Last week, I received my 2012 West Virginia Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook Report. This year, 309 locations of the state were surveyed by outdoor professionals and cooperators from all walks of life.
One of the first things I noticed about this year's report is that it is not as thorough or comprehensive as it has been in past years. However, I really cannot be very critical of this survey mainly because I did not get my own report in this year. I have already been given a good scolding from the personnel at the Elkins Operations Center because of this.
A few weeks ago, I stated that the early reports indicate that mast was spotty. That is exactly what all mast appears to be statewide this year.
A squirrel hunter could go to his favorite place this year and find nothing. Naturally, it would be easy to think that mast and squirrels are quite scarce. Another hunter could go to his favorite place and think that he found a squirrel convention.
Speaking of squirrels, I went out this past Saturday morning for about four hours. I saw four and got three with three shots. Two of the bushytails were small, and the other was full grown.
I was using an old bolt-action, 12-gauge shotgun loaded with No. 6 shot. This location is just too close to civilization to be using a .22 rifle or pistol.
None of the squirrels had warbles, but if they had, I still would have dressed them out for consumption. I just do not agree with the old folks tale that warbles taint the meat or make the meat unfit to eat.
In the current statewide index, beech is down 60 percent, black walnut is down 37 percent, and apples are down 28 percent from last year. On the positive side, chestnut oak is up 360 percent from last year, along with white oak up 206 percent, and Hickory up 18 percent.
Black, Red, and Scarlet Oak are all up an even 60 percent. Most of the soft mast is down this year with the exception of wild black cherry, which is up 378 percent, and Sassafras up 69 percent.
In Ecological Region Two, which includes Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Webster Counties, beech is down 62 percent and apples down 46 percent. On the good side of things, hickory is up 17 percent, chestnut oak up 765 percent, red oak up 316 percent, and white oak up 112 percent.
For all deer hunters, this has to be good news. Acorns are what make deer fat. Fatty tissue is where venison, like beef, gets its flavor. Another bit of good news from Ecological Region Two is the report of wild black cherry up a whopping 2,260 percent from last year. This will be good for the turkeys and ruffed grouse.
As far as game animals are concerned, last year's mast crop may have provided most wildlife with enough energy reserves to survive one of the mildest winters this area has had on record. Winter starvation kills are expected to be minimal.
All squirrel hunters need to keep in mind that mast is spotty statewide. They need to be ready to go to a different location if the first one or two areas they try yields a big zero.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources expects this year's deer harvest to be better than last years.
The increased reproduction, along with the mild winter of 2011-2012, indicates there should be plenty of whitetails for hunters in the woods 2012.
The antlerless and buck harvest are expected to be higher than 2011. As always, the weather will be a deciding factor in this situation.
Archery and muzzleloader deer hunters should see a similar harvest to last year.
State bear hunters should feel very fortunate. The DNR is predicting an increased bear harvest from 2011; yet at the same time, they think it will be slightly below the record set in 2010. This would make the 2012 harvest the second highest on record.
When I think about all of the bears I have seen, along with the reports I have received from other people, the DNR just might be fooled. It could easily end up being another record harvest for the black bear.
A few weeks ago, I reported that the fall turkey harvest could be down this year.
In the past two weeks, people have told me that they have seen large groups of turkeys as they were driving along the secondary roads. This has to be a wait-and-see situation.
Ruffed grouse, like the turkeys, had a mild winter, which means good winter survival rates. With the abundance of wild black cherry and sassafras, it could mean the "thunderbird" numbers could be better than expected.
I have often said that Randolph County is not prime grouse country, but this year could be much better than the average year. So, good luck to all you grouse hunters. I would like to know how things go for you.