The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) has released their findings for the 2013 mast survey and they’re calling it the year of the beech. According to the survey, “this year’s index for beech was the third highest since the mast survey started in 1971.” Hickory and walnut both increased by 50% and also produced a good crop this year. The oak trees on the other hand didn’t fair too well especially in the low lands. All oak mast species decreased substantially from last year’s 2012 mast survey. According to this year’s mast survey, “the abundance (or lack thereof) of oak mast may remind many of the dismal mast crop of 2009.
The combination of beech, hickory, and walnut should help offset the lack of oak mast. Surveyors reported that although oak was scarce, oak abundance in the higher elevations was more plentiful. For example, elevations above 2,800 feet were more likely to have decent acorn crops.” I noticed this on high ridge tops in Webster and Greenbrier counties, there were red and chestnut oaks dropping acorns. In the lower elevations like Braxton County, the acorns are sparse under the oak trees. I’ve heard similar reports from the eastern panhandle. To sum it up, if you’re hunting in the higher elevations of the state look for oaks dropping acorns as the wildlife will be consuming them. For hunters in the lower elevations, fields and field edges would be good places to concentrate on. Soft masts like cherry, apple, pear, persimmons did very well this year.
Black cherry increased the most of the soft masts jumping up 79% from last year’s survey. Apple tree limbs are literally breaking from the heavy crop they produced this year. Those fields with fruit trees would be good places to hunt during the early season. Another interesting observation from the survey was that “this year, the indices for the species of interest are almost reversed, i.e., last year the indices for walnut and beech were down and indices for hard mast species (hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black/ red oak and scarlet oak) were up.” It will be even more important to scout your hunting area to find what mast produced this year as it seems to vary throughout the state. Mast conditions play an important part for not only determining where to hunt, but also predicting what the harvest totals will be at the end of the year. 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. On the other hand, 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. However, West Virginia black bear hunters will have some unique hunting opportunities for 2013. “There will be an early split gun season when dogs may be used, over half of the counties will be open for some type of season concurrent with buck gun season, there is a 3 month bow season and we still have the traditional December gun season. Therefore, in 2013 we are predicting a record black bear harvest” the survey stated.
For whitetail deer hunters, the WVDNR is predicting a higher kill for 2013. “For the first time in history, hunters will be able to harvest 2 deer each day during any season provided that only one may be antlered. In addition, they will not be required to take the first deer to the checking station before pursuing the second animal. Therefore, hunters that have a limited amount of time may harvest 2 deer with a bow on a Saturday or kill an extra antlerless deer during the first three days of the gun season.” Due to low oak mast the WVDNR is predicting a higher archery harvest for this year. “The poor oak mast conditions will mean that deer will be easier to pattern and harvest. This should lead to increased success rates and more animals in the hunter’s freezers.” The buck season harvest should be similar to last year’s 2012 season total. The antlerless harvest should be higher in 2013 with an increased daily bag limit of 2 deer. Last year the muzzleloader season was bumped up a week and may have caught hunters off guard.
The earlier date is in effect for this year and muzzleloader season runs from December 9-14. The WVDNR is hoping that hunters take note of the change and are predicting a higher muzzleloader harvest as result. Small game species like squirrels, rabbits, and grouse benefited from last year’s mast and mild winter and are in good numbers this year. The wet spring has provided lush green vegetation and plenty of cover for the prey species. Although grouse numbers aren’t what they use to be, there are still a few around. For fall turkey hunters the survey states that, “mild winter and average reproductive conditions should mean that survival was good. With the poor oak mast conditions, hunters should concentrate their efforts near beech or black cherry flats. In addition, because the limited amount of oak mast was at higher elevations hunters should do well to focus their efforts in those localized areas where acorns may be present. Due to the larger number of counties open for a fall season and the poor oak mast conditions; we are predicting a higher fall turkey season harvest.” October is here and hunting season is getting into full swing. Make sure to take some time and scout this year to find what mast produced in your hunting area. Good luck and stay safe.
The WVDNR 2013 mast survey can be found here: www.wvdnr.gov