2016 Acorn Production Varies By Region
Over 200,000 hunters will take to the woods this fall in search of deer, turkey, and bear as well as a host of smaller game species. One thing all of these hunters need to know is the importance of acorns in the diets of the game they hunt. Acorns are a nutritious food providing protein, fat, and energy in the diets of 90 species of game and non-game animals in Virginia. As such, they are a staple food for Virginia’s wildlife, providing important resources to meet the physical challenges of winter weather and reproduction in the following spring. Wild turkeys will concentrate in areas where acorns are available, making them hard to find and leaving some hunters to wonder if turkey populations are low. Under these conditions hunter success rates decline. Conversely, when acorn crops fail, turkeys search forests and fields for other food sources which makes them easier for hunters to find thereby increasing hunter odds of success.
Given the importance of acorns to wildlife and relevance to hunter success and satisfactions, the Department annually monitors acorn crops across the state. In addition to Department staff, personnel from the Department of Forestry, Department of Conservation and Recreation-State Parks, Smithsonian Conservation Center, Natural Resources Conservation Service, several military bases, and US Army Corps of Engineers participate in the surveys. In comparison to last year’s statewide mast failures, the 2016 acorn crop was generally improved with statewide red oak ratings significantly exceeding their long-term averages while white oak ratings were lower, but near their long-term average. On a statewide basis red oak acorns were commonly rated average or bumper crops; however, the white oak acorn yield was more commonly rated as a failure.
Acorn production varied by region and by oak species within regions. The Coastal Region stood out as having better combined white and red oak production than other Regions. Red oak acorns crops were generally plentiful and in good numbers while white oaks were scattered, but heavy when found in the Coastal Region.
In the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Regions, white oak ratings generally exceeded red oak. Bumper yields of white oak were found at Ft. Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base and good numbers were seen at the White Oak Mountain Wildlife Management Area. A wide range of red oak crops were seen in this region. The single best (bumper) red oak rating was reported on the Fairystone Wildlife Management Area.
In contrast to other Regions, white oak production In the Alleghany Mountain and Ridge and Valley Region was much lower than the red oaks. White oak acorn production was commonly rated low or a failure throughout the Region while red oak production was commonly rated moderate to high. Good to bumper yields of red oak acorns were found from the southern reaches (Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area) of the region to the northern (Lee Ranger District of George Washington –Jefferson National Forest).
Readers should know that mast abundance ratings are intended to reflect the region averages, however, mast crops are not uniform across a Region; acorn abundance can vary among local areas that are 10-15 miles apart. Scouting is necessary for hunters to find local areas with good acorn production. White oak acorns are the first acorns to be selected and therefore the first to disappear. So it is not only important to know where acorns are abundant in September and October, but also what species of acorns are prevalent. Scouting will be particularly important in the 2016-17 hunting seasons as many game species are enjoying some sort of acorns and their movements and home ranges are dictated by the abundance of these important foods.
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