TSI example

Does TSI (timber stand improvement) help or hurt?

‘Willy’ from the QDMA forum tells his story-

In the 3-4 years that I have been performing hinge cutting, girdling, and select spaying I have changed my timber dramatically. (Size of farm is 80 acres with 50 acres being timber and tsi practiced on roughly half of it) Prior to this work it used to have the classic park understory. It had been used as part of a pasture grazing operation(year round)and there were no plants really growing in a large portion of the understory. Basically the only thing growing under the oaks, hickory, ash, cherry, elm and basswood was ironwood and then nothing under that. There was/is some areas of privet that is on my list to do.

I would get pics of several bucks (even a 5×5 bull elk which was poached later) each year at the mineral licks and they were photogenic, showing up regulary all summer long and then seemed to disperse in the fall, being seen occasionly during the hunting season(SEpt 15-DEc 31) After hinging, the pics of bucks at the licks were considerably less and they would start showing up in late August. Doe pics rose incredibly as well as their fawns.

My tsi project has transformed my timber into a forest that one can’t see further than 10 yard or less with all the new growth. I have cedar, raspberry/blackberrys growing in spots I hadn’t seen prior and sapplings galore. Weeds of all sorts and sizes are all over. Plenty of browse selection. It seems that I have made a great doe/fawn rearing habitat as well as turkey/poult rearing habitat as I have seen way more hens with poults in the past couple years compared to the first couple years without tsi. Bucks are occassionly on the cams but not really many pics compared to prior and to the does/fawns. In looking over just shy of 10000 pics from the past month I identified 6 different bucks, all young(3.5 or less) and the rest were of does and fawns. Perhaps EHD has something to do with this but the numbers are similar to last year.

What I think has happened is that I created great bedding/browsing habitat that the does have taken over and I didn’t realize how much the bucks were sticking on my ground during the summer prior to tsi. (That was great but I can’t hunt them then.) The does bedded to the north of our property but now they are as numerous if not more so on my land. I think the does keep the bucks off of the property (for the most part) during summer months.

Our hunting has steadily improved as far as mature buck sightings during hunting season as well as more bucks during hunting season. I run a soybean 2 years/corn 1 year rotation and clover/chicory plots. When it gets cold I have documented up to 23 different bucks feeding in the plots(not at same time,cam pics). In my opinion the tsi has hampered my land’s ability to attract bucks during the summer months but greatly increased my land’s ability to attract bucks during the hunting season. My wife, a friend like a brother to me and I have each taken one buck off our land in the past 7 years(passed many, many more) and over 40 does in all by us and others.

Our shed count has also increased exponentially as 1-4 were found in the first three years but now we find between 10-20 in the spring, last year closer to ten but I feel EHD had something to do with that as we lost a lot of deer to that.

Perhaps this is what some refer to in a negative light as a doe sink but it seems to be working for us. If I could just get the neighbor’s paying hunters to lose the “if its got 4 points a side its old/big enough” mentality it could really get interesting.There are some mature/big 4×4′ but the vast majority don’t fit that bill and what they have shot in the past years definately don’t.

On a side note my wife will not let me do anymore areas of tsi, just maintainence of what I’ve done so far. Perhaps my idea of maintainence is a little different that hers She thinks I have killed too many trees as she can’t see through the them much anymore

Spring turkey hunting has been really good these past few years but then it has always been. The difference I’ve seen is a lot more hens and poults, didn’t really see much in that way the first 3 years. Part of this may be because of my predator control management. I’ve taken 50 plus predators off the place the past two winters. Mostly coons, then possums, skunks, 3 bobcats and 2 coyotes.

You are exactly right according to what Jeff say’s in his book and I too have theorized this is the situation. I have Jeff’s book and read with great attention the layering principal you referred to. On my property the way it is laid out with the timber in three parts (on the ends and in the middle and plots between those) there is not he distance needed as Jeff described to get to the level of bucks having the comfort zone. They have to go on the neighbors to get that far away. My land is 400 yards by 800 yards roughly.

Any ideas or comments are welcomed by all.

I’ve attached a map.

Key to colors on map. North is at top.

yellow -cir
green -clover and chicory
blue -water
light purple -apple and pear trees 2-4th years, 4th yrs produced this year
red -soybeans
white -crp-cp38 forbs and nwsg
big chunk of timber north of timber trail and south of northern most stands -sanctuary
tmber along road -sanctuary
timber on east fenceline -sanctuary
timber south of tiber trail -sanctuary
yellow pins-stand locations


Steve has some thoughts to share on TSI

I respectfully disagree, at least potentially so. I don’t know the location and specifics of the hinge cut improvements you have done. That very well could toss what I’d suggest out the window. Also, the habitat may not work for it.

That said, the first thing I thought when looking at your image is that you could strive to fit the bucks within the red areas I’ve outlined on the image. I wouldn’t go in and hinge cut the entire areas filled in with red. I’d look for desirable spots for buck bedding within those general areas and make small, more isolated hinge cuts (3-5 trees).


Now, without seeing a topo map, I can’t promise that the topography works or that the hinge cutting you’ve already done hasn’t complicated matters. One of the biggest problems with hinge cutting is that one can’t go out there and put the trees back up, if they change their minds.

In my opinion/experience, the areas one decides NOT to hinge cut (or do any type of TSI work on) are every bit as important as those one does. That’s a huge key to dictating movements and bedding. In general, one uses various forms of TSI to put deer where they want them and leaves mature, more open timber as dead zones. The knee jerk reaction is to eliminate all dead zones, but doing so massively complicates hunting, makes dictating movement much more challenging and creates many otherwise easily avoided headaches.

MOBuckChaser shares his thoughts on TSI

That is a great statement. I myself would have just kept chopping down the woods and cutting in travel routes. I will have to change my way of thinking. Where can a guy get This book you guys talk about? Thanks

Steve agrees-

I don’t remember Jeff (Sturgis) writing much about/stressing the importance of where NOT to cut. If he did, I forgot. That’s just something I learned the hard way many, many years ago. I also see it a lot when I lay out properties that have been “improved.” You just wish you could go back and start over.

Various forms of TSI, clearing spots for food plots, NG plantings, creating travel corridors, creating funnels, on and on and on are all powerful tools, but, in my opinion, they always should be done in a way to fit a master plan of making hunting easier. Approaching it that way makes a huge difference in the quality and ease of hunting a property, and I don’t believe a property ever hits its potential without each improvement being tied into a bigger picture of deer flow that creates ideal hunting conditions/situations.

Some more details on the lay of Willys land

Thank you everyone for all the comments and suggestions. Here is the location of some geographical objects as well as location of current hinge, girdling, and edge feathering.

I rotated the picture a bit to try and show the elevation changes in general.

Red – hinge cut

Green – girdling

Yellow – edge feathering

Blue – deep eroded gully used for travel to stands, deer use as well and cross in 3 locations

White – ridge

Steve, my chainsaw work is relatively in the positions you suggested. That’s good to know.

In conclusion Steve sums it up-

As I mentioned to Willy in a PM, the ridge running through the center of the property is where I’d be targeting for buck bedding areas. Specifically, I’d be targeting each knob and point.On a side note, I was reading an old thread about how Don Higgins views creating bedding cover. Unless he has changed his mind, his philosophy seems to be to improve the entire area and let deer figure out how they want to bed in it. I see some distinct advantages to this, particularly in lower deer density areas.

I’ve always used the approach of creating larger bedding pockets for does and smaller for bucks. One can then take it the next step of creating travel corridors for these deer to dictate movement. In high deer density areas, if one improves everything, they risk have does take everything over. As with Don’s approach, I see distinct advantages to this approach.

After considerable thought, I’m beginning to believe that the best approach, particularly in high deer density areas, may be a hybrid of the two. Improve a partial band (or even several bands) around the food for doe bedding. Then, back off from that, small pockets for bucks. You can still leave some dead areas for both access and to dictate movements through high odds hunting locations.

The only potential issue I have with this is that I’ve come to see doe groups to be much like street gangs. The most dominant gang stakes out their turf, and it often has fairly distinct divisions. Then, the next most dominant group stakes out the best of what’s left and on down the line it goes.

In ridge country, I can get two doe groups to bed as close to 100 yards of each other, assuming they are on two separate ridge fingers. I can pull the same off if they are on two sides of a substantial creek or river. However, without some form of a divider, no chance. I do think that the breaks between improved areas help create those “dividers.” No, not as well as a cut or water feature, but better than if all homogenous habitat.

That said, the trade off may well be worth it. It may result in the ability to hold slightly fewer doe groups. That said, one gets an increased amount of natural forage. At the same time, the doe groups should still have the tendency to pack in, closer to the food sources, while leaving room for the bucks to bed in the back. Also, as mentioned earlier, with a little creativity and not going over board, one should still be able to create low impact access/departure, as well as dictate movement.

I’ll be doing some experimenting with various hybrids of the two systems this year, as one should be able to steal the best from both approaches.