The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has released their findings for the 2017 mast survey and according to it, there’s food in the woods this year. The big producers this year are the hickory, walnut and chestnut oak trees which all saw a significant increase from last year’s survey. The white oaks produced better this year as well but the red, black and scarlet oaks are nearly identical as last year.
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 2017 season, archery bear hunters should concentrate on the hickory trees as the black bruins will no doubt be taking advantage of the bumper crop this fall. The same could be said for squirrel hunters as well.
Fox squirrels love walnuts so they’ll be extra happy this year. Deer hunters focus more on the oak tree species especially the white oaks. Deer prefer white oak acorns over all the other oak species. White oak production was up 52 percent compared to last year. When compared to the 46-year average, the 2017 statewide index for white oak was up 38 percent.
My observations so far this year from working in the woods are that there’s no rhyme or reason to which oak trees produced. I’ll see plenty of acorns under one white oak tree and then go a quarter to a half mile and won’t see but just a few under another. The chestnut oak acorns are more consistently spread out and are the most abundant just as the survey states. Chestnut oak increased 106% from last year and is up 59 percent when compared to the 46-year average.
The deer will consume the white oak acorns as fast as they hit the ground before they eat the chestnut, red, black, and scarlet oak acorns. Archery hunters should focus their attention to the producing white oaks for now and once they’re gone look for the red, black, and scarlet oaks. Another good place to hunt right now is around an old apple orchard. “Apple was up 102 percent in 2017 and had an incredible index of 78. In other words, most of the apple trees in the state had very good production.”
Besides the apple trees, all of the soft mast species were above their 2016 production levels and higher than the 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 white 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 white oak 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 2017 mast survey and hunting outlook can be found on the WVDNR’s website www.wvdnr.gov under the main page on the hunting tab.