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!

My First Solo Turkey Hunt

I love to turkey hunt. It’s what got me hooked on hunting, but it’s never been a favorite for John. He’d go along, being the voice and calling in turkeys. I would sit waiting to take my shot. I never had to deal with any type of call, let alone trying to call a turkey while waiting for a shot.

After losing my job, I had nothing but time, but John had to work. I decided I’d take advantage of the time and do some turkey hunting on my own. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to use a mouth call. While I can do all of the calls on my slates, it’s entirely different trying to call and actually sound like a turkey using a mouth call. It takes a lot of practice and patience getting used to the feel of a call in your mouth. When I first started trying to call, the vibration was almost unbearable. I soon learned I needed smaller calls and then I started getting better.

Once I felt that I actually sounded somewhat remotely like a turkey, I decided to try going solo.

Turkey hunting solo is much harder that it sounds. Damn hard actually.

Add my bow to the mix and I had a challenge I really wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never shot a turkey with a bow, but I wanted to challenge myself.

For the past two weeks, I listened to turkeys gobbling. I had pictures on my game cams of turkey strutting every day at the same time. The tom had the biggest beard I think I’d ever seen.

The very first day out, I made calls. I called turkeys in consistently, but literally got busted every time I tried to draw my bow.

In an attempt to outsmart the tom, I went into my tree stand. I hung my bow and made my calls. I instantly had turkeys responding. The turkeys came in just as the deer I had shot came in. From my left, I heard them coming, but not one gobble. As they emerged, I decided I’d take whatever presented itself.

Five. Five birds busted through the bushes and straight out in front of me stood two jakes and three hens. They took one look at my decoys and started cutting and you could almost see the panic in their behavior. Before I reached for my bow, they spotted me. A few more cutting sounds and they made a sprint for the woods.

Just when I thought I was done, I gave one more call. And there it was. A gobble. A single gobble on a mission. That bird circled me from the left, up behind me and down to my right. There it stalled. I could call and get answers continuously, but I could not get that bird to come in close enough for a shot.

After it decided there was no hen, it lost interest and just stopped responding to my calls. The tom was gone. Turkeys 2, Staci 0.

After three days of chasing turkey with my bow, I decided to bring my shotgun along instead. I headed out back to find that longbeard that had been just out of reach each day. This bird had a pattern, but just when I thought I had it figured out, he didn’t show up. I followed the trails until I came along a ridge. I gave a call. Instantly a turkey gobbled back. I was at the top of a hill and no matter how much I called, that turkey wouldn’t go up hill. So I waited about twenty minutes and headed down the hill. I stepped behind this huge boulder that had a fallen fir tree on the top. I gave a call, and boom. That turkey was back answering and coming my way. I debated whether to stand or sit, then in an all out ditch effort to hide, I plunked myself on the ground in the leaves. My butt on the ground, legs stretched out and gun across my lap, I took out my slate and gave some soft purrs, and then raked the dry leaves.

That turkey came gobbling in. He was so close I could hear his feathers ruffle and puff as he strutted. He was directly on the opposite side of that boulder. I didn’t dare move. My heart was racing. I prayed to the turkey gods he wouldn’t come in on my right, since I’m right handed and was facing left. He strutted there but I couldn’t get him to cross over that rock wall to where I could get a shot at him.

Not until I decided one more time to make a soft call. Gun across my lap, I picked up my slate call and striker. As I look up, the tom hopped over the wall and stopped dead in its tracks. It saw me and there I was caught red-handed with my call in my hands. I dropped the call and drew my shotgun. I popped off a Hail Mary shot, but that bird took off running before I even had the bead on him. Then he flew. My morning was over.

Not to be defeated, I opted to try at another piece of land I have permission to hunt. I headed out. When I got there, I could see a group of turkeys strutting in the far corner of the field. Not to be busted, I made my way through the woods along the tree line, making calls with my mouth call. I had continuous answering, but they never ventured my way. I continued to work my way through the woods until I was past the end of the field. I slowly made my way to a group of trees where I would have good cover. I set up and made my first call. Immediately I had an answer. The birds (yes, there was more than one!) kept coming and calling. And then there was no sound. I sat waiting, just giving some soft purrs. I sat silently and motionless.

And then I saw them. They were making their way right to me! The birds crossed out in front of me. As they stepped behind a tree, I pulled my gun up and made ready. When the first bird stepped out from behind the tree, I shot.

My bird dropped, and the other took off leaving his buddy for dead.

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

I carried that bird out to my truck along with my gun slung over my shoulder. I was just about drained by the time I got him there, and somehow, I managed to lose my brand new camo hat. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten the monster tom. I got a bird, and I accomplished my goal.

I’m already practicing my calling for this year. I have my spots all picked out. I have a new hat. Now if only I can find the time to take a couple days off from work. That big tom is still around, and I’m a bit smarter this year. I hope that if you’ve never tried turkey hunting, that you’ll give it a try. I’ve already told my friend, that I’ll take her. We haven’t gotten one yet with her as the hunter, but maybe this will be the year!

All the Noise, Noise, Noise!

Anyone who hunts knows how much noise can make or break a hunt. When I first started hunting, it didn’t take long to figure out that noise could be my best friend or my worst enemy.

There’s noise in the world. You may not even realize just how much noise we are exposed to each day until you find yourself out in the woods at daybreak. The silence can feel as deafening as noisy traffic. To be able to hear every little noise, such as the snap of a twig or the grunt of a buck, creates a memorable moment that makes the whole effort of trying to be quiet that much more satisfying. Being quiet allows you to see a world you otherwise would not see.

I’ve always craved the perfect morning deer hunt scenario where the sky is star-filled, there’s barely a wind, and the temperature hovers at 30 or lower degrees. These types of mornings require every step in to my stand be slow, careful and deliberate so that I can get there undetected. A simple break of a twig can feel like the sound of a tree falling. I’ve been busted more than once because of noise. I like to hunt every day I can, but weather never fully cooperates so I’m left to contend with wind and rustling leaves, and a few squirrels and mice, turkeys, birds, and rain. My biggest irriation is noisy traffic, which if I let it, would ruin my hunt.

This year, I tried to two different techniques to embrace the noise. There is nothing worse than trying to get to a tree stand and having to deal with the sound of crunching leaves with every step shrilling through my brain. This year, we took a hack from another family member, and using our leaf blower, cleared a lovely leaf-free quiet path to the tree stand. Okay, so I didn’t embrace noise; I conquered it! It worked too! The warmer weather and rain kept my trail clear and quiet for most of the season–until it snowed. This method worked so well, I did it for three of my other stands that are notoriously filled with noisy leaves. By the time snow fell, the leaves had blown themselves back into my trail and I was getting hunting fatigue.

My second technique was to use noise to my advantage. I would drive to my spot and park, then I’d wait for a passing car to get close, then open the door to my car and get out. I would shut it using the sound of the passing car to muffle my noise. I’d sneak across the pavement and once on the trail to my stand, I’d use another passing car to my advantage and walk as quietly and quickly as I could. I would continue to use passing cars to make my way to my stand. Once at my stand, I sometimes had to wait to make my way up the ladder. I would start to climb, but then would have to wait for what seemed like forever because I knew that the fourth step up the ladder would creek making what felt like a gong and “I’m here!” warning. I needed the traffic to block that sound, or at least dampen it. Once I got above that step, I’d climb the ladder waiting for another car to pass until I could sit down. Once I started using the traffic noise to my advantage, I tended to get far less annoyed and Grinchy having to deal with to it. For now, I’ll embrace the noise as best I can, but when the wind blows and gusts, that old saying, “Hunt the wind.” will begin to creep into my brain.

So, these noise techniques didn’t guarantee me a deer this year, but it did allow me to experience hunts as I never had. I got to hear grunts from three different deer (I’d like to think bucks), and I literally walked up on a deer totally unprepared to take a shot, so it does work…Now if only I could think faster on my feet, or if my eyes could see what I hear, and if the wind would cooperate, I just may get a big buck some day. I will certainly have earned it by then!

My Bear Hunt 2020


I still can’t believe that I was able to bear hunt this year. A lot has happened since the pandemic hit, and my life as I knew it, almost came to a screeching hault.

Sow and two cubs usually showed up first-before the big bruins.

I have dealt with chronic arthritis in my knees for years. Having finally taken the giant leap to see an orthopedic surgeon, I scheduled my bi-lateral knee replacements right when bear hunting would begin. I had accepted the fact that I would have to give up something in order to have it done, and this seemed like the time to do it.

A week latetr I was blindsided when my alma mater and employer of ten years, laid me off on March 20th. My whole world came crashing down. Not only was I going to lose my job and insurance, but also any chance at having my knees replaced. My only consolation was that I received six months severance and with that, my insurance would continue until the end of September. However, the pandemic had other plans, and any elective surgeries came to an end. So even though I had insurance, I was still facing the fact that I’d may have to deal with arthritic knees for at least another year, if I was lucky enough to find another job.

I felt pretty defeated, but decided to make the best of it. The bear hunt was back on regardless of what happened. I needed something positive to focus on, and hunting always soothes my soul.

In late May, just when I had accepted the fact that I’d have to hobble a little longer, I unexpectedly got a call from my surgeon. They were starting up surgeries again, but only taking the worst cases, and I was on the list. Would I be available? Hell yes!

My right knee just after surgery on June 5th.

On June 5th, I had my first surgery, and after being cleared of Covid-19 a second time, I had my other knee replaced on July 21st. Baiting began the following week, and with a little, no, a lot of help, I was at least able to be there to help, even it was minimal. I used my crutches to get around and although I couldn’t lift bait buckets, I took charge of the cameras and helped spray scent and grease.

Hobbling around with crutches in tow.

Bear came into the bait sites in a flurry. Food has been extremely limited due to dry conditions. Berries were almost non-existent, and other natural foods that were available weren’t abundant nor of any size worthy of a feast. Two days before the hunt, and for the first time ever, I had daytime bear hitting the bait consistently. I had nighttime bear~we had a whole lot of bear on our sites.

In the midst of two surgeries, I also became re-employed, so my time to hunt was greatly diminished, but I would hunt!

The first time out, I had John drive me to my stand. I wasn’t sure if I could make the hike up the mountainside, and I was a little uncertain of my stamina to get there. What if I encountered a bear? I tried to think positive. I would be able to hunt. I had hoped that John driving me to my stand, and then leaving with the four-wheeler would make the bear think no one was there. No such luck!

The night was pretty uneventful. I didn’t see a bear, but I did see one of the biggest rabbits ever to come eat at the bait. Rabbits apparently love bait as much as raccooon, fisher, song birds, squirrels, chipmunks, vultures…and yes, even moose!

This was my target bear. He visited everyday right up until opening day…then he went AWOL.

John retrieved me after hunting hours were over and drove me out of the woods. I have to say this was odd. I hadn’t had to have him do this for me since my first years of hunting. As grateful as I was, I felt like such a whimp!

Trying to fit hunting in between weather and a new job kept me extremely busy, but I was determined to hunt. With the weather forecast actually looking pretty decent and me actually scheduling a vacation afternoon, I decided I was going to hunt. I was bummed when John told me he couldn’t get the afternoon off, but I pulled up my big girl pants and decided I’d go alone. John would arrive later after he dropped the camper off in our usual spot, and then he’d meet me on the mountain.

I prepared myself mentally for the climb and the thought of being alone with so many bear nearby. I took my vehicle to the mountain. I changed into my bear clothes, packed my backpack with warmer accessories, and headed in. I carried my son’s 45-70, what I like to call a mini cannon, into the stand. I found that as I climbed the mountain, it actually got easier. It actually felt really, really good on my knees. I climbed into my stand with ease and settled in the afternoon wait. It was calm and quiet. You could hear a pin drop.

Video of what it’s like to sit while bear hunting.

It’s sometimes hard to sit still given the bugs, the birds, and the wind, but the pandemic helped me prepare for sitting with a mask on, so it just seemed easier this time.

As I sat there, I really didn’t expect anything to come out. I have only once seen a bear come to my bait in all the years I’ve tried hunting. So when this bear stepped out, it looked like a big bear. The night before a larger bear had been in, and I would have bet money, it was him.

This is the bear I thought was at my bait.
He came in the afternoon I couldn’t hunt…typical way it goes!

I was quite startled when the bear stepped out. I sized it up to the barrel laying on its side. It looked as big as the barrel! The bear came in on the right and stepped in front. I drew my gun and took aim, and pulled the trigger. Nothing. This gun has some wonky way about the lever action. It wasn’t in place where it should be. The gun wouldn’t fire. I played with it some more. I knew the lever needed to come up to set into place. I tried again. Still no shot. The bear continued to move quickly around all of the barrel and buckets not really settling in to eat. I went through all the motions trying to get this gun to fire, while not losing my cool. It wasn’t easy. Then miraculously, the handle clicked into place. The bear did a quick dart, but then turned right around and came back around the front of the barrel again. I took aim and shot. The bear dropped and my hunt was over.

Where my bear fell. One shot. Dead at the barrel.

Just after I shot, I got a text from John. I thought he had heard me shoot. He had just arrived on the mountain and was telling me he was there. I texted him, “Got it.” He replied, “what?” I texted back, “I shot a bear.” Him: “Really?! I’ll be right up.” He couldn’t believe it. Eventually, I heard the four-wheeler and he was there to celebrate, load up, gut out, and bring home my black bear. It was a long night by the time we got home and processed the bear, but we have some good meat to eat this winter.

As usual, my bear had ground shrinkage. It wasn’t nearly as big as I had thought it would be, but I was happy. And my bear has a beautiful white blaze on its neck. Some day a giant bear will show up when I’m sitting, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my harvest. It was something I never thought would happen this year, so I was particularly proud of this hunt. I had overcome a lot of obstacles this year, drove up alone and got into my stand alone, and finally harvested a bear.

So my words of advice, is once again to say, never give up, never think something is impossible. While hunting isn’t a sure thing, it’s for certain that it builds resiliency and determination for unknown outcomes. I’m so glad I stuck with it, bear or no bear, it helped me prove to myself that I was okay. Life was going to be okay, and I’m so glad I hadn’t given up.

My bear and me…life is sweet when everything comes together.

TBT: My First Moose Hunt-Wk 1

moose
photo by canoemaine.wordpress.com

In Maine, there is a moose hunt. It began back in 1980 and despite being challenged by anti-hunters, the hunt has continued and is probably the most highly sought after lottery drawn hunting permit in Maine.

As luck would have it, I scored a bull moose permit for northern Maine’s zone 5 in September for this year. Never in a million years would I have expected to get a permit since I had just gotten one in 2011. I am extremely grateful for my chance at a trophy moose that will not only feed my family but will be an exciting adventure with the entire family. This luck of the draw has me reminiscing the good and the bad about my 2011 moose hunt.

My husband, John has always applied for a permit in hopes of getting one in a northern zone overrun with moose. Admittedly, I originally applied to increase our chances; I wasn’t a hunter then. After 2002, not only did I apply each year, but with full intentions that I would be the shooter if I was ever drawn.

The lottery has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years. After getting too many complaints to ignore, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made some major changes to the system. One change in particular was that for each year you had put in, you not only had a bonus point, but also from then on, those with more bonus points would have better odds at being picked. They also lengthened the time span between being eligible for a permit from two to three years. With a level playing field and the hopes that we’d finally get picked, the idea of getting a moose permit seemed more in reach.

We both had applied so long that we fell into the “I’ll take anything if my choices weren’t available.” In reality, that really didn’t mean I wanted or expected to get a moose permit in November in the zone with one of the worst success rates in the entire state of Maine. When I applied for the lottery, my zone choices began with the obvious northern ones and worked their way down the map to my home zone with my last choice being the zone next to ours. But really how could I lose with all those choices listed first? A word of advice: if you really don’t want that zone or date, don’t write it down.

IMG_20160623_200713196
My 2011 Moose Permit. Note the date error!

In 2011, the day of the moose drawing, my phone started ringing off the hook. I got a moose permit! I was ecstatic with the news! John was my sub-permittee. I repeatedly teased him that I got a moose permit before him. I’d send him text. “I got a moose permit.” or I’d say, “Guess what?” and follow through with “I got a moose permit.” He was a great sport, and I just tried my best to make sure we were prepared to make it the best hunt we could.

It didn’t take long before anxiety soon set in when I realized it was a November hunt for a bull or cow in Zone 23. In a preparation of the season, I had to do my homework. Zone 23 had the least success rate of any zone. It was disappointing to not get a “good” zone but with only 20 permits, there would also be less competition. The good news is that Zone 23 is known for its deer herd, and I could shoot any moose. The bad news is that everyone would want their areas for their own deer hunting, and calling in a moose wasn’t really going to work in November. I had no idea what lay before us, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. no hunt sign

I even paid the fee and entered the official moose swap website. I couldn’t even get people who live in 23 who had a permit for my home zone of 16 to swap with me. It was a waste of money and soon reality set in. If I wanted to get a moose, we were going to have to work for it. We didn’t want to rely on a Maine guide. John has been my guide all along. We’ve self-guided all of our hunts, and we didn’t want it any other way.

We talked to everyone and anyone who would give us leads. We used our beloved Maine Gazeteer filled with detailed maps to find boggy areas and on several occasions, we spoke with landowners and biologists. We would follow every lead and a few times this led us to nothing but waste time because there were so many deer hunters that it felt impossible that’s we’d see a moose.

We finally got permission to hunt on a farm that had been gated in Albion. The only person who had a key to the gate was the friend of the landowner, so we’d have to track down this guy down to make sure we could have access. The first day he was sitting on a wood pile, smoking a cigarette and had a rifle across his lap. He was deer hunting…I guess….He was all good to our face, then promptly tried to shut us out the next day. We went back to the landowner and asked him to call the guy…he did. We were all set. We showed up the following day and the gate was open, so we drove in. We hunted the entire day hiking over hills, brooks and clearcuts. On the way out, we found our selves locked IN.  Luckily, John knew the road came out into another field so after four-wheeling our pickup through some pretty tough terrain, we made it out. Despite having landowner permission and lots of moose signs, we didn’t go back. This moose hunt wasn’t supposed to be about hassles with landowners’ buddies.

Next: Week 2: We Climb Down a Mountain