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Outlooks differ for hunting season

No person in their right mind should be complaining about all the rain we have been getting for this week. This precipitation has been desperately needed in this area for nearly a month.

Last week, I got my 2017 Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook Report from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. This year, 236 locations covering all regions of the state were surveyed. Observations were collected by all kinds of outdoor and wildlife professionals, which includes foresters, wildlife biologists, wildlife managers, natural resources police officers, and all sorts of other volunteers.

This annual mast survey began in 1971. Its main purpose was to use it in a manner to forecast the squirrel populations and statewide hunting outlook.

This year, most of the hard mast figures are above the 46-year average. The soft mast production is higher this year than last year and above the 46-year average with apple production leading the way.

This is only the good news that is contained in this report. In 2017, the WVDNR is predicting that the squirrel, raccoon, wild boar, and wild turkey harvest will be lower than last year. The DNR predicts the statewide harvests of cottontail rabbit, ruffed grouse, and white-tailed deer will be similar to last year. The DNR predicts a record black bear harvest that was similar to the record harvest in 2015 when 3,201 bears were taken by Mountain State hunters.

Now, back to the good news. The various nut species are up from 2016 as follows: Beech, 81 percent; Walnut 183 percent; Hickory 285 percent; White Oak 52 percent; and Chestnut Oak, 106 percent. Black and Red Oak are down 3 percent, and Scarlet Oak is down 6 percent.

The statewide mast index compared to the 46-year average is like this: Beech up 21 percent; Walnut up 74 percent; Hickory up 60 percent; White Oak up 38 percent; Chestnut Oak up 59 percent; Black/Red Oak up 7 percent; Crab Apple up 29 percent; and Apple up 37 percent. Only one mast species was down in this statewide survey, and that was Sassafras at one percent.

In WVDNR Ecological Region Two, which includes Greenbrier, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Webster Counties, several mast species were up from last year except for Black/Red oak, Scarlet Oak, Scrub Oak, and Dogwood. The Beech was up a whooping 1,767 percent, Walnut up 134 percent; Hickory up 579 percent; White Oak up 131 percent; and Chestnut Oak up 674 percent.

In the same ecological region when compared to the 46-year average, Beech is up 13 percent; Walnut up 97 percent; Hickory up 64 percent; White Oak up 39 percent; Chestnut Oak up 128 percent; Crab Apple up 59 percent. Black Cherry was down 11 percent from the 46-year average.

The DNR insists that the bear hunters have never had it so good, particularly for those who hunt with dogs in the Southern counties. A record black bear harvest will not be one bit surprising.

The total white-tailed deer harvest for all of the various seasons combined should be similar to, maybe slightly lower, than last year. The above-average oak crop will spread the animals out. This situation will make it difficult for the bow and crossbow hunters, along with anyone else who hunts from a tree stand.

The fall Wild Turkey harvest will most likely be down from last year. The serious squirrel hunters had better be ready to do some foot traveling. Mast conditions for these critters was something to be desired last year, and the survival rate could not have been very good.

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