ROANOKE, W.Va. — The pantry for West Virginia critters is well stocked headed into the fall and winter. The 2017 Mast Survey produced by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources revealed very few deficiencies among the 18 mast producing tees which are annually examined.
“This year we had 236 locations around the state. Each of the observers will rate 18 species, 9 hard mast and 9 soft mast. They’ll say whether their ‘common’, ‘abundant’, or ‘scarce’,” said Chris Ryan, Supervisor of Game Management Services for the West Virginia DNR. “We have an index based on what they report to give us an index for what happened this year and what happened compared to the 46 year average.”
Overall species for 2017 the mast index was 23 percent above the long term average. All hard mast species were above the long term average and soft mast also was above the long term average and well above last year.
Among the hard mast species observers check are acorns, specifically white oak acorns which are a preferred meal of white tail deer. The survey revealed plenty of those acorns across the West Virginia landscape.
“They did very well. They’re much better than last year. Last year they were an index of 34 and this year they were a 52,” Ryan explained. “In a state that’s 80 percent forested, that white oak acorn really plays a heavy dynamic on nearly every one of our hunted and a lot of our non-game population also.”
The survey revealed solid production of chestnut oak acorns as well. Black oak and red oak acorns were not nearly as abundant. Ryan said the explanation for those would be found in the summer of 2016 when the 17 year cicada emerged and caused a lot of damage to trees across the central and northern counties of the state. The red and black oaks have a longer maturity rate for acorns and were impacted by the cicadas.
“Everybody forgets about that,” Ryan laughed. “The cicadas from last year impact that.”
Squirrel hunters will also be interested in the hickory production. Nuts are well above the 2016 number.
“It is without a doubt preferred by the squirrels. It’s higher in carbohydrate and higher in fat,” said Ryan.
The abundance of hickory nuts is good news for the squirrel, but for hunters it will mean a more difficult time finding those squirrels. Walnuts, another favorite of squirrels, was also a winner this year.
“A guy in Tyler County told me just three weeks ago he was seeing a lot of squirrels and last year he was seeing seven squirrels in one tree,” Ryan explained. “What has happened it there is the same number of squirrels there, but when tose acorns dropped the squirrels didn’t stop at that one tree, they’re more spread out. It’s going to take a while to find them, but there’s still good hunting.”
The abundant hickory and overall mast will bode well for next year’s squirrel numbers. Improved nutrition will prompted two litters of squirrels in the coming year.
Much like hard mast, the soft mast was a hit for this year. While all species produced, Ryan explained it was the apple trees which were the star of the soft mast show.
“My personal favorite hunting spot for bow hunting is an apple tree, probably in an old orchard around a house that’s falling down, but that tree holds apples through the end of the year,” said Ryan. “Every deer will come every day and check out that spot. It’s one of our highest indices every. It had an index of 78 which means more than half of our observers had to mark it as abundant.”
Deer aren’t the only wildlife who will be interested in the apples, in fact every species of animal will feed on the apples and finding a heavily weighted apple tree will be a hot spot for hunting this fall.
Wild cherry hit well in the survey with a 52 percent index–only slightly over 2016, but still a good year which will be a huge draw for turkeys, grouse, and black bear in many part of the state.
The abundance of food across the landscape will mean hunters may not observe as many animals in the fields. The widespread meal options will keep wildlife in the woods and in place. There won’t be much need to move out of a small range as long as the food source holds out. Hunters will want to scout and make decisions on hunting locations accordingly.
You can see the full Mast Survey here.