How to Find Fiddleheads for Next Year’s Harvest

Now is the time to start searching!

Every year, at the beginning of the fiddlehead season, I see countless people asking, “Is this a fiddlehead?” It seems like a no brainer finding them, but I forget that when I was growing up, my mother would have done anything to know how to find fiddleheads and not have to buy them. Since fiddlehead spots are heavily guarded as sacred, it’s just much easier to find your own spot than to even think of asking someone or possibly contributing to over-harvesting on a popular spot.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can find fiddleheads even now for next year, and perhaps even easier than when the season starts and definitely with less competition.

Best of all, finding fiddleheads out of season means you’ll be well prepared for next year. Chances are, you will find fiddleheads where you least expect to find them, and they’ll be bigger and less picked-over than the popular picked spots on the river.

Yes, fiddleheads do grow on the river banks, but that’s not the only places they grow. In fact, the biggest fiddleheads I’ve ever found weren’t found on the river, but in the woods, along a road, far away from the river. John and I spend a great deal of time driving logging roads all over Maine. This is the time of year when you can easily spot the ostrich a.k.a. fiddlehead fern.

There are two things you look for when scouting for fiddleheads; fern fronds (the leaves), and spores. Fiddleheads are the beginnings of the ostrich fern, which are easy to spot now that they are in full display. Another distinguishing attribute is the grooved stem of the fern. There are only 12 ferns in Maine, and most of them don’t look anything like the ostrich fern, so once you learn the twelve, it makes it far easier to finding fiddleheads, but really, just learn what the ostrich fern looks like and you won’t have a problem finding fiddleheads.

Fiddlehead ferns have very distinct foliage with very sharp points and slender leaves. Once the fiddlehead season is over, the ferns unravel and fill the roadsides along with other ferns that are often mistaken as fiddleheads. They are taller than most ferns. They look rather majestic and stand upright like ostrich feathers. If the ferns are large and are around three feet tall, then you most likely have found a mature batch with nice sized fiddleheads to found next spring.

So look carefully and look for sharp edged ferns. I’ve included photos so that you can really see the difference.  The first picture is fiddlehead fern. The others are not fiddlehead ferns, and when you compare them side by side, it’s easier to tell them apart. Fiddleheads will often grow amongst other ferns. In the picture with John picking fiddleheads, there are other ferns already up and open…and they’re not fiddleheads. Look at the photo of the fiddleheads up close; you will see the leaf structure of the fiddlehead fern before it opens up.

Fiddlehead ferns are bright green like a fiddlehead, not lemon green, or blue green…and not glossy like a Christmas fern.
Fiddleheads emerge from a cluster of root ball. You can usually find the dried spore pods as an indicator of where to look for fiddleheads.
John picking fiddleheads. See the other ferns that are not fiddleheads. They are paler green and have rounded leaves. Also note the seed pods from last year’s fiddlehead crop. New fiddleheads are emerging from the base of each bunch of dried fronds.

So the next time you get the chance to ride some roads, bring along your Gazeteer and mark locations that you can return to next spring. You won’t find those beautiful ferns, but you will most likely spot the dried spore pods that are left behind. So if you find yourself still not finding fiddleheads by the ferns, then try concentrating on the spore pods. Ostrich fern spore pods are very distinct, and you’ll know for sure you’ve found your spot. Not only are they neat to discover, but they make great decorations in a simple vase.

Ostrich fern spore pods look like a brown ostrich feather.
Remember that the fiddlehead has to have a grooved stem.

The other important thing to remember is timing. Since most of our fiddleheads are found north of where we live, we find that our mountain fiddleheads can be as much if not more than two weeks later before they’re ready to harvest, so don’t get discouraged if they’re not readily found the first time you check. Patience and persistence will get you the prize!

One other thing to consider if you are foraging on paper company land is to look for herbicide use nearby. Large clear-cuts will get sprayed yearly, so I like to make sure there aren’t any signs of herbicide use before I pick.

Happy Foraging!

Why I Carry – A Woman’s View

When I first started hunting, my husband chaperoned me and took me to my treestand in the dark because I was afraid of the woods; that is, I was afraid of what I couldn’t see. I wasn’t used to the sounds of the forest and which animals make what sound. I didn’t grow up spending my time in the woods, so it was all new to me. On more than one occasion I’ve watched other hunters walk by me in my treestand and not even see me.  And more than once, I’ve had a hunter whom I don’t know approach me while I was hunting. No matter when it happens, it’s just plain rude, but I’ve never been afraid.

Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable in the woods, and I no longer need the hand-holding I once relied upon; however, being comfortable in the woods isn’t the same thing as being a woman alone in the woods. When I hunt with my rifle, I never worry about being a woman alone in the woods. I’m not the paranoid type, and it’s never been an issue, but I always had my rifle.  I hunt in areas that are family lands, or where private land owners give us permission. I pretty much know who’s hunting and when they’re hunting, and a rifle automatically provides me protection.  So when I began bow hunting, I didn’t automatically carry a handgun along with my bow. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I went about my hunting business as I always did.

Then came that afternoon, as I was walking down into my stand, I was met by two young men carrying a shotgun in my woods. Men I hadn’t expected. Men I didn’t know. And I didn’t like that since all I had was my bow.  This was my first, Oh crap, moment. As they approached me, the only upper hand I had on the situation was that they were hunting in my area, where they didn’t have permission. I overheard one even talking about my family and how we hunt there…so they knew us. I kept reminding myself that I had a phone, but that might not even be an option should I have a confrontation with these guys. I was at a definite disadvantage, but didn’t want to make it obvious.

I remained authoritative but friendly. I asked them where they were hunting because I was hunting there. After a brief awkward conversation, they knew I was annoyed and they were in the wrong, so they tucked their tails and headed back from where they came. At this point I was more annoyed than anything. By the time I got to my stand, I was late by a half an hour, and watched the tail of a deer as it bound off. That night’s hunt was ruined.

A few days later, I decided to try again. I was on a quest to get my royal crown/grand slam and I wasn’t about to let any opportunity to hunt go by. It was perfect weather for bow hunting: cool and almost no wind and the rut was close. So I left work early and headed into the woods. As I neared my stand, I was once again met by one of the two men I had met days earlier. I was more than annoyed, but apprehensive because he had spotted me coming down the trail,  and was walking right toward me. This time, he was carrying a rifle, not a shotgun, and I with only my bow. My second, Oh crap, moment. He wasn’t bird hunting either. He acted nervous and tried to make light talk and claimed he was hoping he’d see a coyote…okay. Once again, the situation came into my favor as I had basically caught this guy hunting out of season even thought I couldn’t prove it. This guy had basically been traipsing all over my area where I had planned to hunt. Second hunt ruined.

After this second round of uneasiness, I resolved to the fact that I needed to carry a handgun, if not as protection, then simply as a peace of mind. I learned long ago that one thing a woman should never be is the victim of opportunity. It’s better to feel safe than to be a victim, and if that means taking along a gun, then so be it. And besides, John and I  carry a gun while we’re bear baiting, camping, and trapping, so this would be no different, except John wouldn’t be with me.

img952009.jpgI’ve had training and I have a concealed carry permit so when I headed into the woods, I brought along my .44 Taurus for the remainder of the season. It’s like a cannon in my hand, but I can shoot it. I’ve since moved to a different handgun, a Taurus P38 ultralight that’s easier to shoot, and also lighter to carry.

It’s seems strange to say that carrying a gun made that much difference, but it did, for me. I particularly liked having it when I hunted expanded archery in the city. Hunting in unfamiliar areas took the edge off worrying about being bothered or confronted by a stranger. I could focus solely on my hunt.

When it came time to hunt again, instead of heading back to the same spot, I found a new one and set up a blind. I’m happy to say that I got my first bow deer and my royal crow quest was complete.

IMG_20161025_202959730Being a woman hunter in the Maine outdoors is one of the most enjoyable and empowering things I’ve done in my life, and if carrying a handgun while bow hunting is going to make me feel safer while I do the things I love, then I’ll continue to carry. I’ve even taken it along on my adventures with girlfriends, and it’s been well received. Whether I’m bird hunting, fly fishing or bow hunting, I plan to keep making memories and have my handgun with me.

If you’ve wanted to do things but the fear of doing something is because you feel vulnerable, then you might want to consider getting a handgun, training and certification to carry it (even though a concealed carry permit isn’t required…for now).

Happy hunting!

Preserving Maine Wilderness

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Just a small portion of the crappy road that we travel…just not at 60 mph. (c) S. Warren

It’s not often that I plan a gripe session in my blog, but this week I am compelled to gripe a little. We’ve been extremely fortunate to be given landowner permission to hunt on land an hour and a half from home. Getting there has always been half the adventure. A good portion of the road is crappy (I mean 25 mph and you’re still cringing crappy) and it needs to be repaired. We make bets on how many moose, rabbit, deer, and other wildlife we may see on our journey. The crappy road slows us down considerably to get there. But once there, it’s always been our “little piece of wilderness”. The joy of hunting remotely is the feeling that no one else is there–complete solitude. You can totally engage your thoughts in what you’re doing and unplug from the world. For me it’s a good time to cleanse the mind and enjoy the experience of being there without listening to cars, dogs, screaming kids, blaring music, or dump trucks to name a few.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of vehicles traveling this route. They are adorned with kayaks, canoes and bicycles..in-state vehicles too, but mostly out-of-state cars, driving like freaking mad men and women to get to their pseudo-wild destination that an organization has advertised heavily in a Maine-focused magazine that’s marketed towards the not-so-average-Mainer, but more so for the upper middle class New England Urbanites that want to “unplug” for a weekend. I’ve seen them drive the crappy road as if it was a super highway; driving at high rates of speed, passing on corners, passing on hills, and tailgating just to get to “their” spot. A number of times, we’ve simply pulled over to let them by because they won’t pass but insist on tailgating.

We’ve seen a ten-fold increase in bicyclists, despite the fact that this road is narrow, has no breakdown lanes, no bike lanes, and has hill after hill, and has blind spots throughout scattered with washouts and broken pavement. I’ve even encountered “skiers” on rolling skies who think nothing of tucking down the middle of the road and won’t get over to let you by, or who stop right in the middle of the road to chat with fellow “skiers” without so much as an eye blink when you look at them in disbelief for their inconsideration.

I’ve also noticed that this is the first summer that we didn’t see the number of moose we’re accustomed to seeing in our commute. In fact, we barely saw any wildlife all summer. We saw one moose in May (pictured above), and didn’t see another one until the very last week of September. This is more than disturbing. And I don’t think it’s a tick problem because I’ve never seen a moose in that condition in this area.

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Mowed road…seriously?! (c) S. Warren

This influx of tourists….are putting a real damper on little my piece of wilderness experience! They trample paths made accessible by the organization who’s chopped, mowed, and excavated because the trail can’t be too hard for the tourists to hike…and then the organization creates a “world class” bike trail..a trail that potentially crosses through where game travels, across water flows, wet areas, and in order to do so hack a path through the woods..oh yeah, and they nail their signs all along the road onto living trees that they don’t own. The tourists also like to yell and hoot as they enjoy their bike ride, not caring if anyone else may be bothered by it–yet it interferes with my solitude. So much for “leave no trace”.

Only once have we encountered someone face to face since we make an effort to avoid them at all cost–and what did they do? They pitched a tent IN – THE- M I D D L E of the traveled road/trail where camping isn’t even supposed to happen, and they did it all without hesitation, but instead with a sense of pride and entitlement and they with only the best-of-the-best gear that money can buy as if that somehow makes them outdoorsmen/women.Their response when we told them they can’t tent just anywhere…”We’ve done this for twenty years.”…BULL CRAP! this trail hasn’t been here that long!  They acted as if we were the ones that were encroaching on their wilderness space. It may have had something to do with one of them hanging out naked by the tent, but I really don’t care. News flash back-to-nature dudes…just because you can hike on it, doesn’t mean you have the right to camp on it, cook on it, or poop on it! Is that so hard to understand? We have access to the same land, and under no circumstances would we feel as though we have a right to bring in our camper or tent and pitch it for the weekend. We have more respect for the landowner than to do that!! We have more respect for others that use this piece of land. No one even knows we’re there when we’re there, and when we leave, we leave no trace.

Don’t get me wrong. I cherish access. Access is critical to the enjoyment of Maine and what it has to offer, and we are extremely grateful for the access we’ve been given. What I do have a problem with is the commercialization of that cherished access that is threatening the Maine wilderness experience for a lot of us.

I can only wonder how many animals were missed seeing or barely avoided being hit because people were driving so fast. I can only wonder how much further north I’ll have to go in a few years to find my piece of wilderness if this continues. I can only wonder how wildlife is being affected by all this traffic and all these tourists. I can only wonder if this is a snapshot of what it would be like for the people of Mt. Katahdin area….their wilderness being sucked up, trampled on, and used without real appreciation by tourists…I can only wonder.

Maybe perhaps Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park and the Appalachian Trail provide enough commercialized abuse for Maine’s wilderness. Perhaps we don’t need to sell off our wilderness experience with yet another national park. I truly hope we don’t if this is a sign of what could or may be.