The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) has released their findings for the 2019 Mast Survey and according to it, there’s food in the woods this year. The big producers this year are the red, black, and scarlet oak trees which all saw a significant increase from last year’s survey. Black cherry produced an abundant crop as well.
The white and chestnut oaks are lacking acorns this year and came in well under the 48-year average. It’s looking good for all wildlife species this fall with a diverse array of food to choose from. Most all wildlife depends on the mast producing trees and shrubs during the fall to get ready for the winter months when food becomes less abundant.
According to the survey “Energy available in mast is more important for survival of many wildlife species than energy available in forage from agriculture crops and herbaceous plants. Seeds and fruits from trees and shrubs are necessary for not only overwinter survival, but also to assure that wildlife is in good physical condition to reproduce.”
Mast conditions not only help hunter’s decide where to hunt but they also help biologists and wildlife managers predict what to expect for the fall hunting seasons. This is especially true for bear hunters in that year’s with abundant mast, gun hunter’s kill more than archery hunter’s due to the fact that the bears will continue to feed on plentiful mast before denning up. During archery season the bears don’t have to move much to find food.
On the flip side, year’s with sparse mast archery hunter’s fair better because the bears are on the move searching for food and once it’s gone they’ll go to their dens early sometimes before the gun season opens. For the 2019 season, archery bear hunters should concentrate on the red oak species as the black bruins will no doubt be taking advantage of the bumper crop this fall.
Fox squirrels love walnuts so they’ll be happy this year as black walnut production was up 45% from the long-term average. Deer hunters focus more on the oak tree species especially the white oaks. Deer prefer white oak acorns over all the other oak species.
However, white oak production was down 63% compared to last year. When compared to the 48-year average, the index for white oak was well below average at 47%. Beech, walnut, hawthorn, crabapple, and apple trees all produced a better crop this year compared to last fall. The hickory trees didn’t produce a heavy crop this year but there are some nuts falling from the stout limbs and the index was 14% above the long-term average. The squirrels have been in the hickory trees by my house every day the past couple of weeks.
The deer will be in the red, black, and scarlet oak stands this year so archery hunters should focus their attention there. Another good place to hunt right now is around an old apple orchard. Crabapple was up 21% and apple was 16% above the long-term average.
Besides the apple trees, all of the soft mast species except sassafras and blackberry were above their 48-year long-term average. As always it will be important to do some scouting and look around in your hunting area for which mast trees produced and which ones didn’t.
The deer maybe eating red oak acorns and apples now, but then be back in the clover fields once all of them are consumed later on in the season. If you’re noticing and seeing fewer deer in the fields than you can bet there are some acorns around. It creates a challenge for early season hunters’ as the deer don’t have to move very far to find food and are less visible as result. Once the rut kicks in the bucks will move more so be patient as the best hunting is yet to come. The 2019 mast survey and hunting outlook can be found on the WVDNR’s website www.wvdnr.gov under the main page on the hunting tab.