November marks a big change in the lifestyle of our wildlife.  Most mammals and gallinaceous birds (chicken-like birds, including turkey and grouse) are concentrating their efforts on consuming calorie-laden hard mast to prepare them for the winter season.  Hard mast includes oak acorns, hickories, walnuts and beechnuts, while soft mast includes cherries, blackgum, persimmons, blackberries, blueberries, pokeweed, grapes and the like.


Right now, black bear are totally focused on eating acorns.  They will feed up to 20 hours a day, consuming 20,000 calories and adding 2-4 pounds of fat daily.   It is literally a feeding frenzy; so dominant a trait that it’s been given a name: hyperfagia.  The need to feed becomes so important in the life cycle of the black bear, that even sex is put on hold; literally.  With an actual gestation of only 6 to 8 weeks, it would be natural to presume that the mating season would be starting now.  However, black bear, along with most members of the weasel family, has evolved the ability to temporarily suspend the growth of the fertilized egg by withholding implantation of the egg in the uterus.  This enables the bear to mate at a more appropriate time, and still give birth at the necessary time.  This delayed implementation enables the black bear to mate in June, maintain an arrested state of development for five or six months, implant the egg at this time, and give birth in  late January.


Black bear will continue foraging until the hard mast is depleted.  As a result, a fall season of good hard mast production, or a ‘mast year’, will keep the bear out of hibernation longer than a poor mast year.  Another way of looking at it is, when the energy expended looking for acorns exceeds the energy gained by eating the acorns, the black bear will, in essence, minimize its’ losses, and begin his or her winter sleep. 


A three-year SNP study in the early 80’s found that bear entered winter dormancy as early as late November and as late as early January.  In general, den entry was earlier for females than males (sows with cubs had a later entrance date than pregnant sows).  Four cases of bears not denning were also recorded. Two were subadult males, and two were females with yearlings- you know how kids are.


If you read the State game publications, you’d know that November is also the season that hunters can take their children into the woods to ‘bond with their children and nature’, by ‘harvesting’ bear, deer, turkey, and almost any other animal they can find.  Certainly, it’s not a coincidence that this is the time of the year I’ve seen the biggest bucks in the Park.


Surprisingly, the amount of fall hard mast has a measurable affect on hunting success.

Mast surveys have been used to forecast white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, and squirrel harvests for many years.  A twenty two-year study (1980-2002) in West Virginia relating mast crop to the success of hunting shows interesting results.  For example, in a good mast crop year, archery bear hunting will be down, while gun hunting will be up.  This is due to the large and dispersed available crop, which disperses the bear and limits their travels, making them harder to find for the early archery season, while keeping black bear actively feeding for a longer time, thus making them more vulnerable to the later season gun hunters.  In contrast, a poor mast year will cause bear to travel greater distances to find food, and will tend to congregate bear near the fewer mast-bearing trees (or human-baited stations), making them more susceptible to archers, and end the season earlier, resulting in a lower harvest by the late-season gun hunters.


November is a big month for deer as well.  This month is the major mating, or rutting, season for deer.  The female does, in heat for only one day in the month, have been followed by impatient bucks for weeks, waiting for that opportunity to satisfy their hormonal needs.  There are some does that enter heat in October, and for those who did not get fertilized this month, there can be one more rut in December.


As is the case for black bear, there was a negative relationship between hard mast and total white-tailed deer and archery white-tailed deer.  A correlation between oak-mast conditions to buck gun or muzzleloader harvests was not found due to the short season when weather and other factors play a more significant role in harvest numbers than mast availability. 


I’m always amazed at the total population and number of wildlife harvested each year in our mid-Atlantic region.  Here are the numbers for bear and deer in our tri-State region for 2006:




Est. Deer




Est. Bear



















West Virginia





North Carolina










*   Alleghany and Garrett Counties only.


(Additional figures on other furbearing mammals of this region can be found at:


Surveys of our National Parks staff have identified the two biggest threats to the stability of our natural forest environments to be the invasion of introduced species (plants, animals and fungi) and the browsing pressure from an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.  White-tailed deer have been a major concern in many National Parks of the northeastern U.S. for over two decades.  Over 70% of responding Parks noted current deer concerns and were at various stages of taking action to deal with this problem. 


While there are those who may suggest that killing, as a sport, should had ended with the Roman Gladiators, it is obvious that, in lieu of a balance from predation, a population control methodology is necessary.