Find the food and you’ll find the wildlife. This old saying has more importance for hunters this year, as a late freeze and drought conditions throughout the state have reduced the amount of food available for wildlife.
Field surveys show that the crop of hard mast—nuts such as acorns and hickories—is spotty this year. The soft mast, such as berries, wild grapes, and dogwood fruits, are also in limited supply.
What does this mean for hunters? Unlike the past two years, when mast crops were abundant and deer, turkeys, squirrels, and other animals didn’t have to move far to find food, wildlife will be moving more this season. Hunters are more likely to see game this year.
Surveys show that the spring freeze devastated white oak and hickory blooms in most areas of the state, which affected the nut crop, says John Morgan, small game program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Acorns from white oaks are a favorite food of many animals.
Red oak trees, which bloom one year and produce acorns the next, fared much better this year.
“It’s definitely a red oak year,” Morgan says. “I would be looking for groves of red oaks to hunt in this year.”
While this was not a good year for nut production, it is not nearly as bad as in 2004. In that year, food was so scarce that a so-called “squirrel migration”—actually a case of squirrels moving into areas with more food, such as parks and neighborhoods—occurred statewide.
Morgan also suggests squirrel hunters seek out walnut trees, which apparently are having a decent year. Many times old home sites have walnut trees nearby.
While the weather was bad for food, the early season drought actually helped some animals. Because many farmers delayed cutting their hay, quail received a boost by having fewer disturbances to their nesting sites. Some opportune rains in the critical July 15-August 15 quail-hatching season produced insects for the chicks to eat.
Biologists depend on hunters to help estimate game populations. Participating in game surveys is easy to do: go to fw.ky.gov/smallgamelogs.asp on the Internet to get your own small game hunting log, or call (800) 858-1549 to have one mailed to you. Here’s the best part: when you send in your survey at the end of the season, you’ll not only receive an annual report about the survey, but you’ll receive a free baseball cap.