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Mast report shows some species hit well, but oaks continue to struggle

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bow hunters in West Virginia started their season last weekend, and most may be seeing an improvement in mast resources on the landscape in West Virginia from this time a year ago.

“We absolutely have more food on the ground,” said Chris Ryan one of the authors of the Division of Natural Resources’ annual mast survey.

“A lot of it comes from the soft mast or some of the species which aren’t our normal species to be up,” Ryan explained.

The oak mast however, continued to lag for 2021 although it was higher than 2020.

The rest of the hard mast species outside of oaks did fairly well. Beech is up significantly in areas where disease hasn’t impacted tress in a big way. Hickory also hit well.

“The squirrels are really cutting in the hickory right now,” he explained.

Soft mast species all performed well for the year. According to the survey, apple, black cherry, hawthorn, and crab apple had an extremely good crop. Apple had one of the best years ever jumping 522 percent from 2021 and 35 percent above the long term average.

Apple trees aren’t necessarily indigenous mast for West Virginia wildlife, but over time  they have become a staple.

“A lot of the apple trees we have are on old homesteads. Lots of times when you see apple trees ,you’ll find the foundation of an old house close by. You’ll see those a lot on Corps property or National Forest.. When those hit, they are great places to hunt,” Ryan explained.

The mast varies by ecological region of the state. Each year volunteer cooperators with DNR, the Division of Forestry, or others make reports of what they have found in their region. Many of the cooperators have been making observations and reports on the same trees for several decades. The longevity of the report creates a strong database for the agency to build on each year to improve reporting accuracy.

It is often best to compare this year to the long-term average  One of the major advantages of West Virginia’s mast survey is the consistent methodology. This consistency, started by some great biologists in the 1970’s, enables us to put any current year into a better perspective. Beech, black cherry, walnut and hickory were all above their long-term average and will provide a lot of wildlife food this fall and winter. However, the two more important species, white and red/black oak, were below their averages and will leave a considerable gap in the food supply for a lot of wildlife. Apple, hawthorn and crab apple were all above their long-term average and should have considerable impacts on some harvests.

The hit and miss nature of one species to another is blamed on the varying weather of the spring in West Virginia.

“These species flower at different times of the year, so different weather patterns impact different species and their seed production,” Ryan said.

For deer hunters, Ryan said with white oak acorns at a premium, finding a good stand of them will be like a gold mine.

“When you find white oak now, you’ll find the deer.. Also when those apples hit the ground. Different apples hit the ground at different times,” he explained.

Those chasing bear and turkey, especially in the state’s highest elevations, can key in on wild cherry trees which had a strong production year in the high country.

“The bear and the turkey are going to be on the cherry. The cherry really hit well across the higher elevations and in fact across the entire state. Bear and turkey hunters will really find those feeding on cherries at this time,” he said.

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