MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Hunters who base their fall hunting around oak trees may want to rethink the strategy for the upcoming big game seasons in West Virginia. The 2013 Mast Survey publication from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources finds all species of oak mast had a poor year.
“We’d been getting early reports the guys weren’t seeing very much at all,” said Chris Ryan one of the survey authors. “It’s basically the worst oak year in the 43 years of doing the survey.”
Ryan chalked up the poor acorn crop this year to two things. First the derecho. Although the storm struck two summers ago, it’s important to consider red oak trees take 18 months to develop acorns. The crop which should be on this fall would have been vulnerable when the unusual storm tore through West Virginia. The white oak mast was impacted by heavy rains all spring and summer and to a lesser degree by the impact of Hurricane Sandy. West Virginians will remember Sandy struck here in the form of a very early snow storm and caused a lot of forest damage.
All is not lost for the West Virginia critters however. Where the oak was a bust, all other mast species seemed to soar in production this fall.
“We’re calling it basically the year of the beech,” Ryan said. “It’s the best beech year and the hickory is also tremendous. Good beech, good hickory, and good black cherry.”
An abundance of hickory and beech will keep squirrels satisfied well into the winter months. Deer will probably work on those beech and cherry or will find soft mast which was another big winner.
“Apple is tremendous. Apple trees have limbs practically breaking,” Ryan said. “Any place guys have access to apple trees on a farm or in an old orchard, they should be checking that out.”
Additionally crab apple and hawthorn were also in abundance in this year’s survey.
Ryan admits the survey is an overview and has already received e-mails and phone calls from guys claiming to have plenty of acorns in their patch of woods.
“My advice, if they have acorns, hunt there. The deer will be in them,” he said. “Overall statewide however, it’s considered a mast failure, although technically it’s not because hickory, beech, and other species did so well.”