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Banner Year for Mast Production


When hunters head into the woods for this falls hunting season, things will be vastly changed from a year ago.

"It was a good mast year," said DNR Biologist Randy Tucker who co-authors the annual Mast Survey for West Virginia.  "A lot of our reporters said, ‘There’s not enough critters out there to eat it all.’"

That’s a stark contrast to 2009, when mast was classified as a complete failure in all areas.   A few high mountain areas in 2009 had scattered acorns and wild cherry crops.   This year, depending on where you go, it could be as good as it’s ever been.

"I’m careful about saying it’s the best ever," Tucker said. "I think sometimes our reporters go out there after seeing so little mast last year and compare it to the worse they’ve ever seen rather than the best they’ve ever seen."

Regardless of whether it’s the best year ever or not, wildlife in West Virginia will eat hearty during 2010.   The oak mast index showed all species of acorns are in abundance, particularly the all important white oak acorns which constitute the staple of the deer diet. 

"We had quite a bit of increase," said Tucker. “Last year it was about our 40-year low.  The oak this year have really taken a significant upswing."

The improved white oak crop coincides with the same year the red oaks bare.  Red oaks are a species that mature every other year, rather than annually.   

Squirrel hunters may be disappointed when they hit the woods in early October.   Hickory nut production is vastly improved, but still spotting in some parts of West Virginia.   Moreover, there may not be a lot of squirrels to enjoy the bounty.   Typically the year following a mast failure will be a down year for squirrel numbers since the lack of food impacted breeding and a second litter.    A tragic slaughter of the animals on the highway in 2009 coupled with a harsh winter has also put the squeeze on the number of busy tails on the limb in 2010.

"Last fall at this time we were having a lot of road kills on the squirrels," Tucker said. "We just assumed that was a factor of low mast." 

Soft mast experienced an improvement for the year as well.  Tucker said only the greenbrier and dogwood saw lower than average production.   Apples, grapes, and cherries were improved–but still spotty depending on the region of West Virginia.

The tremendous mast year can be a double-edged sword for hunters.  Where limited food tends to concentrate animals and improve the chances for an encounter, widespread mast reduces the need for those deer, turkey, bear, or other game to roam very far in search of a meal. Hunters are advised to do a lot of pre-season scouting since patterning by feed patterns won’t be easy with abundant food sources.

You can read the entire report by clicking HERE.


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