Picture the situation, you’ve worked hard all summer perfecting your deer habitat, planting lush food plots, refreshing mineral stations and diligently manning your trail cams. You’ve respected your sanctuary to let ol’ wary bucks have their safe space and ensure they stay close to home. You decide to take a perimeter walk around your deer paradise to check fencing one last time and you see it. You see what you’ve been dreading. You see one of your worst nightmares. You see the dreaded fence sitter! What a punch in the gut…a punch that you can’t do anything about, or so I used to think.
People hunting on fence lines is an oft-debated topic, and the general consensus is that in most cases, it is very much unacceptable. I have a close friend with a large tract of picture perfect deer habitat in North Missouri. He and his family spend a considerable amount of time and money to ensure they have the best property in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, their neighbors know it too. Their entire property is surrounded by stands, including 3 permanent box-type hunting blinds all less than 30-yards off of different property lines. It is a very unfortunate situation, but they can’t own everything.
On my new property, I had a 30-acre timbered area designated as an “off-limits sanctuary” that I didn’t step foot upon for the first 9 months I owned it. I knew numerous deer used it as a core bedding area, and was pretty excited to walk it after season to look for antler sheds. Five minutes into my first walk, I was in awe at the sheer amount of deer sign – giant rubs, countless deer beds, bare-dirt deer paths and deer scat everywhere. I knew that my decision to stay out of this area was the correct one, until I looked up and saw a ladder stand 10-yards off my fence facing my “deer highway”. This ladder stand was in a small 3-acre block timber in a 70-acre cattle pasture connected to my property. The person using this stand was absolutely hunting deer on my property. In fact, I couldn’t envision any shot being possible from that stand unless it was on my side of the fence, outside of it being right under their stand.
Besides potentially catching someone trespassing or shooting on to my property, there were no laws broken ultimately leaving me with no recourse. There were obviously severe breaches of hunter ethics, but I knew that my neighbor leased the ground to hunters who could care less about neighborly relations. It wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the stand was facing away from my property, but this setup was too much to stomach.
After some brainstorming on how to thwart this inconsiderate hunter, I came up with some pretty far fetched ideas to discourage this behavior. I thought about putting up 8-foot tall panel fencing the whole stretch of that 3-acre block of woods. I considered putting up another ladder stand on my side of the fence directly facing them (complete with a hunter scare-crow wearing a Jason mask from Friday the 13th). I envisioned hanging bars of soap and beer cans on every tree branch within sight of that stand. All of those would have been epic ideas, but all impractical.
After visiting with some habitat consultants, I decided to use a well known deer habitat tool to naturally re-direct deer traffic away from that stand – hinge cutting. Hinge cutting is a process where you cut a tree about 70% of the way through, waist to chest high, and push it over keeping it attached to the outer cambium layer, hence keeping it alive for a few years. The picture below shows a great example of a hinge-cut tree:
With a plan to drop the trees in an organized fashion, the pull of a chainsaw and a long afternoon afield the “easy fix” was underway.
We literally made a picket fence of hinged cut trees in a half-moon shape around the fence line. With this effort, we ensured no deer could be seen or shot from my property. The deer will now have to travel 50 to 75 yards off of the property line and any attempted shot from that stand would have to be made through piles of living brush. The pics below were taken a few days after our initial cut in March, looking towards the fence from my property:
In July, I went back to see the growth after just a few months. As you can see below, the explosion of growth brought on from new sunlight created an impenetrable mess that deer will naturally avoid, ultimately rendering the neighbor’s ladder stand and their “bonus hunting property” useless:
As an added benefit, there is now 1000’s of pounds of forage on the ground that deer couldn’t otherwise reach. In this cutting, you couldn’t find a new sprout that wasn’t chewed up:
Hinge cutting was a picture perfect strategy in this case, but it is not a “one and done” type of exercise for me. I will go back next Spring to ensure that deer haven’t made a new trail through the maze and will fill in spots. I also plan to plant cedar trees all along the fence row for a more permanent visual screen. It should also be noted that hinge cutting can be very dangerous, please research best practices before attempting in the field. I’ve also used this same practice in the wide open timber to direct deer movement towards a stand.
If your property is being hunted by neighbors and there isn’t timber nearby to hinge cut, there are a few other options you can utilize to both screen your property and/or redirect deer movement. I’ve seen people stack hay bales, rent a dozer to build terraces, etc. Some of the easier and less costly methods are planting deer screens, like the annual Egyptian Wheat or the perennial Miscanthus Giganteus…both of which can provide a 10-foot tall visual screen. A large wall of cedar trees is ideal, but may take 10-15 years to be effective.
In building your perfect deer paradise, the phrase used in the movie Field of Dreams – “build it and they will come”, holds true for both deer and sometimes inconsiderate neighbors who understandably want to utilize your hard work. It is certainly best to work closely with your neighbors on a cohesive habitat and hunting plan, but be prepared to find ways to keep the odds in your favor.
Andy Pettit (The Nerd) lives and breathes hunting and habitat management 365-days a year. He spends his days working in the fast-paced high-tech industry and dreaming of being outside. He has relentless passion on working to ensure his hunting properties have the best habitat available in the neighborhood and helping others in their journey. He focuses primarily on deer & turkey, but will often be found with a fly rod in his hand as he is trying to achieve a lifelong goal of catching a fish in all 50 states on a fly rod. Andy lives the “Hunt Hard” mantra by introducing his 3 children to God’s glorious creations (and frequently chasing them through the brush).
“The Hunt Hard Outdoors team really appealed to me through their very obvious passion for everything outdoors. I live my life full-speed and my outdoor passions aren’t single threaded. I demand that my equipment will not be a limiting factor in my family’s outdoor success. You can be rest assured if you hear us promote an item, it will be personally put through the paces to achieve our support”.