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Research shows some acorns abundant, but the overall mast is down for 2022

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia hunters will notice a drop in overall mast production for 2022 in the woods of the Mountain State this fall, but one of the most prized sources of wildlife food did exceptionally well when compared to 2021.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources published the annual Mast Survey this week. The conclusions are the overall mast production was down 16 percent over the long term average statewide and it was 22 percent below last year. The report also found hard mast was down over the long term average by 21 percent and down 23 percent from the 2021 level.

However, the preferred food source for whitetail deer and many other game species, white oak acorns, saw a big rebound from last year.

“While White and Chestnut Oak acorn production was up significantly from 2021 across much of the state, production of Red/Black and Scarlet Oak is generally well below 2021 levels and the long-term average. White and Chestnut Oak acorns, and in some regions Scrub Oak acorns, should be most available statewide and should supply good nutrition to the species that rely upon them.”

Although the white oak acorns were a hit, other hard mast species were a bust. Beech, walnut, and hickory nuts were all down significantly from the 2021 level and were relatively below average across all of the state’s ecological regions.

Soft mast production for the year was considered mixed by reporters in the survey. Some of the soft mast species were well above the long term average, but in other parts of the state the trees were virtually bare.

“Soft mast production varied markedly by eco-region,” the survey read.

The mast survey also includes an annual hunting outlook from biologists with the West Virginia DNR. Based on the mast and other factors, biologist attempt to forecast the potential success for various game species. Although the predictions are based on available facts, other factors like weather are impossible to know, but can have a significant impact.

Based on the date, biologists at DNR predict the 2022 bear harvest will be lower. The change is blamed on changes in the season and a reduced opportunity for hunters to kill a black bear this hunting season. All or parts of 42 West Virginia counties will be open for bear hunting during the deer firearms season. However, for the first time in several yeas the agency dialed back the hunting opportunities in some counties as population levels appeared to peak.

As for the white tail deer season, overall the combined harvest of white tail deer for 2022 is expected to be similar to that of 2021. Mast conditions however are expected to have a negative impact on the archery season for deer. Officials suggested scouting and hunting areas of heavy white oak production. The food source is expected to hold out through the end of November. Other white tailed deer season, the buck season, muzzleloader season, and antlerless hunting seasons are predicted to be about the same level.

Squirrel season success is based on last year’s mast survey. The 2021 hard mast crop was slightly above the long term average, which meant squirrels came out of the winter in good shape and were able to add a second liter of reproduction. Hunter will likely find good squirrel hunting statewide this year and the harvest should be about what it was in 2021.

Wild turkey hunters are also expected to have a harvest close to the 2021 level. Officials say brood production, which is the key factor for the turkey harvest, was about the same as last year. The past two summers have been the best two summers in the last five years for broods. Officials say turkeys will probably feed in the woods amid a strong crop of white oak acorns.

Finally, several other game species are rated in the hunting outlook. Wild Boar harvests are predictive to be below 2021, racoon hunters will find a higher population of coon’s for the 2022-23 season. Off season reproduction of cottontail rabbits was hither and should offer more hunting opportunities. The ruffed grouse survey information indicates the downward trend will likely continue for another season with lower flush rates.

One of the agency’s survey authors, Dr. Chris Ryan, will talk more about the mast survey this weekend in an appearance on West Virginia Outdoors.