Scouting a mast for hunters

October 12, 2003|by BILL ANDERSON / Staff Correspondent

One of the most informative documents for West Virginia hunters is the annual mast survey compiled by the Department of Natural Resources and the state Division of Forestry.

The survey has been conducted each year for the past 34 years, and provides a great historical record of mast production and how the availability of mast can and does affect game harvests. It is an important planning tool it you take advantage of it.

Mast is the term used to describe the native food crops produced each year by fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. There are two categories: hard mast, which would include acorns and hickory nuts, and soft mast, which would include berries, apples or cherries.

The success of the mast crop each year has a direct impact on hunting conditions and the success that hunters will enjoy. Most knowledgeable hunters understand that identifying the preferred food sources is a key aspect of preseason scouting. In most areas, this means identifying the areas with decent mast crops and the game animals that are feeding in that area.


If you are familiar with West Virginia hunting, you probably know that the state is divided into a total of six regions beginning with Region 1 in the eastern Panhandle and ending with Region 6 comprised of the far southwestern counties.

The following are the summary mast reports for each Region:

Region 1 - Some of the Region 1 news is very good. Walnuts, hickory, scrub oak and common apples are much better than last year. The bad news for the Eastern Panhandle counties is that the acorn crop is poor. This is also the case in most areas around the state. In fact, the acorn crop in Region 1 is even worse than last year, which was a poor year, and down 53 percent from the long-term average.

Region 2 - This area also features a poor acorn crop, but good production from beechnuts, black cherries, walnuts and crab apples and common apples.

Region 3 - The mast conditions in the south follow a similar pattern with very poor acorn crops. Oaks are down from last season, but beech, hickory, cherries, grapes, dogwood and common apples are better than last fall.

Region 4 - The acorn crop is better here. Black, red and scarlet oaks are down, but white and chestnut production is better than 2002. The hickory crop is one of the best in the state.

Region 5 - This area actually reports acorn crops that are as good as last year, particularly the important white oak and chestnut oak acorns. Beech, walnut, hickory, crap apples and common apples are better than last fall.

Region 6 - The counties here have some of the best mast reports in the state. Beech, walnut and hickory are better than last year. Oaks are generally as good as last year. The one mast species lower than last season are the scarlet oaks.

In general, the mast conditions do not appear to be very good for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. It is likely that this will also apply to most areas in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The hunters that are likely to be the most successful this fall will keep this fact in mind and do the scouting to find the alternative food sources.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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