Poor Acorn Crop In North Georgia Mountains

WRD's annual Mast Crop Survey finds poor ratings for key oak species.

Mike Bolton | September 10, 2022

White oak acorns will be harder to find in the north Georgia mountains this fall.

Hunters utilizing any of the 21 WMAs in north Georgia during the 2022-23 season will be greeted with one of the poorest mast crops in recent years, according to the just-released WRD Mast Crop Survey of those WMAs.

Overall, the 21 WMAs rated poor for white oaks, red oaks, chestnut oaks and on the total oak rating scale (see chart below). Only on the hickory rating scale did the combined WMAs get a fair rating.

Those same WMAs received fair to good ratings in 2020 and again in 2021, historical data shows.

“The mast crop is highly dependent on the weather’s stimulation of the tree,” said Alan Isler, WRD’s Chief of Game Management. “There are a number of combinations that can create poor mast crops, but a huge contributor to this poor crop was the late frost we received. That’s not a scientific conclusion but an educated guess, and I received my training as a forester.”

Poor mast crops affect both hunters and wildlife, but not in the ways you might imagine, Isler said. For hunters, it’s probably not as bad as they might think. It might make it more difficult to pattern deer, but the deer will be moving in search for food. The bear will also be moving in search for food.

The downside, Isler said, is that in their search for food, deer, and especially bears, often end up in areas where they shouldn’t be, like residential areas.

“A poor mast crop isn’t good for wildlife, but it surely isn’t decimating,” he said.

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There were some bright spots in the annual mast survey. Berry College, Burnt Mountain, Cohutta-West Cowpen, Johns Mountain and Rich Mountain all showed good white oak crops, and Cohutta-West Cowpen also showed a good red oak crop. Burnt Mountain, Chestatee-Dicks Creek, Coopers Creek, Dawson Forest, Pine Log Mountain and Rich Mountain all scored in the good category in the hickory rating scale.

The success or failure of mast crops hinges on a delicate balance of weather conditions, Isler said. A dry spring and a wet summer, or a wet spring and a dry summer, can both lead to poor mast crops, as can a late frost.

Ideally, it’s best for it to not be too dry or too wet, he said. Oddly, a little bit of stress in both categories during those periods seems to lead to a much better production, he added.

The mast production survey is accomplished by marking off the individual WMAs into grids, Isler said. The number of and types of mast-producing trees are counted, and the number of trees with acorns is counted. A formula determines the poor, fair or good ratings.

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