Minor mast items that came in above average were dogwood, up 26 percent; and sassafras, up 8 percent. Below-average minor mast items include yellow poplar, down 10 percent; hawthorn, down 9 percent; crabapple, down 27 percent; blackberry, down 21 percent; greenbrier, down 12 percent; and apple, down 27 percent.
Keep in mind, though, that statewide numbers such as the ones outlined in this column can sometimes be deceptive. All mast items tend to be abundant in some geographic areas and scarce in others.
For instance, hickory came in 30 percent above average in the state's Ecological Region 3, but fell 22 percent below average in Ecological Region 4. Region 3 includes most of the counties in southern, southwestern and south-central West Virginia. Region 4 includes all the counties along Interstates 79 and 68 from Braxton County on to the northeast, with Barbour, Tyler and Upshur counties thrown in for good measure.
So what does all this mean?
In areas where acorns are really abundant, deer and bear hunters will find it tougher to locate their quarry. When deer have protein-rich acorns easily at their disposal, they become much more difficult to bait with corn, which is mostly carbohydrate and doesn't provide nearly as much nutrition.
Baiting for bears is illegal, but a big acorn crop still affects the bear harvest. When bears have plenty of acorns to eat, hunters during the December firearm season tend to fare substantially better than archery-season hunters. With so many acorns at their disposal, bears scatter widely during the bow season. In December, they stay out of their dens longer than usual, packing in calories for the coming hibernation, and are more easily taken by firearm-wielding hunters.