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Natural Forage and Cover

88886 Views 331 Replies 57 Participants Last post by  Neal
Food plots are fun and helpful in attracting and holding whitetails but sometimes I get concerned that landowners put to much emphasis on them and not enough on the natural sources of food and cover that whitetails really rely on.

If you have timber or even brush...it can be improved and if you need trees and screens they can be planted and if you need cost share assistance it is usually available.

Managing our land for whitetails and wildlife in general covers a broad spectrum of things of which food sources from crops are only a small piece of the pie.

Right now is the perfect time to start inquiring about cost share assistance and I have a complete list of federal, state and private source of cost share programs that I would urge you to be aware of.

Conservation Cost Share Programs

Contact your NRCS office or private lands biologist and find out what programs are available because $$'s are tight these days and the supply is not unlimited.

Planting trees and shrubs is something I have been doing for nearly 50 years and I am passionate about this subject. At my age I will most likely never see the fruits of some of my labors but I do it anyway because I see the results of what others before me have accomplished.

The 80 year old white pines on my place are full of turkeys every night and when I hear the winds softly blowing through them I imagine the people who planted them years ago and silently thank them.

I concentrate mostly on mast production and especially on hybrid oaks and chestnuts in my hardwood plantings and many different varieties of soft mast producing shrubs that provide screens, travel corridors as well as food sources for wildlife large and small.

If you have an interest in planting trees next spring regardless if it is a 1/2 dozen or 10,000 seedlings take a look at my informational threads that will help you better decide which trees, the right herbicides and other planting information might be best for you.

Tree Planting

This thread is longer but covers everything including direct seeding of acorns and ideas to start your own seedlings from top producing trees in your area.

Tree Planting 101

Those threads include a list of some great nurseries and sources of all kinds of supplies and herbicides as well regardless if you plant by hand...

or with a tree planter...

I have hundreds of pictures that make it interesting and helpful as well.

Most likely you have timber, woodlots or forest on your property and managing it properly can be both profitable and help you attract and hold whitetails at the same time.

Begin by truly understanding what Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) means and learn to identify the trees on your property. Utilize your area forester and learn all you can before cranking up the chainsaw!

TSI is primarly releasing crop trees by killing cull trees close to them and doing so also allows oak seedlings to grow and replace shade tolerant less desirable species.

I put together these threads to help everyone understand how to better manage their own timber and get paid to do it!

Learn TSI

Understanding Timber Stand Improvent

Once you have learned to properly identify your trees then your in a position to decide where to create bedding areas or which trees to edgefeather.

Hinge cutting is a great way to create both cover and new browse at the same time and opening up small areas will increase both bedding and feeding areas.

All of these things make your property more attractive then the neighbors and you can see not only mine but others who have shared their successful work in my thread on edgefeathering.

Edge Feathering and Bedding Areas

A number of knowledgeable landowners share their own pictures and experiences in these threads to provide a great deal of information to landowners eager to learn how to improve thier property.

Ideas that share how to funnel deer, which trees produce the sweetest acorns the quickest, what shrubs provide the best screens the soonest and what timber is valuable and which is not are all in those threads.

Plant food plots but don't forget your greatest natural assets...your trees! :)
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It appears that some folks are confused about "edge feathering", what it does, what it looks like and how it can used for a number of positive things at once.

In some areas edge feathering is done to promote quail habitat and perhaps is done a little differently. If one has good quality marketable oak trees or a nice screening edge of conifers...EF is not something you would want to use in those cases.

When I edge feather, I do hinge cut and tip over virtually every tree along the edge of the field. I attempt to tip them parallel to the field but if they fall into the field, I use my tractor and loader and swing them around parallel.

When I'm done I go back and block any small openings with cut brush, old pallets, old rolls of woven wire or anything else I can scavenge. All of this grows up into an impenetrable screening jungle that deer cannot see thru nor walk thru.

Before EF, deer could see thru the standing trees and they came out into the field via a 1/2 dozen runways.

After EF they now use only one runway and if you back up a bit you can see the TC pics of just a few that now use it exclusively.

NONE of this is or ever will be bedding, it would be impossible for them to bed in the nasty "living fence" I create with EF.

Deer feed on the edge browse (have you forgotten that deer are creatures of the edge? ;) ) they follow the edge feeding on the new growth straight to the only runway...like a puppy on a string...:cool:

Edge feathering is not bedding unless of course one doesn't use some common sense and allows the trees to fall helter skelter. Our fields are all crop fields so of course we don't want trees laying out in the field.

Where ever I can I save small cedars or interplant them amongst the tops so that in time they will also add to the screening effect.

Tons more pictures in the EF/bedding thread on IW of course but hopefully this is starting to make sense. That thread covers all types of hinge cutting "adventures" and they are all intertwined to create screens, new browse, bedding areas and bottlenecks.

That means the pictures you see are from various parts of my farms, edges, deep on the timber, pinch points..etc.

Lot's that one can accomplish with a chainsaw and I can assure you...this ole boy doesn't have deer just walking out just anywhere....thanks to properly done edgefeathering...:cool:
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Has anyone ever hinged trees along some of their switch or grass stands (if anyone has any against a woodline) or even just dumped some large tree tops into it to help with some of the lacking overhead cover? Is this something that would benefit an area of switch if your goal was for them to bed in it, or has anyone done this with any results good or bad?

I do it all the time but generally they still prefer to bed in the tops/hinge cut trees inside the timber rather then in the tops that might be tipped over into the switch.

They do use that "edge" as a safe secure travel corridor where they can feed on the emerging browse while remaining hidden in the native grass edge. They always have a very prominent trail along the EF/switch combination but deer will almost always prefer to bed where they can see thru the tops looking down a ridge if they have that option.

My farms are very hilly so they do have that choice and with the exception of mature bucks, choose that bedding scenario almost exclusively.

They lay behind downed trees or tops that they can see thru or over looking down the ridge and use that as protective cover when approached.

EF along NWSG is a positive habitat improvment for most landowners but they may not use it for bedding, preferring instead to use it for travel and feeding....;)
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I know some folks think of Iowa as nothing but corn but this is the view out my living room window.

Lot’s of timber and lot’s of winter, often colder then most of southern Michigan

My neighbors are close friends and I let them walk through my place opening day of shotgun and in turn they let me bow hunt their farm for 4 months. They have a small group, harvest mostly does and often marvel at the escape tactics of cagey old bucks.
This time they commented that they counted 10 bucks slipping across from my place to theirs but wisely choosing a safe route well away from the standers.

My trail cams caught a few of them as they entered a bottlenecked runway…

Trigger time allows some to get thru but still caught a handful

Now all of this may seem like neither here nor there…except, folks like Dan Perez of Whitetail Properties and Lee and Tiffany Lakosky own most of the prime land near by so one might wonder why 10 bucks would hole up on my piece a nuthin’ farm?

Could be because of the years I have spent creating great bedding areas by hinge cutting cull trees and encouraging thick cover and natural browse.

It is much easier to hinge smaller trees but one can tip larger trees over if you’re careful. I would caution everyone to be careful because larger trees have a mind of their own and can snap backwards. Every so often someone gets killed working with a chainsaw and no deer is worth losing your life over.

These are recent hinge cuttings and in this case I will interplant oak seedlings among the downed tops that consist of mostly honey locusts and box elders.

When I can free up a young white oak such as this one it really encourages rapid growth and earlier mast production of the released oak.

In some places I inter plant red cedars because they offer great thermal cover and screening

Hinge cutting can be useful to landowners for more then just bedding; it creates openings that encourage new browse and thick cover. Hinged trees can be positioned to create bottlenecks and funnels and used to edge feather a field edge to both build a living fence and create a thick lush screen between the field and timber.

In a few short years you can greatly enhance your property and begin to hold more and older whitetails just by spending a few hours every now and then with your chainsaw. Just combine observation from hunting and scouting with some common sense thinking about natural deer movements and patterns.

In case you were wondering, the older bucks didn’t run across that field….they circle and sneak back behind the drivers and return a few hours later to the safety of a bedding area I created literally a stones throw from my back door….

If you can see clear through your timber…you have work to do…

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I took the muzzy out the other day and just sat in some of my hinge cuttings and snapped a couple pics from down closer to a deer's "point of view"...

You can see the vertical regrowth on this hinge cut tree while the tree itself remains alive, both offering browse that previously was unavailable.

You can see in the background the thick red cedars that offer thermal protection while the hinged and downed trees and resulting re-growth offer both food and bedding.

This pic shows a young white oak sapling that is now free to grow with most of the competition removed or culled. The parent tree in the background will yield more/better mast as well with less competing trees. In the far background you can also see an area that will be the focus of this winters TSI/Hinging efforts in what is now a fairly open area.

Severe winter weather is upon us now, snow is piling up, bitter winds howl with wind chills to minus 35 and the field and food plots already picked clean.

Still...the deer remain on my property in large part because of the readily available natural browse created by hinging cull trees and the ensuing safe bedding areas it creates.

Doe groups...

and mature bucks choose to stay here during the toughest time of the year...

It stands to reason that providing for their needs this time of year will keep them here year around as well.

Focusing solely on food plots and hunting season attractants is a mistake that many landowners make because attracting and holding mature whitetails is a year around venture that requires extensive natural habitat improvments.

Make an effort to utilize every square inch of your property to the fullest and diversify your habitat by enhancing native browse and cover. Consider planting NWSG in open areas and encouraging both soft and hard mast producing trees and shrubs.

Make their home like yours...a feeding area, a bedding area and a living area all of which make them feel safe, secure and well fed...:)
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Since most seasons are pretty well over and we'll be making some habitat enhancements via our chainsaws soon I'd like to keep this thread bumped up to encourage landowners to work on bottlenecks this winter.

This buck may not be a "monster" but he survived the seasons and hopefully will hang around. He's standing directly under my stand where I killed my buck this past fall...where deer after deer and a number of bucks have traveled through the bottleneck I created the winter before.

In previous pics I have shown the hinged trees creating the funnel and this pic shows three runways that are all in the natural portion of the travel corridor. The middle one is 20 yards and the farthest is barely 30.

The bulk of the hinging is behind my stand and previously deer traveled across an 80 yard stretch and many down wind to make matters worse. An hour or so with a chainsaw corrected all that now and they travel thru there on a daily basis.

If you work on your funnels share some pics and thoughts to help others learn how to create their own bottlenecks and keep those deer within an easy 20 yard shot....;)
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I put together a new thread on Outreach on the subject of hinging trees and all of the various uses doing so entails.

It's meant to help folks understand how to do it, why to do it and where to do it but no doubt I have missed some thoughts or left some questions unanswered.

Check it out (unless you have dial up in which case forget it...:eek: :D ) and then if you have comments on how I can make it better or more informative I would appreciate your thoughts.

Hinging trees for bedding, browse & bottlenecks

In other posts I have mentioned that I feel it's important to make big nasty thick bedding areas rather then attempt to make a single bed.

You will also see in the pics that not all trees are "hinged" due to their size they are simply tipped over because attempting to hinge them is too dangerous.

There are many thoughts on creating bottlenecks, personally I feel it unethical to build highwire fences as some promote but tipping over trees to encourage deer to travel past a stand is far different.

Deer can and will move thru the hinged trees to feed so they are not "forced" as with fencing, mature bucks however will take the easy route during the rut so some downed trees will encourage deer to avoid the mess.

Too many landowners put all of their emphasis on food plots, forgetting the importance of natural browse and hinging trees is a means of ecouraging all types of natural food sources.

Hinging trees encourages new sprouts and new ground growth of exactly the kind deer need.

Edge feathering is just another form of hinging trees that can both funnel deer, promote browse, screening and create some excellent quail habitat.

Check out the thread and let me know how I can make it more informative for those still learning about the attributes of "hinging"...:)
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Dbltree: You indicated that you often plant oaks in the hinged tops that you have cut. Do you find that you need to put them in tubes? I am just wondering whether the use of tubes would hinder an older buck from using the area to bed.
I'm going to post more pics on this subject in the morning, so re-check the thread over the next few days for a lot more information and pictures.

I usually use the downed tops to protect the hand planted oak seedlings so generlly do not use tubes however...mature bucks are completely unafraid of tree tubes and often tear mine to shreds in the fall.

I have to fence the tubes or they rip the tubes off and then shred the tree!!:SHOCKED:

They even chew on the plastic ties probably out of boredom or curiosity so no worries about "scaring" them...;)
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dbltree, The big problem is a lot of people just don't cut aggressive enough because they feel if it gets too thick a deer won't use it. Deer are no different than big rabbitts. I have noticed over 15 rubs in an area of about 50yd x 75yd bedding area that is a complete mess , i have noticed the bucks are extremely attracted to rubbing cherry tree regrowth from the stumps. I think planting fruit or oak trees is an excellant idea inside the hinge cut area where a majority of the tree tops fall. Sweet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I agree...I've jumped deer from places I swear a rabbit couldn't go!:SHOCKED:

Sitting in a tree stand overlooking a hinged "mess" will also reveal the kind of cover they love to "hide" in.

I added a slew of pics this morning covering hand planting of oaks, trail blocking, angle of saw cuts and a host of other thoughts an ideas so check back now and then...:)

Hinging trees for bedding, browse & bottlenecks

If anyone has pictures of your own hinging projects I would urge you to contribute so that others can learn more about this great habitat improvement tool...;)

If you don't know how to post please feel free to email me at [email protected]
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if I have rabbitts I have deer
This following I promise you will attract both...;)

We have threads on NWSG for bedding and threads on hinging for bedding but I feel some of the best bedding areas can be created by planting a mix of shrubs and conifers.

Keeping in mind that habitat should be diverse and it should never be an "all or nothing" scenario, so that means landowners should utilize a combination of NWSG in open field areas, hinging in woodlots and then convert some areas to lower, denser cover with a mix of 6-12' high shrubs and conifers.

By now, most of you know that I have a deep passion for wildlife habitat and have been aggressively planting anything and everything for more then 50 years now. That being said, I think I have planted nearly every imaginable invasive from multiflora rose to autumn olives to honeysuckle, all of it long before any of it was considered invasive.

At the time the USDA and State DNR all promoted them and I was eager to plant them, so while I share pictures of atumn olive hedge rows planted 15 years ago it does NOT mean I am promoting them nor any invasive.

I am however promoting the idea of brushy cover that whitetails love to bed in and then encourage you to choose from native plants to fill that need.

These are autumn olive that are part of a shelterbelt planting that provides protective screening from road poachers but also it is wide enough and thick enough that deer love to bed in it!

In my area I have found red cedars work the best as a conifer that provides thermal cover and dense protective screening

and the combination is unbeatable and deer will usually choose this type of cover over hinge cuts

Red cedars should be open enough to allow some grass to grow in between and almost all will have beds up against them

I would encourage landowners to look at all the native possibles in my thread on Tree Planting for shrubs that are non-invasive that would work on their own property

All about tree planting

and choose dense conifers such as spruce or cedar to mix with the shrubs

In my case deer have destroyed nearly 5000 norway spruce and white pines planted in the original planting (from rubbing) and I was forced to re-plant with red cedars. Not all landowners will be faced with that kind of problem however.

Shrubs are generally fast growing and can often provide cover within 3-4 years and conifers only a year or two behind them. Rows can be alternated or mixed and scattered or even hand planted in rough areas.
Odd areas of a farm where hillsides may not allow farming, old pastures or other unused areas are often great places to convert to shrub/conifer plantings.

Low areas can be planted to willows or dogwoods that provide both cover and browse.

Well thought out plantings can become travel corridors leading to feeding areas and perhaps surrounded as mine are by NWSG. Deer have well worn trails following my shrub plantings, screened on one side by shrubs while walking in the NWSG itself in complete safety.

While NWSG plantings are very attractive too mature whitetil bucks I find that deer in general prefer my shrub/conifer plantings.

If you have a favorite native shrub or pictures of your own plantings, please share to offer others ideas that may help them enhance their habitat as well...

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A fellow QDM'er has started a new business selling seedlings from cuttings along with some great supplies like the Rootmaker products and a really cool auger that one can use on a drill motor for planting seedlings.

Check it out!

Big Rock Trees

If you have questions it's nice to have someone who really understands both tree planting and whitetails to help you figure it out...:cool:
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Thanks for sharing the great pics! Not much cover under the big pines...I have some that are 80 years old now and the turkeys sure do love to roost in them!;)

I cut loose with a "chainsaw massacre" of my own Saturday! :D

I can post unlimited pics on OO so I'll add more to the thread there and add a few here from time to time.

Hinging for bedding, browse and bottlenecks

Great time to be to be out with a little snow on the ground to check travel patterns and movement and then "encourage" them in the right directions with some hinge cutting...:)
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This is a great time of year to just get out, do some walking and observe whitetail habitat, especially where they bed. I learn a lot while shed hunting and in my area beds are commonly found up against red cedars, probably more then any other type of tree.

Certainly other conifers can serve the same purpose but red cedars grow wild here in Iowa and so they happen to be plentiful and a natural source of cover and bedding.

Notice that these spots are semi-open with some grassy, light brushy cover but not a solid mass of cedars.

This is a wild stand that is too thick and could use some thinning.

The intent here is not to encourage you to focus on cedars themselves but whatever conifers that are adapatable to your area with cedars and spruces generally more suitable long term then pines.

One advantage red cedars have is that they don't turn into a towering 100 ft tree such as some pines and even norway spruce given enough time. In all cases keep the conifers open enough by thinning to encourage limb growth near the ground rather then a completely open understory as often happens in wild areas where they have grow to thick.

Plantings allows us some control and wild patchs of cedars can be thinned and improved to encourage whitetail bedding for years to come...:)
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One thing that really helps is using the hinge cuts to release any oaks and doing so will really encourage mast production.

hard to make out in this pic but I released a sizable black oak here:

I choose white oaks over the red species when I have to choose and red over black but work with what I have and hand plant oak seedlings where I have no oaks at all.

It's pretty hard to beat having safe, secure, thick and nasty bedding and browse and plentiful mast production all in one neat package!

From a whitetails standpoint...what's not to like?? ;) :p
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Do you leave a 20ft diameter around good oaks when select cutting?
The main thing is to cull away any competing canopy so some times it could easily be more the 20 ft.

When hinge cutting I usually tip over any trees that are not useful mast producing trees so in those cases the are could be huge.

Every landowner has different tree species and situations not to mention differing goals so one can vary your plan to suit your needs.

Understanding Timber Stand Improvment is a critical part of this and should be the first step before attempting a hinging project.

Click on either link below to reach my TSI threads to better understand proper TSI and help you answer your questions on that subject...:)
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Some of you may be wondering which trees to hinge and there is no one single answer for every landowner. I put together a list of trees and pictures to help identify them by bark and twig/buds to help people make choices without worrying about cutting good mast trees. (Check the TSI thread for oak pics)

Check the second page of this thread to see a long list of trees I consider cull trees and canidates for hinging.

Hinging for bedding, browse and bottlenecks

Bitternut hickory is one that I commonly hinge as I do all hickories

Maples are another such as this Silver Maple

Check out the pics and links before you get too carried away with the chainsaw...;)
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Is 6 ft away too close?
The most difficult part of doing Timber stand Improvment is having to deal with situations like this where multiple oaks are growing to close.

It always comes down to a judgment call but the key here is "competing canopy"...where the trees are nearly equal in height and the canopies are competing for sunlight.

Here is a shingle oak on the left and a red (black) oak on the right where such is the case...

Multiple trees growing here of course but all will be killed to release the black oak.

In this case it's easy, because shingle oaks have very low timber value and I prefer to release the black oak. When there are multiple white or red oaks growing together one needs to look careful to decide which one is the inferior tree and either girdle it or hinge it but cull the tree either way.

Usually you will find that once oaks are turely release, where canopies are actually opened up around the drip line, that mast production will begin to increase.

You might enjoy reading my thread on TSI to learn more about this subject:

Timber Stand Improvment

We observe and select acorns from prolific trees and plant acorns or seedlings in the hinged tops to perpetuate those genetics.

I nurture my bitternut

This is why I say each landowner must decide which trees they wish to kill or leave standing, the Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis) however has a very bitter fruit or "nut" that generally is considered inedible and unattractive to most wildlife....hence the name "bitternut".

Even squirrels rarely eat them because of their high tannin content, and extreme bitterness and astringency.

For those reasons I personally choose to kill them and in their place plant very sweet low tannin white oak varieties such as Dwarf Chinkapins for example.

I can only assume in your case that your tree is producing nuts that are sweeter then most because what you are seeing is somewhat unusal. It would be insane of course to kill a tree that is attracting whitetails so one does need to be observant to what is going on, on your own property...:)
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I agree with the theme of this thread--improve natural habitat. Along that line--I am having 3-4 small areas of poplar clear cut in a "checkerboard" pattern. They will be 1-3 acres each. Since it will take 2-4 years for the re-growth of poplar to establish cover, any ideas of seed that I can plant while waiting for the re-growth to take over.
The cutting will be done with the new Ruffed Grouse Society machine so there will be plenty of mulch.
I used to do some hunintg over in the Bruce Crossing/Paulding area where clear cuts were often done. Usually it didn't take long for the cut trees to erupt to life and make great grouse and whitetail habitat with nothing else being done.

Here in Iowa it's common to use something like German Millet broadcast onto the ground where sod grasses were killed with roundup and then a tree hinged into that spot.

Possibly something like that (millet) could be broadcast in bare spots in your situation but perhaps others can better comment on that...;)
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There are several train's of thought on creating individual beds for deer that include "tying" trees down to create over head cover, attempting to create "buck" and "doe" beds. The controversy often leads to arguments and name bashing which is completely counterproductive to helping others learn how to enhance their habitat.

That being said I base what I share on factual observations back up by pictures that allow landowners to see how deer react to various habitat enhancements such as hinge cutting. I find first of all that large, thick sanctuaries where deer are unmolested tend to hold the most deer and mature whitetail bucks seek out that type of environment.

I am able, very easily to create "overhead" cover without tying, just by hinging trees that often come to rest on adjacent trees such as this situation.

Suffice it to say that after years of hinging trees I have inadvertently created all types of "overhead' cover from 3-4' to 10-15' above the ground but thus far I have not found deer using those types of situations.

What I do find is that deer prefer a slight rise or a ridge where they can lay "behind" a hinge cut tree and see danger approach from below. When that hinged area either grows up to some light brush or has some already, the area will quickly
be covered with fresh beds.

The following pics are recent hinging projects, some only days old and while a little hard to see, all have beds located a few feet to 20 yards behind the hinged trees.

I have found no beds using overhead cover as of yet with the exception of live cedar trees or large shrubs where they often lay in front of or barely under an overhanging branch using the tree as a backdrop.

In the hinged areas though, they tend to be bedded out in the open preferring to peer under the hinged trees for some distance back.

Each landowner should be willing to try different things but the focus should be on creating large, thick, safe areas of cover versus attempting to create and individual bed.

Observe whitetails habits in your area, don't place all the chips on any one persons advice, take lots of great ideas, do some experimenting and then find out what really works and what doesn't....then share it with others to help them enhance their own whitetail habitat.... ;)
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I helped a friend hinge some trees last week...

Mostly bitternut, shagbark hickory, elm and ironwood

There were sporadic red, burr and white oaks through out the area so hinging will not only encourage new browse but give seedling oaks a chance to survive in the now open canopy.

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Planting oak seedlings in hinge cuts has generated a few questions so here's a couple pics...

Often the hinged trees create such a mess that traveling bucks are not likely to walk thru it "just for fun"...so the seedlings don't need to be planted directly under a top and can be slightly out in the open.

I rarely have problems with browsing of the seedlings but rather rubbing of the saplings by hormone charged bucks in the fall, so it is with that in mind that I plant seedlings.

You can just barely see the flags scattered thru out this hinge cut area

The hinge cutting creates plenty of new natural browse so deer are less likely to destroy new seedlings and if it is a problem in your area, tree tubes can be utilized to help protect them.

I planted swamp white oaks in this low area because they are not only well adapted but fast growing.

I have planted some directly in the downed tops but I have not "stumbled" around in the hinged mess to take pictures of them. In those cases it is possible one may need to use brush nippers and clip off any shading branches.

As of yet I have not needed too but different tree species react in different ways to being hinged...some may be brushier and hence more shading then others.

Marking the seedings with flags allows you to keep an eye on them and give them a helping hand if shading becomes a problem and allows for chemical weed control as needed...;)
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