Is it a good idea to implement hinge cutting on my property? How do I identify the best are to hing cut?

Dear Jae,

Thank you so much for your question and for the additional information that you provided letting me know where your property is located, what your goals are for your property (improve deer habitat) and a little bit more information about what size, types of trees and the terrain.  This additional information helped me to find an expert who could provide you with an answer for your question.  I reached out to Matt Ross a forester and the Certification Program Manager from Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) who sent this reply:



Hinge-cutting is one of those activities that hunter-landowners can use to immediately improve ground level cover and forage for white-tailed deer, but may actually impede your overall timber management efforts if done haphazardly, so I’m glad you asked first before firing up a chainsaw. It definitely has a time and place, however, so I’ll do my best to try and cover all the bases in my response. Since I’m from NY as well, I know the exact forest type, climate, deer herd dynamics and other factors you are dealing with.

For those that don’t know, hinge-cutting is not the “hinge” related to directional felling of timber, but the act of partially cutting through a desirable (in the eyes of deer) small diameter tree so that when it falls to the ground the bark, xylem, and phloem are all connected on a portion of the bole to keep it alive while the top is on the ground.  This affords deer immediate cover and allows them to browse on the tops for accessible forage. Because the tree will stay alive for a few years and sprout from the roots, stump and trunk, this will provide food and cover for a short period of time, while the new source of sun will also help additional trees, shrubs and forbs grow on site. For more info on this please read this article and more posted at

Is it a good idea to implement hinge cutting on my property?

If most of the forest on your property is intermediate (mid-aged) or mature in age, and you lack thick, ground level cover in the general area of your property – then yes. To know this, do a rough analysis of about 1 square mile around your property by looking at any of the free online satellite imagery available (Google Earth, Bing, etc.), or using the mapping tool, and see if you think at least 10% of the area is in early successional (like abandoned fields, CRP, etc) habitat or young forest less than 10 years old. If the answer to that question is no, then you would likely benefit by creating some of this younger vegetation class and hinge-cutting is one option to do so (but so is a number of other timber management prescriptions; cutting any trees down will create new growth. The benefit of hinge-cutting is that it adds “structure” immediately).


How do I identify the best area to hinge cut?

Since you have pines, hardwoods and a few crop fields on your property, you will be concentrating your efforts on the hardwood sections. Pines don’t stay alive when partially cut and they don’t afford the same benefits as hinge-cutting hardwoods. Moreover, when hinge-cutting, it is always best to concentrate your efforts on pole-sized (4 to 10 inches in diameter; research shows that pole-sized timber responds more aggressively with more shoots and its safer to fell the trees too) or smaller hardwood trees of poor quality, and pick species that you know deer will forage on their leaves. In NY State this includes red maple, aspen, oak, sugar maple, ash, box-elder, sumac, etc. (if you are interested in learning more about which trees and shrubs deer eat, I write a column in every issue of our member-based magazine. Join QDMA today to find out more:

However, as a professional forester and biologist I am always interested in managing both the wildlife and the timber on any piece of property. By hinge-cutting some of your mature timber you are in essence taking away your ability to manage that resource for years. For that reason, I always recommend designating either small sections (1/4-1 acre in size) of poor quality timber within your overall forest stand, these will never be managed for timber revenue and will be categorized as wildlife openings and managed accordingly, or along your field edges; this will create a “soft edge” to your crop fields which increases property and wildlife diversity, will increase sunlight on the crop field for better production/yield and more sunlight into your hinge-cut areas as well, is completely accessible to equipment and keeps the hinge-cut areas separate from your mature timber. Better yet, I like to increase the soft edge by hinge cutting 100% of the desirable trees within 10-15 yards of the field edge, 50% of the trees within the next 10-15 yards and 25% of the trees within the last 10-15 yards.

Other thoughts

  • By picking spots to hinge-cut on your property, you are basically designating where you want the deer to bed during the spring through fall months, so think through that as far as hunting and how you traverse your property as well.
  • In northern climates, winter is the most limiting resource and deer need hardwood browse to survive. If you have an area on your land where deer will frequent in winter (called a deer yard; typically composed of coniferous stands like hemlock that re at least 35 feet tall and have at least 65% crown closure), I always try to locate copious amounts of hardwood browse within 200 to 250 yards of that area and this can be accomplished by hinge-cutting. However, it can also be accomplished by simply clear cutting the hardwood  trees and utilizing the lumber as well.

I hope this information helps you and I encourage you or any person that reads this post and learns something new to look into the QDMA. It’s a wonderful organization that teaches landowners, hunters and deer enthusiast how to manage white-tailed deer and their habitat!


Matt Ross

Quality Deer Management Assoc