Whitetail Deer Cover | Using TSI to Create Safety On Your Property

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One of the farms I hunt is in Eastern Central Ohio and was once part of a much larger cattle operation along with many of the surrounding properties. If you know anything about livestock, you know how hard they can be on the land. Unfortunately for us, a majority of the woods on the property was not fenced off, giving the cattle free reign to browse on any kind of understory that may have existed. Their browse pressure, along with the ground compaction that comes with large herds of cattle, has set succession back to the point where it is almost non-existent with the exception of the “un-killable” multi-flora rose. This left our property with a less than ideal cover situation. We had to do something if we were going to have any bedding areas on our farm.

I talked to other hunters and land managers who were facing the same problem on their properties and the response I got from most of them was that I needed to implement some timber stand improvement or “TSI.” This is just a fancy name for cutting down trees. More specifically, it means targeting the non-desirable trees in your woods and leaving only those beneficial to your management goals. This accomplishes several management objectives from a wildlife perspective as well as a timber value perspective, depending on how you go about it.

If your woods are open and consist mainly of tall hardwoods like mine, TSI provides instant cover by taking the non-desirable trees that are currently shading out your forest floor and putting them on the ground level where they provides ground cover for all sorts of wildlife. Wait, it gets better. The hole you have just created in the canopy by cutting down some trees will now allow light to hit the forest floor, causing an explosion of new growth that was previously shaded out. While the new growth takes longer to provide cover than the instant cover created by the fallen tree, it is worth the wait and will only improve with time.

This next part is VERY important! Consult your local forester before you cut anything. It is so easy to grab the saw and go to town but you can cause more harm than good if this is your approach. A forester can help identify which trees need to be taken down to achieve your management goals and which trees should remain standing. They may also advise you, as mine did, to kill any invasives before you cut. If there are invasives living in the shade now, you don’t want to deal with them once they are exposed to light and are allowed to grow. Consult a forester! It’s not worth the trouble of cutting down the wrong trees or cutting down two many. You’ll thank me later for that advice.

This brings us to hinge cuts. If you’re a deer hunter or have ever worked a chain saw, you probably have some idea of what these are and what

they can do for your property. Rather than cutting a tree all the way down, a hinge cut goes about two-thirds of the way through the tree or just enough to bring it to the ground. Because the nutrients required by the tree to live are transferred through the outermost rings, a hinge cut enables the tree to live as long as a few years after it is cut. The only difference is now it is growing horizontally, providing food and cover for your deer at the ground level.

So what is the right combination of hinge cuts and full cuts on your property? That depends. I decided to make a hinge cut for every tree I cut all the way down, favoring the smaller trees to hinge-cut as they typically hold up better to the fall. You may also have specific areas you want to designate as bedding areas. These are the places you want to make hinge cuts. The deer will find these areas quickly and begin bedding there as early as a week after you cut. The right mixture of hinge cuts and full cuts will give you adequate cover at the ground level to hold more deer than ever before.

One year after our initial TSI project, we can support way more deer than we deer could have before and our property hunts much bigger. With more cover, you can’t see nearly as far or as deep into or out of the woods, allowing us to bump less deer coming and going from stands. If your woods are open or you have a shortage of cover in the area you hunt, consider TSI as an option. It might just be the ticket to holding more deer on your property and improving your deer hunting experience overall. It has certainly worked for me!

Originally published at www.buckadvisor.com on February 17, 2015.

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