West Virginia's squirrel hunters probably won't encounter as many bushytails this fall as they did last fall.
That isn't to say, though, that squirrel hunters are in for a poor season. It just won't be as good as the one they enjoyed in 2011.
Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said there's a good reason why hunters should lower their expectations a bit.
"In any given year, squirrel reproduction is tied to the abundance of acorns and other hard mast items the preceding fall," Johansen explained. "In 2010, we had a record-breaking acorn and hard-mast crop, so last year we had an abundance of squirrels. The mast crop wasn't nearly as good last year as it was in 2010, and that translates to poorer squirrel reproduction this year."
In this case, "poorer" doesn't necessarily mean "poor."
"Last year's mast crop was far from a total bust," Johansen continued. "We did have reproduction this year, and we'll have plenty of squirrels to hunt. We just won't have them in 2011's numbers."
He also said hunters shouldn't count on finding many squirrels that survived the 2011 season.
"Generally speaking, squirrels in the wild don't live all that long," he said. "We don't count on them to 'carry over' like deer. Of all the factors that influence abundance, food conditions the previous year is the driving force."
Johansen said it's difficult to predict exactly how well hunters might fare this fall because biologists and wildlife managers haven't yet determined which individual mast crops will be relatively abundant and which will be scarce.
"It would be nice to know what the hickory and acorn crops are going to be like," he said. "Knowing how much hickory is out there is important because squirrels like to cut hickory nuts first before moving over to beechnuts, acorns and walnuts. If hickory 'hits' this year, that's where people will find squirrels during the early weeks of the season."