This past week, I received my 2010 Mast Survey Report from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. I would have really liked to have received this before the opening of the squirrel season, like they did in the past.
This year, 353 locations in various areas of the state were surveyed. This compares to 290 locations that were covered last year. In 2008, 295 areas were covered; and in 2007, 326 were covered. It looks like more people want to be involved with this program, which is good. For several years, I have tried to get more sportsmen and women involved with this project. The individuals involved with this year's survey come from many walks of life. This includes wildlife managers, foresters, wildlife biologists, retired wildlife managers, conservations officers and many others.
Statewide, the mast this year has increased considerably from last year. For example, the chestnut oak and white oak have increased over 400 and 200 percent, respectively. Walnut has increased 12 percent, and hickory is up nearly 50 percent over last year.
When this mast survey was first implemented in 1970, its main purpose was to use it to forecast squirrel populations and overall statewide hunting conditions. From this study, wildlife biologists have learned current mast conditions impact over winter survival and reproductive predictions for the following year.
In ecological Region Two, which includes Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Webster counties, there is a big improvement in just about all mast conditions over last year. Hickory and all oaks (except scrub oak) are the big producers this year. There is also an abundance of black cherry other wild soft fruits. Most game species should have plenty of food for the fall and winter periods in this region. The critters should be in good shape for reproduction in the spring next year.
I went out in the woods this past Saturday with my favorite .22 rifle. The leaves were still heavy in this area, but I was able to get two large male gray squirrels during the morning hours. While I was hunting, I saw three turkeys, two deer, two raccoons and about 10 squirrels. I did not hunt in the afternoon because I wanted to watch the West Virginia University football game. From the outcome of that game, I wish that I had gone back into the woods.
Squirrel numbers were quite low in Randolph County last year, but they appear to be on the rebound. If we do not have any hard spring freezes in 2011, their numbers should be much higher next year. I have often said when you give rodents good living conditions, they don't just reproduce, they practically multiply.
Most hunters are predicting a record black bear harvest in 2010. I stated in a past column that I didn't think I would ever see the day when a hunter could take more than one bear in a calendar year. This year, a hunter can take two bears as long as one bear is from Boone, Fayette, Kanawha or Raleigh counties. It is also interesting to know that 11 additional counties were opened in the western part of the state to the traditional December bear season, but without dogs.
This year's fall turkey season is really unpredictable. I know that I am seeing more birds this fall than last year, but they would be well-scattered with the bountiful supply of acorns in the woods. This year is the initialization of a new fall turkey season. Thirteen new counties will have a one-week fall season this year. Game biologists are hoping for a higher turkey fall harvest than last year.
All deer hunters should try to do some scouting before the traditional buck gun season starts on Nov. 22. Your possibility of bagging that "big buck" will be better. Right now is a good time to scout for deer and squirrel hunt at the same time. While many are predicting a lower harvest in 2010, there are still plenty of whitetails out there. I think I am seeing as many deer along the roads as last year. The animals did much better than expected with the hard winter we had last year.
Election day is Tuesday, and I will conclude this column by saying vote as you please, but please vote.