Natural Resources reports less mast this year for game animals
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The morning air, just before sunrise, will be just as brisk and just as stinging to the face.
Fingers and toes will be just as uncomfortable as the first shadows from the rising sun glance off the bare trees.
Sounds from the forest floor will be there. Birds with feathers puffed out to keep what heat is present might call out.
Will the deer come close?
Or will they be roaming in troughs and ravines and on other hillsides in search of what mast there is this fall?
The Department of Natural Resources reports that the mast is not as plentiful as it was last fall. Acorns from red oak, black oak, chestnut oak and scarlet oak are going to be harder to find for any foraging deer. Same goes for beech, walnut and hickory nuts.
The scarcity of mast will be a topic of intense interest for the hunters who comb the hills, canyons and open fields of the state.
Without many locations or areas with concentrations of mast, what will the deer do to find adequate food? One member of the DNR said the slimmer pickings for deer just might help the hunters. He said deer will have to be moving — covering more ground — to get what they need. The more movement, the better chance for a hunter to see them.
Acorns and other nuts aren’t the only food the deer want.
The so-called “soft mast” crop also keeps deer alive in the wintertime.
Some soft mast comes from trees. Crabapple and black cherry provide substitutes for hard mast (nuts) when times are lean for deer. Shrubs such as hawthorn, sassafras and blackberry cant completely sustain a deer through the bleak and blustery days of a long winter, but they do help.
There is competition for what mast is available. Black bears, squirrels, wild turkeys and wild boar get just as hungry and just as desperate as the deer. And now there are a few elk in the state, brought in by the DNR to possibly populate the low-slung mountains in numbers high enough to one day bring at least a bob-tailed hunting season for them.
Drenching rains through the spring, summer and early fall are blamed for the lower number of nuts. Higher temperatures than normal for late August, September and October have also been blamed for fewer nuts.
All the weather variables can be taken into consideration, but the hunters will be out in the field in the same numbers — wearing the bright orange vests, pants and hats and squinting against the slow-arriving sunrise to hear the sounds of the slowly foraging deer moving through the dim light in a patch of mast-producing trees and mostly unaware of the attention he is getting from a person bent on taking an eight-point buck, whose meat and jerky can be devoured in the warmth of a cabin of choice.