What’s lousy for the wildlife may be good for hunters this fall.

West Virginia’s 2020 mast report — DNR’s chronicle of the state’s edible plants — is showing the worst numbers in its 49-year history.

The lack of food from nuts, berries, leaves and shoots mean the state’s bears, deer and other game are ranging far and wide to eat. That could foretell a big buck season next month.

“It is bad, bad, bad, bad when it comes to soft mast,” DNR’s Chris Ryan, who heads up the mast report, said on WVMetroNews last week. “That has impacted things that have happened in the summertime.”

Soft mast encompasses 9 species from apples to greenbriers that make up the main diet during the summer.

Statewide, all 9 types were off from both last year and from the 49-year average.

In the eastern end of the state that includes Hampshire, blackberries, dogwood and greenbriers were up, but the other 6 were off — some way off, like the 91-percent decline in sassafras.

Hard mast didn’t fare much better. That’s 8 species — mostly acorns from different oaks — that are the typical fall feed for deer, bears, turkeys and squirrels.

“White oak and chestnut oak were bad last year, but hickory, which supports quite a few species is down significantly from last year,” Ryan said. “Squirrels and bears go to the hickory pretty fast because those hickory nuts are very high in carbohydrates and fat. A bear can put on a lot of weight by hitting the hickory flats, but this year it’s going to be real hard for them to find a lot of good hickory.”

Hickory is off 49 percent from the 49-year average in the eastern counties. Red and black oaks, the predominant species here, are flat with the average.

Other findings from the 2020 survey:

• Soft mast (think berries) was well above the 48-year average across the state. In this region grapes and apples led the way.

• White oak was off 74 percent and chestnut 84 percent in the region, which extends from Jefferson to Pendleton County.

• Overall, the report says, the 2020 deer harvest should be higher than last year. Deer survival from 2019 and the number of fawns will fuel the surge.  

• With an increase in bear seasons, DNR predicts a record bear take.

The complete mast survey is available in the hunting section of www.wvdnr.gov.

The survey is traditionally ready by the first of October, based on the August findings. It will be of particular use for the hunting seasons still to come. Bow season for deer and bear started at the end of September. 

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