How To

Tree Pruning for Habitat Management

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A pole saw, like this Husqvarna, can help you trim branches that are too high to reach without a ladder. It is something every hunter should have in some form.

A pole saw, like this Husqvarna, can help you trim branches that are too high to reach without a ladder. It is something every hunter should have in some form.

When we think of habitat projects and game management, we often think of food plots. However, the trees on your hunting land are the most valuable resource you have. Managing them and knowing when and what to do with them can make your hunting turn from good to awesome. Let’s fire up the chainsaw and get to work.

The best reason to prune trees in the early spring is that there is a greatly reduced chance that you’ll damage the core of the tree. Whether you’re pruning fruit trees, cutting shooting lanes in hardwoods, or clearing pathways in pines, now is the time to do it.

Fruit trees

I’ll start out by saying that I spent several years covering commercial fruit growers for a magazine. Thanks to all the time I had with growers and researchers, I learned way more about fruit trees than I ever thought I’d know. While the commercial guys were caring for their trees, the hunter in me was thinking about how I could improve the apple and cherry trees on my property for the coming deer seasons.

Deer and other animals like fruit trees. The fruit gives them a lot of energy and that’s why things like apples are so popular for bait piles. An apple tree can be a magnet during deer season, especially if there is a good crop of apples or other fruit that year. To keep your tree healthy and producing, you need to take care of it. One of the most important things to do is pruning.

Husqvarna’s Rancher 455 is a light, easy-to-use saw that will do everything a serious hunter needs it to.

Husqvarna’s Rancher 455 is a light, easy-to-use saw that will do everything a serious hunter needs it to.

Early spring, like it is right now, is the optimal time to prune. You can do it during winter, but during a hard winter, like we had this year in most parts of the country, the snow depth and severity of the weather made it impractical to prune. The important thing is to get at least the major part of the pruning done before the tree leaves bud out.

If you ever have the chance to drive by a commercial orchard in the spring, you’ll see a lot of trees with small branches. Bigger branches take a lot of energy to keep going, so the tree diverts energy to keeping those limbs going. Removing many of the larger branches that shoot off the main limbs of the tree helps “simplify” the tree.

The reason to prune during the dormant period for the tree is simple. The previous year, the tree sored all of the energy from that year in the trunk and roots to use during bloom the following year. That energy is still in the tree when you prune, so all of it goes into making two things: fruit and new vegetative shoots. Your tree will make a lot more fruit and nice, tender green shoots on the branches—both of which deer and other critters find yummy.

If you’re like me, your apple trees and other fruit trees on your land are older and have been there for a while. It’s still a good idea to prune, even the older trees. To reach those higher branches, I have found the best tool to be a Husqvarna 327PT5S pole saw. The Husky makes quick work of anything with a 13-foot reach. The 24.5cc engine has enough power for just about any cut and it has started with one pull for me every time in the year I’ve owned it.

Shooting lanes

If you’re like me, you have some pretty good ideas of where you’re stands are going to go. Heck, I’ve been running trail cameras for so long on my land, I know the deer routes. I also know where I have my food plots and other food sources for the deer, so I’m fairly confident where my stands will be placed. Now is a good time to go out and clear out some of the branches you know need to be removed from your hunting area. Again, the Husqvarna Pole Saw comes out to play.

With nasty bugs like the emerald ash borer out there, spring is a good time to explore your property and clear out any dead or dying trees that pose a risk to the health of your forest, or that might make an issue for your hunting in the future. If you’re looking for a great all-around saw that can do all of your trimming and pruning at lower levels and has enough power to cut your year’s firewood, look no further than the Husqvarna Rancher 455.

From impenetrable wall of branches to a clear path for deer and other wildlife to use. Creative pruning allows you to steer deer to where you want them to go.

From impenetrable wall of branches to a clear path for deer and other wildlife to use. Creative pruning allows you to steer deer to where you want them to go.

The Rancher 455 is a 55.5cc saw that weighs just over 12 pounds. It is light enough for all day use, but doesn’t vibrate as much as you’d think it would having that big of an engine. The side-mounted chain tensioner is a snap to use and all other controls are easy to use. Like the pole saw, the Rancher has a primer bulb that aids in starting. Both saws start on the first pull, every time. I know I may seem like I’m a commercial for Husqvarna saws, and I admit, I kind of am. My father-in-law, Brian Sheets, has been cutting his own firewood for much longer than I’ve known him. He routinely cuts so much wood up that he could run his woodstove and outside wood boiler for a full year without coming close to running out of dried, cut and stacked wood. His main saws are all Husqvarnas that he ended up going with through trial and error with other brands. In the 15-plus years I’ve known him, he’s never had any trouble with any of his Husky saws. That’s as good of an endorsement as I can think of, and why I ended up buying all-Husqvarna equipment.

Pruning your butt off

Another practice you can do this time of year is butt pruning, especially in your pines and other evergreen trees. Butt pruning simply means you take off all of the lower branches from the ground level up to however high you want to go. I like to prune them off at the same height I am. Butt pruning has a place in your management plan because deer will often take the path of least resistance when traveling in heavy cover. It lets you direct traffic, helping you to steer the deer where you want them to go.

On one of my properties, I have several old apple trees that are surrounded by thick spruce trees. While not an area I hunt a lot, I have been noticing deer activity in there more and more. We decided to prune one of the apple trees to encourage new growth and a better apple crop this fall. I then butt pruned the spruce trees to open a path directly to the apples from an area on the other side of the spruce trees where I have a food plot. I then cleared a few limbs on an old maple that is on the new path between the two food sources. Now I have a new spot that should consistently produce deer traffic for hunting season.

Now knock off that winter rust by getting outside and into the woods. Take a look at the trees on your property that can be pruned and cut back. You’ll be happy you did this fall when the big buck comes strolling in and you’re ready for him!

Images courtesy Derrek Sigler

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