pick their brain to help you learn more about your timber but don't expect them to be enthused about "hinge cutting" cause it's not likely to impres them.

The TSI thread is meant to help landowners identify and protect crop trees and how releasing them will increase mast production and insure new oak seedlings survive. A forester is going to just give you person to person help with that same knowledge but then you have to factor in common sense and change the plan slightly after your forester leaves...
Did some more hinging Saturday...some big smooth bark hickory, locust, elms and shingel oaks

Note the little white oak now released yet protected by this downed tree top

What a mess!

Opened up and released some black and white oaks in different areas

The big savanna oaks will now yield more!

Sure funnels em right where I want them to go1

and they all get their pic taken to boot!

Helps to lift a lower strand in a low spot where i want them to travel

Over night they were in there eating on the downed tops!

What trees to hinge?

For most of us the trees we qould choose to hinge would be those with low timber and wildlife value. Each landowner may have different goals a tree that I consider a cull tree may not be for someone else. Most of us however would prefer not to inadvertently kill mast producing trees such as white and red oak species, chestnuts and high value timber trees such as black walnut.

The Timber Stand Improvement thread has pictures and information about a wide array of oak species and I find it easier to learn to identify oaks then ALL the other species. The following is a list of trees that i consider low in value and hinging them offers more to improve my habitat then leaving them alive or upright.

Ash Tree Idenity

Green ash

The Emerald Ash Borer is rapidly decimating ash trees across the country so killing them is something each landowner will have to decide for themselves.

White ash

American Elm

Elm trees rarely last long in my area so I usually hinge them to encourage mast trees

Slippery Elm


Box elder

Bitternut Hickory Hickories are the most common tree in my area to hinge, they are shade tolerant and somewhat invasive preventing oak seedlings from growing.

Mockernut Hickory

Shagbark Hickory

Shellbark Hickory


Ironwood is extremely invasive and shade tolerant and should be killed whenever you come across it.

It keeps it's leaves nearly all winter so it very noticiable in most timbered areas.