It’s that ever important and nutty fall time of year again. Those “hard mast” victuals like acorns and hickory nuts are one crop but let’s not forget about the soft and fleshy fruits from the wild grapes and crabapples to dogwood berries.
So what’s the statewide combined mast picture looking like?
And, what’s the hunting outlook for this year’s most common game species?
Knowledge of the game and the victuals available to sustain them are of utmost importance to the hunter. Thanks to the annual autumn surveys of the current food and game situation by a host of some 309 varying statewide foresters, wildlife managers and others, here’s the rundown. The hot off the press (make that online) Annual Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook compilation by West Virginia DNR staff is now in its 43rd year of existence.
The good news is that the combined hard and soft mast index for this fall is both above the long term average index and that of last year as well. However, in the breakdown between hard and soft masts, it’s kind of a mixed blessing. In a nutshell, pun intended, the hard mast is above the long term and the acorn index is particularly higher. Beechnuts are a bust however. Nevertheless, the more bounteous hard masts were enough to take the total soft plus hard mast above the midline.
On the other hand, soft mast is below long term average and that of last year. Wild apple, grape and crabapple are down though dogwood berries are up within that group. The bottom line is that at least sustenance mast is available to carry most game into the critical winter survival period. Unlike many a more agricultural and cash crop based state, most West Virginia wildlife must live and die by Mother Nature’s annual allotment.
The authors caution prospective hunters to the “spottiness” and inconsistencies of mast production with some localized busts here and bumper crops there. Those that find the bumper zones, particularly for the ever cherished white oak acorns, should immensely increase their odds at finding some game.
Moving to the general status of the major game species; let’s deal with the unquestionable number one first, the white-tailed deer. DNR staff is projecting archery, muzzleloader and antlerless gun deer kills to be fairly similar to last year. However, the gun buck kill is projected to be higher largely because of a mild winter and the excellent fawn crop of 2011, which in turn were a product of the bumper acorn mast in 2010.
In short, yester-year’s male fawns are now yearling bucks sporting their first set of antlers. That excellent age class of bucks is now out there to greet the hunter.
Squirrel, rabbit, grouse, turkey and wild boar are forecast to be about the same as last year.
Raccoons and black bears are projected to be higher than last year. For those bears however, the authors were so bold to predict not only, “an increase from 2011 but slightly below the record kill of 2010; thus, ranking it number two on the all-time list.”
Hope this gets you off on the right foot and that the outdoor food conditions in your neck of the woods is a horn of plenty.