Conditions favor a massive mast harvest this fall

JERRY DAVIS For Lee Sports Wisconsin

The forest could be an autumnal orchestra if squirrels, deer, turkeys and grouse were vocalizing with enthusiasm due to a great harvest of oaks, walnuts, walnuts, some walnuts and also some fleshy fruits.

Foresters, in particular, use the term mast for nuts from forest trees that have accumulated on the ground and were historically used to fatten pigs and also as food for wildlife. Soft mast is just that, not hard like nuts, but soft like grapes and many types of berries.

With walnuts there are no bountiful harvests and it is a tree shortage caused by a fungal disease. The same goes for American chestnuts which have almost become extinct due to fungal infestation. Those who have planted chestnuts have learned that the trees are probably doomed to fail as wind and other vectors carry the spores to new places where plantations have been established.

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Hard and soft mast are plentiful this fall. Some of us can eat, too.


Area foresters, who are in the woods off and on throughout the summer and fall, are ecstatic, generally attributing a large crop of soft and hard fruit to a good start, few late frosts, and then favorable growing conditions. Many tree species also go from poor to great on their own.

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For trees, this abundance means greater germination changes and seed recruitment, despite hungry and hoarding animals.

Seed banks for nurseries will be replenished.

Even freezers of shelled and chopped walnuts and walnuts should be stocked.

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Look for deer to feed under walnut and apple trees.


Hunters and wildlife watchers will keep an eye out and wait for animals to visit a favorite tree, bush, or vine species where the mast has accumulated.

Even patchy production in some places has archers, turkey hunters, squirrel hunters, and others watching for falling nuts and other fruit. Of course, many hungry animals are impatient. Some climb trees, chop nuts and twigs, and run down to pick up a white oak acorn, a shelled hickory seed, or a large walnut.

The few American chestnut trees planted as an experiment in Wisconsin, if they get enough sun, will flower and form buds after five or six years. These nuts are well protected by an extremely prickly strawberry which splits into four parts and drops two to three nuts. The animals wait for the natural dehiscence (opening) and do not risk being trapped by the spines.

One could imagine that this strawberry evolved as a means of keeping more nuts on the tree until they are fully ripe before cutting them, increasing the chance that squirrels will hide a few more and grow into seedlings.

Opportunities abound for everyone to embrace fall

The abundant fruits have caught the attention of wildlife enthusiasts who have already cut grape bunches, extracted the juice and canned jars of jam for next spring. Instead of buying grape or citrus jam, feeders can simply open a homemade jar and feed local jam.

Squirrels are the worst enemies of some bird feeders, but instead of fighting them, now might be the year to put away several bushels of whole walnuts or walnuts and grab a handful, crack them in half or better, and toss them into a container. different place to keep the squirrels away from the feeders.

Some birds will also seek out the nut meats without us removing them from the broken shells. If they’re hungry, they’ll gnaw a bit to get the last of the shell.

With fall at the doors, start by looking small

Walnuts, hickory nuts, and nutmegs work best here, and some dried fruit also make attractive winter treats.

Picking walnuts, for whatever reason, can be exciting. Sometimes easy picking is along a gravel driveway or parking lot until one realizes that the whitish walnuts are the same hue as ¾-inch crushed limestone gravel.

One spring I bent down to pick up a morel and discovered that it had grown through several holes that a small mammal had cut into the hickory nut, probably the previous fall.

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Fall mushrooms continue to appear, like this coral fungus that grows on bark chips.


One nut had a tiny larva squeezing out a tiny hole that somehow cut through the shell. Fresh fish bait?

Wally Banfi, at Wilderness Fish and Game in Sauk City, wasn’t as busy recording sturgeon this September as he was last; only eight said so far. He has turned his attention to the smaller fish, guiding walleye and musk anglers and saying now is the time, up north and here in the Madison Chain of Lakes, to go for the state’s sport fish. Walleye too, he added.

Archers appear to be hoping for this cooler weather to continue, according to Don Martin of Martin’s in Monroe. Finally, says Martin, we have the hunting regulation brochures.

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White oak acorns seem like fall candy for deer, according to Brent Drake, at Tall Tails in Boscobel. “Establish a way to get away from the pecan tree on a path deer are likely to take,” he says.

Doug Williams, at the DW Sports Center in Portage, is also taking aim at the white oaks, but the goalkeepers are still waiting for the weather. “In the meantime, they can enjoy the changing colors that are beginning to appear on the roads and elsewhere. Don’t forget the crops, corn and soybeans, they are also changing”.

Wayne Smith spent a few days in northern Wisconsin, where bear hunters are having some success. “It seems there are enough grouse to hunt, less than last year, but we have seen some on the trails,” he said. “The moose are about to start blowing bugles now that the weather is changing, and there are some colors too. That first week of October could be peak leaf-watching time,” he said.

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Fall colors are beginning to show, but some leaves are already falling as well.


This could be the last week for a bee alert. Ground bees and paper wasps are about to call it a season, depending on the weather.

Here in southern Wisconsin, leaf fall begins along with color changes, so peak times are always somewhat rare compared to areas with less tree diversity. Look small and you won’t be disappointed.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at [email protected] or 608.924.1112.