'07 Mast Won't Last

Deer hunters across much of the Midwest and South who own their hunting property may be wise to consider supplemental wildlife food plots this year. That’s because game managers from Illinois to Georgia are indicating that this spring’s record cold temperatures (aka: The Easter Freeze) have all but guaranteed a greatly reduced amount of both hard and soft mast crops—the favored food of whitetail deer and turkey—for the remainder of 2007.Browsingdeer

“This freeze affected forests across the South, but it didn’t affect every plant in every location the same way,” Martin Blaney, statewide habitat coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told the Arkansas News Bureau.

“What’s interesting is that you can find some trees that weren’t very affected within some of these hard hit forests, he said. “It was a widespread event, but different areas were affected to varying degrees.”

The bottom line for hunters is this: In many cases, acorns, hickories and other nuts won’t be available for wildlife this coming fall and winter. In addition, many of the “soft mast,” fruit and berries were also harmed during the Easter freeze of 2007.

Blaney noted the greatest damage to foliage was in areas where vegetation had bloomed or leafed out, and temperatures dipped well below freezing for multiple nights.

“I’ve been a forester in Arkansas for 28 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite this extensive,” he said.

Biologists in other Southern states said the freeze could have an immediate impact on the bear population, driving bruins into populated areas while searching for food.

“Hard mast is a primary food source for wildlife in mountainous areas. Animals depend on them for reproduction and survival,” said Kim DeLozier, biologist for Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “In past years when there was a mast failure, we had an increase in bear problems inside and outside the Park - in 1997 they traveled as far as Knoxville and Maryville.”