Taking a look at this year's mast report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Deer, bears, squirrels and other game animals will have a little more to eat this fall than they did in 2011.
Division of Natural Resources biologists recently finished the agency's annual Mast Report and Hunting Outlook, and it includes both good news and bad news.
The primary good news is that the overall statewide abundance of wild game foods is up about 5 percent over the 42-year average and 14 percent over 2011's crop. The primary bad news is that acorns were the only major mast item that came in significantly above average.
Here's how the various oak species broke out:
The news for the other highly important mast species - beechnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts, black cherries and grapes - isn't nearly as encouraging. For example:
Minor mast items that came in above average were dogwood, up 26 percent; and sassafras, up 8 percent. Below-average minor mast items include yellow poplar, down 10 percent; hawthorn, down 9 percent; crabapple, down 27 percent; blackberry, down 21 percent; greenbrier, down 12 percent; and apple, down 27 percent.
Keep in mind, though, that statewide numbers such as the ones outlined in this column can sometimes be deceptive. All mast items tend to be abundant in some geographic areas and scarce in others.
For instance, hickory came in 30 percent above average in the state's Ecological Region 3, but fell 22 percent below average in Ecological Region 4. Region 3 includes most of the counties in southern, southwestern and south-central West Virginia. Region 4 includes all the counties along Interstates 79 and 68 from Braxton County on to the northeast, with Barbour, Tyler and Upshur counties thrown in for good measure.
So what does all this mean?
In areas where acorns are really abundant, deer and bear hunters will find it tougher to locate their quarry. When deer have protein-rich acorns easily at their disposal, they become much more difficult to bait with corn, which is mostly carbohydrate and doesn't provide nearly as much nutrition.
Baiting for bears is illegal, but a big acorn crop still affects the bear harvest. When bears have plenty of acorns to eat, hunters during the December firearm season tend to fare substantially better than archery-season hunters. With so many acorns at their disposal, bears scatter widely during the bow season. In December, they stay out of their dens longer than usual, packing in calories for the coming hibernation, and are more easily taken by firearm-wielding hunters.