The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 20, 2012

Knowledge of mast is a must

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — Being a successful hunter requires time, knowledge and luck. Being able to pattern the game animals’ movements and predict their location is not an easy task. Even with the proper planning, scouting and gear, it can still boil down to “being in the right place, at the right time.”

The unpredictability of hunting is part of its allure to sportsmen and is the reason we covet a seat at the table when the cards are dealt.

However, a little local knowledge and insider information never hurts — I, for one, will take all the help I can get. Daydreaming of trophy bucks and groundhog-sized fox squirrels this week, I decided to shoot an e-mail to the professionals inquiring about the current wildlife food conditions in our great West Virginia woodlands.

“In this year more than others, hunters need to scout and take into account where there are abundant food sources,” said Christopher Ryan, supervisor of game management services for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “White and chestnut oak was extremely good across much of the state and since these species are preferred by most game animals, hunters should start their scouting trips in areas where these species occur in high numbers.”

A little deeper look into the annual WVDNR Mast Report and Hunting Outlook provided these little nuggets of news.

-- Compared to the 42-year average, the 2012 mast (wild game foods) index for all species combined increased 5 percent above the long-term average and is 4 percent higher than 2011 numbers. The overachievers this season appear to be oaks statewide:

-- White oak is 45 percent above average and 206 percent more abundant than it was last year.

-- Chestnut oak is 89 percent above average and 360 percent more abundant than it was last year.

-- Black/red oaks are 29 percent above average and 60 percent more abundant than they were last year.

-- Scarlet oak is 58 percent above average and 60 percent more abundant than it was last year.

The underachievers appear to be beech, walnut, black cherry, scrub oak, crab apple and apples, all falling below the 42-year average mast index.

(Before you come and hit me over the head with a bushel of beechnuts, let me remind you that these numbers are in general statewide and not necessarily true on your hillside farm — every location can be different. It’s a big state.)

“The spotty or inconsistent mast conditions made for very abundant conditions in some areas but very scarce conditions in others and they may not be very apart geographically,” Ryan said. “Hunters need to scout or look for the areas that have good mast conditions to be successful and often these areas may not be very far from locations that don’t have anything present.”

Outlook for hunting, you ask? Once again, a glance into the annual report sheds some light on the subject.

Predictions of hunting success are based on multiple considerations: current and previous years’ mast conditions, nuisance complaints, information from other surveys (i.e. spring gobbler survey, bowhunter survey and raccoon field trial survey), adjustments in regulations (i.e. bag limits, permit allocations, additional counties for antlerless season and season length) and observations provided by field personnel of the Wildlife Resources and Law Enforcement Sections of the Division of Natural Resources, foresters from the Division of Forestry, retired DNR wildlife managers and biologists and a few volunteer cooperators.

Bushytail hunters should expect similar harvests as last year.

-- Rabbits: Similar conditions and harvests in 2012 as in 2010 and 2011.

-- Raccoons: Increased harvests are predicted for 2012.

-- Deer: This year’s forecast should be slightly higher for 2012 with similar archery harvest to 2011; buck harvest should be higher compared to the 2011 harvest; the antlerless harvest should be slightly higher this year; and muzzleloader hunters should see a similar harvest to last year.

-- Bears: In 2012, we are predicting an increase in bear harvest from 2011 but it will be slightly below the record kill of 2010, thus, ranking it No. 2 on the all-time list.

-- Turkeys: Overall, the 2012 fall turkey harvest is predicted by surveyors to be similar to the fall 2011 season.

-- Grouse: It is predicted that flushing rates and harvests should be similar to last year across the state.

It appears that 2012 is shaping up to be a great season for the sportsmen of West Virginia to enjoy the gift of nature’s bounty. I, for one, plan on having front row seats at the main event.