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DNR releases 2019 mast survey report

I had to take a leave of absence from this “Outdoor” column over the summer due to an unexpected illness. I started taking large doses of chemotherapy on July 25 (my birthday) and finished in mid-September. The therapy really sapped the energy right out of me to the point to where I did not want to do very much of anything. I am feeling somewhat better now, but I still get very tired when I try to move around quickly.

This past Monday, I received a West Virginia Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook Report for 2019 from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. I would like to share the information in this report with the area sportsmen and women.

This year, surveys were completed at 263 different locations in all of the six ecological regions throughout West Virginia. Statewide this year, the overall mast report is up nine percent from last year. The good news comes from the black and red oak, which is up more than 300 percent from last year. Beech is up 15 percent and apple is up 26 percent from 2018.

Statewide when comparing to the 48-year average, the overall mast report is up to 5 percent. The big increase is in the Walnut, which is up to 45 percent from last year. Black and Red Oak is up to 30 percent, Apple is up 16 percent and Hickory up to 14 percent.

In ecological region two, which includes Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker and Webster counties, the Black and Red Oak acorn mast is up a whopping 2,200 percent from last year. I had to call the Elkins Operations Center to make sure this figure was not a typographical error. They were able to confirm that the figure was correct. Other species that are up in this ecological region include: Walnut 106 percent, Hickory 36 percent, Beech 26 percent and Apple nine percent. This has to be good news for all of the deer and squirrel hunters.

When comparing ecological region two to the 48 year average, Walnut is up to 87 percent, Scarlet Oak is up 110 percent, Hickory is up to 57 percent and Apple is up to 37 percent. In this same region, even though Beech is up 26 percent from last year; it is still down 27 percent on the 48 year average scale. White Oak is down 96 percent, Blackberry down 14 percent and Sassafras is down 33 percent.

When it comes to the overall hunting outlook, the WVDNR is predicting a black bear harvest will be higher than last year. Bear hunters will have the opportunity to hunt bear with firearms during three early seasons with or without dogs in 24 counties. The weather will be the deciding factor during the traditional December season.

The factor that always influences the squirrel numbers is the hard most production from the previous year. Squirrels usually produce a summer litter, but the spring litter is highly dependent on the overwinter food availability. Last year, we had good white oak production; along with average hickory production. This has to be favorable for the Spring litters. This year, the black and red oak production is up significantly. Squirrel hunters trying to fill a daily and/or possession limit on squirrels could find this fall to be exciting. The WVDNR is predicting the squirrel harvest to be higher than last year.

For 2019, the DNR is predicting that all of the various white-tailed deer seasons will be similar to last year, with the exception of the new Mountaineer Heritage Season that could be higher. If the participation is good along with the increase in knowledge of this special season, then the potential for an increased harvest is there.

The DNR is predicting lower harvest for cottontail rabbit, ruffed grouse, wild boar and wild turkey. The leading reason for the lower wild turkey predicted harvest is due to the low reproduction last spring along with the increased production in black and white oak mast throughout the state.

When this mast survey began in 1971, its leading purpose was to forecast the annual squirrel populations and the bushy-tail hunting prospects. However, the wildlife biologists have learned that mast production conditions have effects on the overwinter survival rates of many other wildlife species in the months following a cold, long and hard West Virginia winters.