A low year for acorns in West Virginia, but everything else was there in spades. That’s the low-down on the 2008 West Virginia Mast Survey. The annual publication from the DNR gauges the overall look at mast conditions in the Mountain State.
This year’s survey reveals the best production for hard mast was hickory, walnut, and beech mast. Those three staples of the wildlife diet enjoyed increases of 134%, 145%, and 143% respectively.
Oak, this fall however is a bit of a disappointment. White Oak production fell 2% from 2007, chestnut oak dropped 19%, black oak is down 33%, and the scarlet oaks produced 44% below thee 2007 level. That production, particularly with white oaks, will vary depending on where you hunt.
"There’s fairly good oak mast in the south and higher up in the mountains in the north," said Jim Evans, one of the survey’s co-authors. "Overall it’s a big decrease in oak mast over last year."
That’s where the bad news ends however. In fact, this year’s overall survey shows some of the best mast conditions in years thanks to whopping production in the soft mast species.
Black cherry is up 18%. That production, combined with the increase in the beechnuts, will scatter game in the high mountains of West Virginia. Wild cherry and beech are the two predominant food sources in those counties.
"There’s fairly good oak mast in the mountains, and the soft mast, hawthorn, crabapples, apples, that all hit very good as did black cherry and beech which is very important in the mountains," said Evans. "Expect game to be scattered in the mountains because of the abundance of food there."
Evans says the southern mountains, mostly in Greenbrier County, had lower oak production than the counties of the north.
Southern West Virginia and the Ohio Valley had stellar production, including a good crop of acorns. The lone exception was the northern panhandle. Central and Northern West Virginia counties likewise enjoy abundant mast of all varieties–with the oak exception where it’s very good in some spots and almost non-existent in others.
The eastern panhandle’s acorn crop produced very little for the fall, but other species have picked up the slack–especially apples and crab apples.
The abundance of hickory nuts will be an advantage for squirrel hunters in the Mountain State. The nuts are normally the first target of the bushy tailed critters, but are normally used up quickly. Look for the squirrels to remain in the hickory stands much longer this fall than usual.
The mast survey is an annual publication of the DNR and uses data collected by agency personnel as well as qualified volunteers and agents of the Division of Forestry. The survey dates back to 1970 and in its 38th year, data and trends are starting to become increasingly valuable.