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Cover is the most important part of attracting and holding deer on any given property. With it you will always have deer and without it you will have few resident deer. Many other variables such as human pressure, sanctuaries, food plots, etc, etc, will affect a property's deer holding ability, but none as much as cover.

Cover, and specifically thick deer level cover (ground level to 4-6 feet) provides predator avoidance and therefore a sense of security. Native browse provides food. It improves fawn survival and recruitment. If deer don't feel safe on your property they will go somewhere they do.

Cover creation for most of us in whitetail country starts with a chainsaw. In the midwest it might start with NWSG's, but here I will focus on turning forested ground into great deer habitat.

Here is a really good resource for researching chainsaws themselves:

Arboristsite Chainsaw Forum


Now some resource threads on hingeing trees, edge feathering, etc.

Hinging trees for bedding, browse, & bottlenecks

Shrubs and Conifers for bedding

Timber Stand Improvement

Edge Feathering and Bedding Areas

80 acre foodplot

Hinge Cutting- Safety and Control

Hinging

Funnel Making

Here is a great thread on the importance that cover and sanctuaries have in attracting and holding mature bucks.

The Key to Mature Bucks


There's a lot of talk about hinging because it is an excellent habitat managers tool. To hinge, you find a small to medium diameter tree, cut half way through it, and push or pull it over. The half you didn't cut acts as a hinge. Because the top of the tree is still connected to the root system, it will leaf out for one or possibly several years.

This brings the entire tree's canopy down to deer level, providing cover and browse.

Here are some pics of some trees I hinged in the winter of 2009.





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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Here is what some of these same areas looked like in the summer of 2009. Most of what I cut in this area were box elders which I am at war with. Box elders are a fast growing and aggressive tree that is worthless for timber and has no value to deer. A perfect candidate for hinge cutting.

You can see the aggressive stump sprouting and water sprouts.







You can see the advantage of opening the canopy....daylighting spurs new growth of browse and forbs. Providing food and cover for several years with a single afternoon's work.




Here I cut some shooting lanes to a stand.



 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I should state that hinging large trees is DANGEROUS. Trying to do that will cause "barber chairs" where the tree splits several feet up from the cut and springs back. Barber Chairs kill experienced cutters. My rule is that if I can't reach around it with both hands and have my thumbs and middle fingers touch each other I just notch it and cut it down.
 

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Fast forward to the winter of 10/11. The area I hinged before is growing together. The canopy closes fast. I've got a ton of box elders all the same age, and the understory is shaded out. From ground level I can see 60-80 yards through the woods at this time of year.

All these things are bad for holding deer in this area. Drastic change is needed.

Enter the clear cut.





This is about a 1/4 acre area where I cut everything. From ground level it is a nightmare to walk through. I think it is thick enough that deer will avoid it until some of the trunks rot down to ground level. Thankfully with box elder that will be soon.

Note that I left one large sycamore. This is only because of the huge widowmaker leaned up against it. If I cut the sycamore the widowmaker would come down on top of me. I plan to put a double chainsaw girdle on the living tree to kill it. It will then rot and fall down without me risking life and limb to cut it.

This clearcut is in a strip of timber about 100 yards wide and 700 yards long. I plan to cut this much ground each year. This will provide early successional cover for the next 10 years or so. At that time I will come back and hinge this first cut again to re-start the process. I think deer will start using this area again with all this cover.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Do It Yourself is not the only way to create cover.



Our neighbor was having some timber cut and continually commented on what a good job the logger was doing. While he had his equipment so close we hired him.

He is cutting mostly oak, hard maple, walnut, poplar, and ash because that is what he has a market for. He doesn't cut anything under 14", and he is leaving many mature oaks because we've got some inaccessible ground.



Fresh tracks in a fresh skid path tell me the deer aren't THAT disturbed by all the human activity.



I wasn't thrilled by the skid trail going through my Foundation Plot, but the cover created will improve the habitat for years to come. That's a pretty good tradeoff.



Where that trail leads.



That is a razorback ridge that feeds into my biggest plot. Up till now you could see 100+ yards into the woods. After the cutting it will be a thick mess.

The logger doesn't have a market for hackberry, soft maple, beech, hickory, and other less desireable trees. So after he is done I will go in and hinge the trash he left standing, making it even thicker. This will also provide more daylight to spur oak regeneration.

More pics of habitat creation. This is the head of what we call Pumpkin Hollow. It'll look a lot different this time next year.




He is felling some trees into the fields, but will push them back into the woodline before he's done. This will create excellent edge habitat.

 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Here is a cautionary tale. Our logger was cutting a tree to fall uphill so that he could access it by skidder easier. As he was almost done the wind switched and blew the tree downhill. It landed in another tree and up-ended. If he'd been in the way his story would have had a bad ending.

Be Careful when cutting trees!

 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Cutting trees isn't the only way to create cover. Planting desirable trees and shrubs is also important.

Last November I put in an order for 50 wild plum and 50 elderberry seedlings from the MDC.

Missouri Department of Conservation

They arrived in February so I had my Dad heel them in. That simply involved digging a shallow trench in the garden and laying the seedling bundles in the trench, covering the roots with dirt and straw, and watering. They'll live up to a few weeks like this before planting.



Planting day was nasty--cold and raining, but it was my only weekend to get home. The results should be worth it.

Here is a line of plums on the edge of a plot. They have since been protected with mesh tree tubes.



Here are a few pics of the clearcut I made earlier in the year. I planted in the cut tops in order to hide the seedlings from deer.







Here are some updated pics from last weekend. Both the plums and elderberry are leafing out. I put Ben Meadows rigid mesh tubes around the plums and elderberry shrubs last weekend as well. Both are preferred native browse species and young seedlings have a strong chance to be wiped out by deer.

Plum:



Elderberry:

 

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Almost a year has gone by, and cutting work from last year has filled in, and fresh work has started. The timber cutter moves at his own pace and is still working. This year I'm planting 100 plums, 125 mixed oaks to replace the old ones cut, and also 25 hazlenut bushes.

Here's a summer pic of the clearcut I made last year.

When it was freshly cut:



After it grew up:





I'll get more pics up as time allows.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Looks like I accidentally cut the links to those pics. Here they are:









Here is a good example of a hinge cut tree exploding with water and stump sprouts. It created a ton of cover where before there was very little.

 

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Looks good and will pay huge dividends shortly. My question would be...is there not a market for hardwood pulp in your area? I know it doesn't pay much but at least you could get a little money and it would save you all the work of dropping trees for a clearcut. I had some timber cut and it was mostly undesireable hardwood junk like sweet gum, ironwood, etc but at least the logging company did the work and I got paid something.
 

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Good question. That would work great in some cases, but in my case it's only 2-5 acres I'm interested in cutting, and the timber is box elder, box elder, and a few sycamores. I don't know of any pulp operation that would drive out to this remote location for only that amount of work.
 

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DB,
I didn't realize it was on that small a scale. Hard to tell from the pictures. We clearcut about 30 acres and had a hard time getting a logger to come so I know it would be impossible for anything less. Your place looks good and will only improve as the jungle grows up over the next year or two.
 

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How are the plums and eldeberry doing? I know you tried to hide them in the tops and put the mesh tubes on them, but was curious if this was enough to survive deer browsing?
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
PYB,

Some of the elderberry are doing ok and some are not. I planted a row of 10 on top of a hill to screen one side of my foodplot so that I could enter a stand without being seen. These were in partial shade. Unless some come back from the root only two of the ten are still alive. I don't think elderberry like our high temps and drought conditions in July-Sept. The shade probably didn't help either. Others planted with sun and in moister conditions are doing fine. They're supposed to do much better the second year.

Plums planted in mesh tubes in full sun on the edge of a plot outgrew the 4' tubes. Deer browsed any growth that came out the sides of the tubes. Plums planted in shadier conditions with no tubes and lots of weed competition are much smaller. We'll see in a couple years if they survive.

BTW, the tubes are great. They keep deer from browsing the seedlings, and it's a LOT easier to locate the plants and check them year to year. For stakes I'm now using fiberglass shafts made for electric fence. They look like a heavy arrow shaft with a pointed end. I simply thread them through the tube and then drive them with a hammer.
 
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