Steve Bartylla on Selective Thinning

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I’d LOVE to take credit for what I’m about to share. Truth be told, past photo eval client and now proud to call a friend, David Whalen and I worked it out from an idea he had. He’d never say this, but it didn’t take me long at all to realize that Dave is the definition of the term woodsman. The thing that may surprise most is that somewhere over half of those that come to me for photo evaluations belong in the top 10-20% of habitat managers I’ve been lucky/blessed to know/that are out there. Dave is a top 5%er.

Now that I’ve insulted his humility, here we go….I find this elegantly beautiful in its simplicity and creativity.

As most all of us know, the areas we don’t improve are every bit as important as those we do. If you want to train deer that they are safe on your ground WHILE hunting them, you just can’t improve every inch of your ground, as deer can then be on every inch of that ground, making it next to impossible to slip in and out undetected.

Or can we? Dave wanted to increase browse and cover within the dead zones, but not suck deer to the property lines, where they’d be vulnerable. He posed the idea of, “what if we selectively hinge cut those areas, increasing browse for the dead of winter and offering a bit more cover, but not so much as to draw bedding or regular feeding activity? If it offered less woody browse, spread out more than the pockets we wanted them to browse in (more browse in a higher density where we want them to feed on browse for all but the late winter/early spring months), it should help on brutal winters, as well as increasing cover a smidge.” That is really me poorly paraphrasing his initial thought, as he put it far more eloquently than that, but it crudely makes his point.

We kicked the idea back and forth, until we came up Selective Thickening. It’s actually pretty simple. All one does is go through these areas we want to be more of a “dead zone” and hinge some-most (depending on your woods) of the smaller, low timber value trees, leaving the canopy as is, as to not spur a bunch of new growth. As mentioned, doing so would increase the browse production for the years it’s really needed (never underestimate how much even farm land deer seek out woody browse, or its critical nature over winter, in areas that actually receive true winters).

At the same time, adding a bit of cover makes it so bucks have to work harder to find does. They no longer can stand in one spot, scanning the area for does. They instead have to bird dog it, wasting valuable time on our ground (seconds can literally make the difference between that buck being ours or surviving another year….or someone else shooting them) or risk missing them.

The goal is simple. Hinge cut just enough of the low timber value trees that are loosely around forearm diameter to bump the browse levels a bit, cut down on how far they can see, but not enough to make the area a true, regular bedding or feeding draw (have a surplus of far better browse and bedding options in the areas we want them to do those things/that work for, not against us). This will be my 3rd year of doing this now and I find it yet another valuable tool to help us get the very most from our grounds

The videos below show both a true bedding area, as well as Selective Thickened areas. You will notice the difference in how much hinging occurred…It may be as much art as science, but it’s pretty straight forward, when adding a dash of common sense…..Enjoy. I’ll be playing in the woods myself this week!