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6 Steps To Understanding Hinge Cutting

Hinge cutting can do a lot for your deer property. Click through for the details.


When it comes to providing the deer on your property with food and nutrition in the late winter and early spring, there is arguably no more efficient practice than hinge cutting.

Extremely long and cold winters like the one we have just gotten through typically push everything backward, which means that spring is probably going to come into full bloom later this year than it has for awhile. That means that the deer on your property will have to wait longer to take advantage of food plots and spring growth, and will have to subsist for longer on fat reserves and woody browse.

RELATED: How Whitetails Handle the Winter

Unfortunately, since winter arrived in most places in mid-November – and has stuck around ever since – many deer may be at the end of their ropes as far as both fat and food are concerned. If spring still seems like it’s a few weeks off in your area, it’s time to get out and do some hinge cutting.

If you’ve never done that before, click through the slideshow to learn a bit more.

1. You’ll be using a chainsaw

Photo via wikimedia

While you could feasibly do a hinge cutting job with a handsaw, it would take you an extremely long time and would yield minimal results and maximum frustration.

No, if you are going to hinge cut your property, you need a reliable chainsaw, as well as the knowledge and gear that it takes to use the tool safely. That means a helmet, eye and face protection, earplugs, gloves, and thick, durable clothing across the board. Safety really does come first when it comes to hinge cutting, so make sure you know what you are doing before you fire up the chainsaw and head out to your property.

2. The goal is to improve habitat

Photo via

When you head out to hinge cut, you’re not simply chopping down every tree that you come in contact with. On the contrary, the goal of hinge cutting is to improve deer habitat by doing two things: first, you want to give the deer on your property access to more available woody browse; and second, you want to improve the cover of the deer habitat so that the herd on your property feels more safe and secure moving about in the daytime.

Since the end of a winter like the latest will generally result in all of the browse on the ground having been eaten away, the act of hinge cutting – or of cutting 60 to 70 percent of the way through a tree at a downward angle, and then bending it down to the ground – could be all it takes to save your property’s deer herd from starvation.

3. Not all trees are prime candidates for hinge cutting

Photo via Outreach Outdoors

Hunters are often alarmed when first hearing about the concept of cutting down trees to provide cover and food to deer. After all, doesn’t it figure that the act of chopping down parts of a forest sound like something that could only hinder deer cover opportunities?

However, the fact is that many taller trees provide little in the way of cover or food. Sure, oaks drop plentiful acorns, and pines provide cover low enough to be useful. But with many trees, the branches that would provide cover and food – in the form of woody browse – are high up and well out of reach. Hinge cutting these trees brings their nutritional and protective benefits down to ground level.

RELATED: How To Survive Winter’s Coldest Moments

But like the title of this slide says, not all trees should be hinge cut. Pines, oaks, and several other types of trees that provide decent cover or food when standing don’t really need to be cut. You also don’t want to go to the trouble of cutting down any obviously old or huge trees. In most cases, hinge cutting is most effective when you target younger trees with smaller diameters – generally between four and six inches in diameter.

4. Hinge cut trees aren’t dead

Photo via QDMA

The big benefit of hinge cutting trees – and why the act has become such a favored technique in the deer habitat management world – is that it leaves the tree alive while still bringing food and cover down to accessible levels.

Since you aren’t cutting clean through the trunk, a hinge cut tree will be able to continue producing leaves, buds, and nutrients for deer to take advantage of. In fact, most experts indicate that hinge cut trees can live as long as they would have otherwise, meaning that each tree you cut could be a source of leafy cover and woody browse nutrition for years to come.

Better yet, hinge cutting trees allows you to open up the forest canopy a bit, which allows more sunlight to reach the ground, in turn paving the way for new growth, new cover, and new food resources. In other words, hinge cutting is the ultimate win-win process.

5. Hinge cutting can help curb tree overcrowding

Photo via Outreach Outdoors

We mentioned a few slides ago that oak trees – thanks to the deer affinity for acorns – are not often prime targets for hinge cutting. There is an exception to this rule, and it’s overcrowding.

If there is a sizable stand of oak trees on your property, there’s a good chance that the smaller ones aren’t getting much sunlight and aren’t producing many acorns. These trees are worth hinge cutting, as doing so will give the bigger and healthier trees more room to grow and produce more acorns while bringing the more modest food producers to the ground so that they can better serve deer herds.

6. Have fun, but be conscious of where you are cutting

Photo via Whitetail Ambush Secrets

Hinge cutting is one of the most enjoyable spring deer property improvement tasks. There’s a certain level of creativity to choosing which trees to cut and where to create cover and food accessibility, and as long as you’re being safe about it, there’s no reason that you can’t have a ton of fun strategizing how you’ll use these new features in your fall hunts.

However, make sure you’re not hinge cutting too close to known bedding areas, especially if you think you might be dealing with a near-starvation issue. The last thing you want is to spook the deer on your property while trying to help them, and you can be that they’ll be spooked by a loud chainsaw, so try to choose your locations carefully.

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6 Steps To Understanding Hinge Cutting