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Mast study helps with planning

October 10, 2004|by BILL ANDERSON

Every year I look forward to reading the annual mast survey compiled by the Department of Natural Resources. This year the DNR reports that 313 spots were surveyed around the state. The mast survey has been conducted every year for more than 30 years, and as a result, wildlife mangers have exceptional data to map hunting success to mast conditions over a large number of seasons.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, mast is the food crops produced each year by fruit-bearing trees. The professionals divide mast into two groups - hard mast (nuts such as acorns, beech and hickory nuts) and soft mast (berries, grapes or wild cherries).

The success of the mast crop each year has a direct impact on hunting conditions and the success that hunters will enjoy. Veteran hunters understand that identifying the preferred food sources is a key aspect of preseason scouting. In most areas this means identifying the areas with viable mast crops and the game animals such as deer, turkey, bear or other species that are feeding in that area on that mast crop.

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The good news for this year is that oak mast production is much better for most of the state compared to last year. The very good news is that fruit from white oak and chestnut oak has more than doubled from last year. The bad news is that beechnuts are down 70 percent from last year and hickory nuts are down 48 percent.

As a hunter - particularly if you hunt forest wildlife such as deer, turkey, bear and squirrels - the mast conditions each fall are critically important. For much of the season, the most important factor to finding game will be food sources. Other factors also matter, such as hunting pressure or the rut season for deer.

The overall situation as described in the mast survey is that this will be a generally good mast year in most locations. Acorns are a preferred food source of many game animals, and the reports on acroen crops from around the state are generally good. It is likely most areas in Maryland will see similar results.

In past seasons, we have had some historically low mast crops. When this happens the deer are forced to adjust. In many areas, deer moved from feeding in the mountains to feeding in the farmlands. The hunters who failed to adjust did poorly.

A good mast report is only a starting point in planning your hunting season. Hunters will still need to scout hunting areas to find the best mast areas, and make plans accordingly. When you find the areas with great nut production, you can usually feel confident that the game will be there.

In general, the mast conditions look favorable for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. The annual mast report contains a lot of data. To get a copy please visit the West Virginia DNR Web site at www.wvdnr.gov/hunting/PDFFiles/2004_MAST_SURVEY.pdf

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