Back in 1999 I purchased 120 acres of tag alder thickets, spruce and fir swamps, and sandy loam filled 15-year-old white, red, and jack pine regeneration. To say that this parcel was “thick” was an understatement. I have to smile when my southern MI habitat management brothers suggest that, “It can’t be too thick”! Trust me, I’ve seen cover so thick that anything much larger than a rabbit needed a machete and a wood-chipper to take a walk.
Throughout the next few years I quickly learned that deer quickly used ANY cover that was removed to make way for a stand access trail. Pocket-cuttings of conifer bedding islands and deer travel tunnels became the tools of choice to steer mature buck movement exactly where I needed it to be. In fact, all of the trails that accessed a treestand had to feature a dead-end at the stand, or deer would begin to use them immediately. During the last few years I found that using “gates” of horizontal pole-timber cuttings left at various heights made for great deterrents to unwanted deer traffic at the entrance of stand access trails.
Taking those concepts of thick brush and deer usage, it wasn’t too difficult to apply that to any area a whitetail roams. Deer LOVE to move through thick corridors of low brush and high timber stem counts per acre. For example, a young aspen thicket can contain 8000 shoots or more per acre and when you cut out a 2-3 foot trail from a bedding area on one side, to a food source on the other…guess where the deer travel? Travel corridor plantings through open fields and clear-cuts is a great discussion too…but we’ll save that one for the future. Layered Timber Cuttings, Chainsaw Corridors, and Deer Tunnels are some High Powered Creations that I often recommend to my clients and I’m looking forward to telling you how you can use them as well.
Layered Timber Cuttings
I recently had the opportunity to work with a very good forester who’s firm covers the region of IA, IL, and SW WI. I designed a property layout for an IL client and part of the design included the need to harvest a portion of the mature timber located on the parcel. The forester recommended a plan that included cutting approximately 20 acres of timber under a forest management plan that he was developing. That particular cutting included the bulk of the timber within the heart of the parcel and both the landowner and myself were reluctant to encourage a total harvest percentage of that high, at this time. The landowner was most comfortable with 7-8 acres of cuttings that we could use to be a little more strategic and the forester agreed to come up with an alternative plan. What we came up with together is something I like to refer to as “Layered Timber Cuttings”. The forester wanted to cut a block of timber…or something close to a block of cuttings but again the landowner’s goal was to develop his property for deer hunting and deer management so a large block was not appropriate in his situation. Right now as we speak the loggers are in the woods…and a forestry plan was developed in accordance with the State of Illinois that will now be used to move deer across the landowner’s parcel exactly where he needs them to be.
The area to be cut features a large bowl of topography with an outside rim approximately 1500’ in length. This outside rim contains a large professionally installed bedding area on the east end centered around a rocky point with a series of small benches, then travels to the west where a new waterhole has been installed for hunting opportunities, and then finally cuts to the southwest, ending at another professionally installed bedding area on a high, rocky point. With a 200’ cutting width the total acreage cut will be around 7 acres and the outside upper edge of the cutting will be used as a hard edge that separates mature timber above from the layered clear-cut below. The mature timber above will be maintained as “Old Growth Forest” to be used for hunter access and downwind blocking for stand locations for the foreseeable future.
During the cutting operation the loggers are leaving the undesirable timber species on the ground within the outside edge of the cutting to offer immediate horizontal surface structure, and then will be cutting a small 2-3’ deer trail through the debris to establish a highly defined deer corridor. The landowner is following up by planting hundreds of conifer species within that outer mess of cut timber to create permanent corridor exactly where he needs it to be. The process takes several steps, but in the end the new 1500’ layered cutting will offer an immediate impact in the definition of deer movements, while offering a highly defined corridor for many decades to come. Two subsequent cuttings will take place every 8-10 years, with the interior north edge of the most southern cutting, and the southern edge of the northern cutting…making a fairly straight line edge that meets up on the west side installed bedding area to further compliment the intended lines of movement. Also, that same interior cut line travels out the east edge of the woods and meets up with the start of a native grass travel corridor that heads south and east to large food plots being established within a distant pasture.
Thin and long is most appropriate in many habitat improvements, and timber cuttings are no exception, especially if you desire the deer to travel exactly where you need them to be for optimal hunting opportunity. There are additional reasons thin and long is a very good practice in the whitetail woods and the next practice really sheds some light on that thought.
Lets have some fun! With safety in mind, fire up the chainsaws and design your corridor with a 30-50’ cutting through low value timber and let it lay. I like to cut anything over 6 inches and what is the best direction to cut? Whatever way the tree will fall safely…
With a cutting like this you are attempting to connect “Point A”, with “Point B”. Those two points may be food sources, bedding areas, or any combination of the two, including natural or man-made. The outside of the cutting is for hunters…the inside for deer. Does that make sense? Like in the above example of the layered timber harvest, the exterior mature timber offers a great “deer-free” buffer for access and downwind blocking while on stand. A typically buffer may be around 100’ from a parcel border…always running parallel to your border to encourage deer to stay on your own property and not perpendicular so that deer are pushed off of your parcel. Also, the chainsaw corridor is impossible to see through…giving you an incredible separation between yourself and the deer. You can access a stand location virtually right on top of the corridor and a deer 40 yards in either direction has a very difficult time discovering your approach.
After your cutting has taken place, it’s not complete without a couple of enhancements. A 2-3’ deer trail notched out through the path of least resistance in the middle of the cutting gives you an exact trail the deer will follow, and the remaining trees of 6 inches or less can be used to hinge and tie to produce a tunneling effect over your new deer trail. The next step is the addition of conifer species for a permanently defined travel corridor within hardwood species, and by reducing canopy in and around your cuttings you can be assured of plenty of sunlight.
It’s a great idea to locate bedding areas on the inside edge of the corridor and then stand locations at least 40-50 yards away from those areas. You can narrow down exactly where you expect deer to be bedded while going into a stand for an afternoon sit and you can greatly reduce your chances of spooking deer. Also, mature bucks love to cruise on the downwind edge of bedding areas through an edge of habitat change…which puts them right at your feet within the 2-3’ deer trail that your created. Do you already have young cuttings, low canopy, and high timber stem counts per acre…possibly even heavy conifer cover? Well creating some tunnels might just be for you.
Using “Deer Tunnels” through heavy tag alder and conifer cover on my 120-acre parcel had some amazing results. It was incredible how the deer traveled exactly where I wanted them to, entering food plots and using bedding area travel routes in a highly defined manner. Most of the time it was only a matter of trimming a 2-3’ deer trail through heavy cover, from the level of my chest and down. The cuttings created a tunnel effect and a spring created tunnel would routinely feature rubbing activity within the first season.
It’s pretty easy for you to expand that practice to low brush, tag alder, and hardwood regeneration settings as well. For example, you can have a great time pulling down and tying small 10-12’ saplings towards each other to create a tunnel effect. Each tie then compliments the next and pretty soon a tunnel of 60 yards long and crossing exactly where you want it to within close proximity to a stand location becomes a highly defined travel corridor. You can also use your imagination! One of my personal favorite things to do is to “capture” deer movements from a bedding area or food source by taking several trails and connecting them down to 2, and then finally 1 that travels by your stand. On an inside field corner edge it’s a great idea to form an “X” just upwind of where your stand location is, with multiple legs of deer tunnels working to move deer at a precise location.
By continually maintaining your tunnels you can carry a lush growth of low vegetation across the entire length. Simply, tie down any new growth every couple of years while adding to the tunnel from the outside and the results can be outstanding. Add some well placed conifer or shrubs along the entire and you can offer a more long-term effect.
If your property is so thick that small animals have to use machetes and wood-chippers…you may want to give up and hunt elsewhere. However for the rest of you, consider the positive effect of giving the deer an easy way to move throughout your woodlots. I was simply amazed at how effective cutting corridors began to move deer freely throughout my 120 acre parcel, and I’ve seen that pattern of deer usage repeat itself across the entire Midwest, whether it’s within conifer, hardwoods, low brush, or natural timber regeneration. Don’t leave the deer movements up to chance, instead, pick up a chainsaw and a length of nylon cord and have some fun!