We are little more than two weeks into a squirrel season that will continue
through the remainder of the year, but early hunts and observations indicate
that the year’s mast crop (the seeds of trees and other woody growth) is
something less than spectacular.
How good or bad the produce of Mother Nature will eventually be is difficult
to evaluate at this early date, but it will be somewhere down the line
from last year’s bumper crop.
“Spotty” is a word that often is used to evaluate the mast crop of lean
years, and that could be an apt appraisal for the way the seeds of trees
and woody growth are shaping up this year.
True, I am not seeing the hickory and black walnuts that were present
this time last year, but I still run into trees of both species that are
bearing very well, some offering even excellent crops. Likewise, not all
white oak species are producing the great crops of acorns they proffered
last year, but I am finding some trees producing fair crops. I see the
beech as much the same, but bitternut
hickory (a k a spignut or pignut) traditionally is out performing other
hickory species. This is good news for squirrels and squirrel hunters.
An indicator of a less than usual white oak crop will be noted in the
fact that we now are seeing squirrels cutting (feeding on) the black oak
species. This is almost unheard of in the early days of any squirrel season,
but it is happening now and it does not bode well for white oak mast, a
preferred food of deer as well as squirrels.
I am far from an expert on nutritional values of acorns from white and
black oak species, but the old-timers I knew as a boy used to say squirrels
could starve with their bellies full of red oak acorns. On the other hand,
my dad and many of my other senior squirrel-hunting mentors were high on
the acorns of pin oak. I am seeing more red oak mast this year than pin
oak, but the latter tends to develop more slowly than any of the other
oak species--white or black.
Although I have noticed spicewood’s (a k a spicebrush) beautiful fire-engine
red berries in the southern hardwood hills, and dogwood berries elsewhere,
seeds of maple, ash, gum (both black and sweet) appear only in places.
So what’s this year’s apparent shortage of mast all about? Were the
flowers nipped by frost last spring?
Not necessarily, says Phil O’Connor, forester in charge of the Division
of Forestry’s annual seed- gathering program. Most of the hardwoods of
Indiana, and many of the other tree species are biennial producers, O’Connor
He says a great part of the mast crop failure this year can be blamed
on last year’s bumper crop. Production of last year’s mast crop simply
used so much of the trees’ energy that they were unable to repeat the performance,
O’Connor says. Some of the oaks even are on a four or five-year cycle,
O’Connor says there is a good crop of white oak acorns in the northeast,
but elsewhere in the state oak production appears to be down.
Incidentally, the Division of Forestry nursery at Vallonia (good ol’
Jackson County) buys seeds from 50 species of trees (including 12 oak species
and black walnut). Those who have trees bearing good crops this year can
learn more of this program by calling O’Connor (812-358-3621), or by writing
him: P.O. Box 218, Vallonia, IN 47281.
CORRECTION--Last week’s column erroneously
reported that the limit on doves is 25 per day. The
daily bag limit on doves will be 15 and the possession limit 30 when the
first segment of that season opens Wednesday (Sept 1).