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!

Tracking Blood

This whole grand slam was getting me nervous. As much as I love to hunt, I was worried I’d come up empty handed if I had only to rely on getting a buck. You think that the fact I hadn’t put meat in the freezer for two years would be incentive enough, but this basically “once in a lifetime chance”grand slam was compelling me to take new chances. Let’s face it; where I hunt there aren’t a lot of big bucks so I decided to stick to it for longer. Having a doe in the freezer is far better than waiting for a chance buck.

muzzy
Muzzy

After missing the doe during my first bow hunt and then losing my arrow, I made my trip to the local hardware/sporting goods store and stocked up on arrows and Muzzy broad head tips. I really like these tips because they feel manageable on my shorter arrows.

I only had a week left to hunt before archery season would end, so on a nice afternoon, I rearranged my work day and got out an hour early. I flew home and got my gear to go hunting. My youngest son was talking my ear off when I finally said, “I have to go. I’m running late and I only have an hour to hunt.” He wasn’t thrilled that I was off hunting again, but I promised I’d talk with him when I got home.

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My rock

I drove to my spot, parked my car as before, and schlepped all my gear up the hill. I thought I’d die gasping for air before I got there. I don’t usually have to hurry, but I wanted to get settled before the deer started coming out. I sprayed some doe pee on a leaf above me and on some as I came in to cover my scent. I sat at my rock and waited. I gave a couple doe bleats to start off the night.

It was windy so listening was a little discouraging. I took out my buck grunt and gave a couple grunts with it. I stood for a few minutes when my knee started hurting. I gave a couple more grunts and sat down. No sooner did I sit when my left eye started paining. These dang prescription glasses are annoying, but without them, I can’t see thirty feet in front of me! I was fumbling with my glasses when I heard a noise. There in directly in front of me about 10 yards away, a deer was coming right out of the woods! And me with no glasses on. I tried to get them on but I somehow made a “clink”; the deer turned broadside and walked away before I could even think of picking up my bow. I made a buck grunt. The deer stopped and stood there. I made another grunt, but messed up the ending when the call slipped out of my lips and fell in my lap. In an instant, the deer’s tail shot up, and she took off.

deer-shot-diagramI made another grunt hoping the deer would come back. Then I heard ch, ch, ch, ch-ch -ch, ch…more deer walking, so I continued to give low, short buck grunts. The noise continued but was getting louder. I was getting annoyed I couldn’t see any deer, so I leaned forward to look farther down the road. There about 40 yards out stood a deer on the left side of the road–broadside! She was definitely too far away to shoot at. So I gave some buck grunts. The deer lifted its head and walked toward me. She moved her head from side to side trying to figure out where Mr. Buck was. I had the buck grunt in my mouth and two hands on my bow. I got ready but didn’t draw. Using the spot I had missed my first deer as a distance gauge, I waited until she was close enough to shoot. She continued coming closer. It was getting dark. I could see her well, but she wasn’t broadside; more like barely broadside, but I had a target.

I drew my bow, taking time to aim through my peep site. She stood looking around. I released my bow and watched as the lighted arrow hit its mark. A fast, solid shot and a definite hit to the vitals. The doe turned and bolted with the arrow lighting the way.

I sat there in disbelief that I had finally gotten a deer with my bow. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys. I called John. No answer; he was still hunting expanded. I called my oldest son, Zack. No answer. So I called my youngest son, Tyler and asked him to bring me my bright flashlight. I took all my gear and headed to the car to put it away and meet my son. In the meantime, Zack called me back and within a matter of minutes he was there to help me find my deer. Tyler joined in, and the three of us set out to find the blood trail.

bloodIn no time, Tyler found the first spot of blood; a single drop on a leave. It wasn’t long before Zack found the big blood trail and eventually found my deer. By then we had made a small circle and John had joined the group. I thanked the deer and then the guys took on the task of field dressing and dragging the deer out for me. I was very grateful for all their help, and having all my boys there made it extra special. They were all congratulating me and I just beamed with pride.

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I tagged my deer and brought it home. I had intended to take it to a butcher, but ended up skinning and cutting up my deer, and preparing it for the freezer myself–a first. You truly appreciate your food when you know how much work goes into it, especially when you’re allergic to deer hair. Thankfully I had long rubber gloves to work with, and managed to keep my hands out of my eyes. My family is especially grateful for the meat we have in our freezer, and that in itself makes me a very proud hunter.

I can’t wait to send in all my information for my grand slam. I feel very accomplished but at the same time, I’m missing the morning sunrises and evening sits so much so, I’ve decided to hunt expanded archery in between trying to trap coyotes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see a buck. Wish me luck!

If you are out in the woods hunting, don’t be afraid to take new path; it just might lead you to a deer. Adventure awaits!