A Beaver Killed in a Snare

Subsistence Trapping, or the Art of Making Up Your Own Mind

Who Makes Up Your Mind?

As we mature and increase our self-awareness, we can realize that much of what we believe was once what someone else believed, fed to us with the spoon of trust, whether intentionally, inadvertently, or even maliciously.

When I was young, my mother made sure I thought of trapping as barbaric, cruel, and unnecessary while we happily ate meat at almost every meal. For many years, I blindly went with that point of view, even espousing it to others. Once I started hunting, the role that trapping could play in resource acquisition became more obvious, and I began to question my longstanding beliefs.

As a child, I spent much of my time in the woods of upstate New York. I somehow came to have a copy of Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, and I wore that book out. I built dozens of survival shelters, tools, and traps, squirreling away knowledge in case I ever needed it. I considered trapping a last-ditch effort not to die of starvation, though. What I didn’t know at the time is that New York was, and still is, one of the great states for trapping, and that trapping was an important part of my heritage as well as a legitimate method for securing dinner! Opportunity missed due to closed mind. Again.

From the NYS Dept. of Conservation Website:

Trappers in New York have a long and proud heritage. After all, New York State was explored and settled largely due to the fur trade. New York State has an abundance of furbearing animals whose populations are thriving and secure. For nearly ten thousand New Yorkers, trapping remains a vitally important activity, affecting both their lifestyle and livelihood.

Without getting political, trapping was a powerful influence on the westward exploration of North America by Europeans. Without a resource to chase, not much got done back then, just like today. Like most everything, though, it was taken too far. The North American beaver was nearly extirpated from the entire continent at one time. That Wikipedia page, by the way, details some very interesting history of North American settlement.

A Beaver Killed in a Snare

A Snared Beaver Provides Me With Fur, Meat, and Lure to Use in Trapping

Time Is Not on Your Side

Time, especially in a survival situation, is precious. You need it for building a shelter, finding and purifying water, and gathering wood for your fire. Or, maybe to build a strong relationship with your spouse and children.

You also need it for finding food. Food becomes energy, and energy is critical. Without calories, especially in colder climes and times, you will be unable to make use of your time to complete the other tasks required to keep you alive. If he was still with us, you could ask Christopher McCandless, who grew too weak to find or even digest food and died in the Alaskan bush.

A hunter might sit all day waiting for game to come by, for just a chance to take a shot. Even if game does come by, he might miss, or, worse yet, wound an animal and have it run off. A fisherman might spend all day and not get a bite, or get plenty of bites but be unable to land a single fish.

These activities require time and energy that can’t be reclaimed. It’s a bet, and if the result is failure, you could lose everything. Hunting and fishing are single-point-of-failure (SPOF) scenarios. I am not a fan of that exclusive approach. Trapping, by virtue of setting many traps, allows for strong redundancy, the best way to improve the robustness of a system plagued with SPOF problems.

A Dozen Snares Coiled Together

A Dozen Heavy-Duty Snares Will Fit Easily in a Survival Pack

Hedging Your Bets

From a subsistence point of view, trapping can provide the highest ROI of any year-round food-gathering endeavor in temperate climates. If you happen to be stranded on a tropical island, you might do better picking fruit or coconuts, at least until you need protein.

Trapping is a way to amplify the effect of your time and energy. Like dozens of hunters as patient as the bedrock, traps will wait. Traps can harvest game for you any time of day or night. When well-placed and expertly set, the right kind of trap delivers a quick, humane death to your quarry, food to your plate, and much more. Traps can be commercially manufactured or made from naturally available materials.

The Fur Industry

I considered titling this section, “How to Take Advantage of People and Animals,” but thought that might make my opinion too obvious. I guess I did it anyway, because it needed to be done.

From time to time, I place an ad on Craigslist for nuisance wildlife control services. Basically, I trade access to property that I can trap for the service of removing the animals that are giving people trouble. Sometimes, landowners get my name from someone I’ve worked with or even place an ad themselves looking for someone to help remove a problem animal or animals. Beavers flood fields, orchards, homes, and driveways. Coyotes eat pets and livestock. You get the idea.

Almost without exception, everyone wants to trade “the value of the fur” for my time, energy, fuel, and expertise. This tells how poorly educated and/or unaware of reality the public is about trapping. The screenshot below from Trapping Today summer 2016 fur price update should set the record straight.

The Truth About Fur Prices

The Value of Fur Must Be Found Somewhere Besides in the Dollars

Keep in mind that we are not talking about “whole round” critters here, or even “green” or “raw” furs, but large, prime, “put up” pelts of high quality without significant flaws. The amount of time, money, equipment, and knowledge that goes into producing a fur for which you can “command” $8 is ridiculous. I won’t go into it all here, but suffice it to say nobody I know of is coming close to breaking even selling to the fur market.

Commercial Trapping Equipment

I’m probably going to get a bunch of shit for this comment, but it’s my website and you don’t have to like it. Trappers are fools. Despite receiving prices far below production cost for the furs they sell, they continue to serve the fur industry hand and foot. They seem to think that the solution is to TRAP MORE FUR rather than withhold inventory until a reasonable price is offered.

What was once a flourishing industry that supported trappers with reasonable prices for fur has become a predator. In turn, trap and equipment makers have become an industry that plays on the idea that trappers need more equipment, so the market can be more flooded and the price of fur can be further degraded, increasing profit margins for fur dealers.

The trapper is paying (and getting played by) both sides to ply his trade (or hobby, as the “costs money to participate” model is often called.)

A Few Dozen Conibears

Body-Gripping Traps Kill Almost Instantly, are Compact, and Reusable

Quit Your Bitching, Winslow

You might be thinking to yourself, “Winslow, you need to stop complaining and get out of this time and money suck if it’s as bad as you say.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m going to share how I’ve done that right now.

I trap things we can eat.

There are plenty of trappers who are solely interested in the products that can be sold. The poor fur market has forced trappers to become very resourceful in order to afford the activity. Skulls, scent glands, claws, even bones and urine can be sold if you know where to find the market. I, on the other hand, simply choose to trap what I can use myself.

So far, we’ve eaten beaver, muskrat, possum, and raccoon. We aren’t alone, either. While it isn’t common fare, I know others (mostly through trapping forums) who eat them, too. Also on the list to be tried: bobcat, cougar, porcupine, coyote, and fox. Note that you can’t trap cougars in Idaho, but if you spend enough time in the woods trapping and hunting other beasts, I am assured you will come across one.

The animals we’ve eaten also contributed fur that I will tan when we have enough to do one large, efficient batch. I’m not too concerned with maximizing “profit” but will most likely sell the valuable parts when I get enough of them. No reason to waste anything.

I Don’t Want to Eat Raccoons

I hear you, and I’m not advocating that you start trapping or anything else. I am, in fact doing just the opposite. I’m asking how you came to think how you think and do what you do, and if that’s all serving you well.

So, is it?

Fallsview Canyon Trail

Hiking and Foraging, Waterfalls and Fruit

Two of the abundant benefits of living on the Olympic Peninsula are the scenery and the berries. All summer long we have endless amounts of fruit, and we are never very far from mountains, beaches, and wildlife. This week we decided to target some waterfalls as the overcast weather made summiting any of the local peaks unlikely to payoff.

Fallsview Canyon Trail and the Fallsview Falls

First up was the aptly named Fallsview Canyon Trail near Quilcene, Washington. The associated campground is closed to anything but day hiking due to prolific root rot issues in the trees there. Meaning, you can’t camp because a giant tree will fall on your camp site and kill you. We saw so many downed trees throughout the couple hours we spent in this area. Very sad. The upside to this is that you can park outside the campground gates easily and for free.

There is a big set of falls that is very easy to see on a tiny loop (0.1 miles) and then a 1.5 mile loop that takes you past many rapids in the Big Quilcene River and through the Quilcene Canyon. The small loop is #848 best seen in the white inset below, while the trail across the rest of the map is the #868.

Fallsview Canyon Trail

The Fallsview Falls are around 200 feet in height, but you can’t get very close to them. Apparently in the summer this area dries up quite a bit, as well, so if you are aiming to see these falls, then spring is a good time. We just had some heavy rains, so the waterfall and the river were definitely flowing!

The Fallsview Falls

The Fallsview Falls

Big Quilcene River

Clear pools of water in the Big Quilcene River.

The feeling of being in the forest and walking alongside the rapids and pools of the Big Quilcene were great, but for us the best part was the plant life—so many delicious berries! First, we came across the delicious red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium. I seriously could eat these all day. They’re like natural fruity SweeTARTS. I’m a little bit in denial that they’re related to blueberries because I hate blueberries.

The red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium

The red huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium

Next, we came upon a bumper crop of salmonberries, which are Winslow’s favorite. The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis, are mainly orange in color in this area, though apparently they are redder in some other places. Winslow says they taste like “giant yellow raspberries.” I have to agree that they are pretty amazing—truly refreshing when you are mid-hike.

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

The salmonberry, or Rubus spectabilis

Elderberries were also everywhere to be found and attracting a large number of birds throughout our hike. Raw red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa, are flavorful, though not everyone will like them. They have a bit of a juniper-cedar taste to me, and can be bitter when they are not ripe. Also, there’s the whole cyanogenic glycosides thing, so you probably shouldn’t eat too many raw ones even if you do like them. We really want to collect enough to make mead or wine out of them one of these days.

red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa

Red elderberries, or Sambucus racemosa

No, we didn't eat this little millipede, but isn't he cute?

No, we didn’t eat this little millipede, but isn’t he cute?

We also saw a large number of ghost pipes, which are not edible, but are completely fascinating. The ghost pipe, or Monotropa uniflora, is a herbaceous plant, but it does not have chlorophyll. As Wikipedia explains:

Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, more specifically a myco-heterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its energy from photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can grow in very dark environments as in the understory of dense forest.

Also, they look ultra-cool.

Ghost PipesGhost PipesRocky Brook Falls

Our second stop of the day was Rocky Brook Falls. I thought it would be a cool stop, but not a big deal since the associated hike was short. Boy, was I wrong—the falls are spectacular! These falls are not on federal land, so there’s no fee to park and there’s a small parking area across the street from the falls. Expect there to be other people since these falls are so easy to walk right up to, and also try to be respectful (as you hopefully always are in nature), as the falls are surrounded by private residences.

At the beginning of the walk (it’s really not worthy of being called a hike) features a hydroelectric building and a lot of warning signs about sudden water flow and not climbing on the rocks, but don’t be deterred. For a while you will think this is all going to be no big deal, but the water bubbling over the rocks is nice.

Rocky Brook FallsAnd then you come upon this…

Rocky Brook Falls

Rocky Brook Falls

The falls are about 229 feet tall, incredibly loud, and quite windy. The warning signs about climbing on the rocks cease a bit before you get to the falls, so we climbed right out into the center of the water and stood right at the base of the falls.

base-rocky-brook-fallsHere’s a video so you get a sense of what it was like to be there…

Next outing, we plan to investigate Murhut Falls down in the Hoodsport area and also drive to the top of Mt. Walker (it was too overcast to make that worthwhile today). In the meantime, our bellies are full of berries, our brains are full of new knowledge about the place we live, and our hearts are full of love for nature and all her wonders.

About a 15 pound line-caught Albacore tuna

First Time Tuna Canning

We got our beautiful American Classic Model 925 Pressure Canner in preparation for hunting season because we are not planning to have a freezer in the HPMDU. Freezing is great, but means a constant and significant energy input is required to keep your food stash in good condition. The cost of our renewable energy system, which is already going to be high, would skyrocket with that constant load. It’s always cheaper (and often easier) to reduce overhead than build infrastructure.

As the butcher, main gatherer, and food preserver at HGB, I have put the canner through its paces and have thoughts for anyone considering canning in general and pressure canning with an American Classic specifically.

The American Classic Model 925 Pressure Canner

First off, the American Classic 925 is a bad-ass piece of equipment. You could probably demolish a building with this thing, except for the “metal on metal seal,” which is rather vulnerable and must be protected. The lack of a gasket is ideal, though, as I am not a fan of running out of consumables, and I am terrible at keeping track of them.

It would be a drag to get ready for canning up your catch in the middle of nowhere only to discover you have a bad gasket and can’t get one soon enough to preserve your fish/deer/elk/duck/whatever.

American Classic Model 925

American Classic Model 925

The 925 can be used as a water-bath canner or a pressure canner. To use it as a water bath canner, simply find something to use as a lid that won’t build pressure. A large cookie sheet works fine. The regular lid should also work as long as you don’t place the weight on the steam outlet.

The 925 comes with two trivets, so you won’t have to improvise a rack to keep your jars off the bottom. I have used a 42-quart stock pot for water bath canning, but it didn’t have a trivet, so I used a cake cooling rack in the bottom. It worked fine, but left gaps around the edges so my jar capacity per run was reduced. Also, I was limited to one layer of jars. The 925 lets you fill it top to bottom.

Loading the American Classic Model 925

Loading the American Classic Model 925

The American Classic 925 Pressure Canner fits 7 quart jars in the bottom and 8 pint jars in the top, giving it a good capacity, which is key because canning meat takes a long time. Don’t plan on more than one batch per day unless you start early and finish late. It’s not the kind of thing you can totally walk away from, either. In fact, it’s pretty interactive most of the time, so don’t plan on running any errands that day.

If I had the decision to make again between the 925 (25 quart liquid capacity, 7 quart jars + 8 pint jars) at $260 or the 941 (41 quart liquid capacity, 19 quart jars or 32 pint jars) at $406, I would choose the Model 941. We chose the 925 based on total cost, since we didn’t have the money for the 941. The 941 is quite big, though, and rather unwieldy, so my plan to run 2 X 925 may still be a better long-term one. One of each might be the best setup, though, so there’s an opportunity. 🙂

So far I have water-bath canned apple- and apple/blackberry sauces, Oregon grapes (Mahonia japonica), and yellow plum sauce. I’ve pressure canned tomato sauce and tuna. I was all excited about not having to add lemon juice to my tomato sauce because I had a pressure canner, but apparently that is a shit plan due to the unmitigated risk of botulism. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (I can’t believe that’s a thing!) has all the info you’ll need to keep yourself and your family from harm due to bad canning technique.

Bulk Tomatoes Become Economical and Delicious Organic Sauce

Bulk Tomatoes Become Economical and Delicious Organic Tomato Sauce

Pressure Canning Tuna (and other Meats)

OK, on to the main attraction – what is it like to can your own tuna? Well, it’s a lot of work, but is also quite satisfying and very economical.

The highlights:

  • Freshest-tasting canned tuna I’ve ever had
  • No soy or other bullshit ingredients (unless you want to add them!)
  • No freezer required (that’s the whole point, right?)
  • Freaking fun to have done it myself
  • Very good way to save on high-quality food

The lowlights:

  • Glass jars are subject to breakage and must be kept from freezing
  • Need to replace lid discs each time
  • Heavy/bulky to store and transport
  • So much work, and a fairly steep learning curve for the first timer
  • Jars come out with tuna oil on the outside and need to be cleaned

We bought 99 pounds of whole Albacore tuna caught on a line from a boat off the coast of Washington by an actual person. We paid $2/pound for it. By the end of butchering the first tuna, I was getting good results and didn’t lose much meat at all. A 50% loss is typical since most people don’t eat the guts, so we ended up with about 50 pounds of Albacore for $200.

A store-bought can of tuna holds 4 ounces of tuna (5 ounces total including the broth). That’s 4 cans to a pound at $4 or more per can for line-caught albacore (AKA “solid white tuna”) without soy in the broth. Our 50 pounds is worth (50lbs X 4 cans per pound X $4/can or $1.06/ounce on Amazon) = $800 in the store. I feel good about that investment. And fuck Amazon, anyway.

About a 15 pound line-caught Albacore tuna

A 15-20 Pound Line-caught Albacore Tuna

Rather than spend my time re-doing what’s already been done quite well, I’ll refer you to Culinaria Eugenius’s great instructional post on canning tuna. It’s the reference I used and it worked out great. If ever that link comes up broken, message me and I’ll hook you up with instructions.

tuna butchery

The basics:

  • Butcher your tuna, being sure to remove the streaks of very dark meat.
  • Pack the meat into the jars. I added Becca’s homemade broth (mostly beaver broth this time). You can also add salt if you like. I added 1/4T to pints and 1/2T to quarts.
  • Clean the edges of the jars well with a towel soaked in white vinegar.
  • Put your lids on and screw the rings on finger tight. WTF is finger tight? I know, it’s a ridiculous spec. You want it tight enough so the jar will not leak if you tilt it 90 degrees.
  • Set up a burner outside, unless you really like the smell of tuna. For weeks.
  • Add the jars, 4-5 quarts of water, and 1/2C of lemon juice to your pressure canner, then put the lid on. Don’t put the weight on the vent yet.
  • Bring the canner to boiling and keep it there for 10 minutes with the vent open.
  • Put your 10 pound pressure weight on the vent.
  • When the weight begins to flutter, start your 100 minute timer.
  • Keep the fluttering even and subdued. You don’t need to blow the weight off
  • After 100 minutes of fluttering, turn off the heat and let the canner cool.
10PSI at Sea Level Brings the Boiling Point to about 240 Degree F

10PSI Brings the Boiling Point of water to about 240 Degree F

I let it cool overnight, and the jars are still warm in the morning, so don’t rush the cooling process and don’t skip it. The cooling time is part of the processing. Once it is fully cooled, open up the canner and pull out your prize!

Tuna Melt. Enough Said.

Tuna Melt. Enough Said.

Final thoughts on the All American Pressure Canner:

  • Clamping the lid down is a pain in the ass. You are supposed to eyeball the gap all the way around and make sure it’s even. I recommend finding a tool that is the correct thickness and using that instead.
  • This thing will outlast me. I don’t have kids, so if you want it when I die send me a message.
  • Read the instructions before you use it. It’s a precision tool and needs to be operated properly.
  • Be sure to lube the metal-to-metal seal with olive oil. (That’s in the instructions.)
  • Have fun with it – it’s incredibly rewarding.

Next up for the canner is broth and various soups – clam chowder, duck soup, grouse soup, and various game meats packed in broth. Look for those posts coming up, I’m sure I’ll screw up somehow and you can learn from my mistakes.

Some useful links for canning safety and procedure:

Mushroom Foraging Made (Kind of) Easy

I love eating wild mushrooms. I love them stuffed, sauteed, on pizza, battered and fried, on pizza or in spaghetti sauce, or however I can eat them (except raw). There’s a special thrill that comes from their ephemeral nature combined with the luck it takes to find them. That intersection doesn’t occur often enough, even when I’m trying!

I’ve owned many books on identifying mushrooms. I used to read the Peterson Field Guide to North American Mushrooms and dream about finding all the strange and beautiful ones like corals, earth stars, and slimes but also of finding the “choice edibles” that evaded me despite many hours in the woods of the northeastern US. And of course, there were the many Psilocybe species that I imagined crowded the forest floor of the Pacific Northwest where I now live.

The guide book we use most right now looks somewhat like a kid’s book. It’s the Knopf Mushroom Book. Of all the books I’ve bought, borrowed, and read on mushrooms, it’s the most useful I’ve found. It has a fantastic key preceded by a highly visual explanation of what the terms in the key mean. There are collection, handling, spore print, and cooking instruction, too.

knopf mushroom book

The pictures are also good, although any picture of a mushroom needs to be taken with a grain of salt because no two fruitbodies (the visible part of the fungus – AKA the mushroom) are identical. Think of it like looking at a picture of a human. Most any one will bear a similarity to a picture of you, but unless it’s a picture of you, nobody could look at that picture and say, “Hey, that’s [your name]” – I know her!”

OK, so you don’t have this book yet. That’s fine. There are more than enough internet resources to help you out, plus I have some pointers for you that will save you a ton of time and worry.

For the record, I have only been sickened one time in over 25 years of harvesting and eating wild mushrooms, and that was the result a test to see if a particular mushroom and I got along. That is, it was a calculated risk. It’s not that dangerous if you don’t let your excitement and desire to find something good overshadow sound judgment.

Here are my guidelines:

  • Don’t eat mushrooms that have poisonous dopplegangers.
  • Don’t decide what a mushroom is and then try to prove it with a guide book.
  • Don’t eat wild mushrooms raw. Ever.
  • Don’t eat anything you couldn’t convince your mother about and that you wouldn’t feed to your four year-old.
  • DO eat a very small amount of any new-to-you mushroom, then wait 48 hours to see how you react. Reactions are highly personal.
  • DO make friends with a few easy-to-identify and common species and focus on locating their homes so you can forage easily and efficiently year after year.
  • DO pick one or two of everything you see for the first year and plan to eat none of them. Trying to ID them will get you invaluable experience identifying features, taking spore prints, and learning the lingo.
  • DO verify information using at least two solid reference sources that agree, at least until you know a mushroom well. Every reference work has some errors.

I have another mushroom book which I think of as the child seat-safety belt-bike helmet-overprotective fun-hater mushroom book. It’s called Mushrooming Without Fear.

Mushrooming without fear

It basically says not to eat any mushrooms. Well, not quite that bad. In fact, I use it along with the Knopf Mushroom Guide. This book does make some of the same points that I do, but I feel that it goes too far and makes the whole experience scary and lifeless. There is room for fun and safety in this!

Species I would start with as a new mushroom hunter:

Coprinus comatus or Shaggy Mane – These are hard to get wrong. Elongated, white, and turning to ink starting from the bottom edge of the cap. If you aren’t sure, leave it there for a couple days until the ink begins to drip. It will be too late to eat them that by then, but you will know where to go for the rest of the season and in coming years.

Coprinus comatus or Shaggy Manes - Hard to Mistake

Coprinus comatus or Shaggy Manes – Hard to Mistake

Laetiporus suplhureus or Chicken of the Woods – Easy to identify, hard to mistake, delicious, and not too common, so you’ll spend a lot of time in the woods and see lots of other mushrooms while you look for your first one of these. Also, it looks pretty damned cool.

Laetiporus sulphureus AKA Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus sulphureus AKA Chicken of the Woods

Cantharellus cibarius or Chanterelle – I searched for these for years, and thought, but wasn’t sure, that I had them several times. Once you hold one, inspect it, and experience it, you will never wonder again. So before going foraging, buy a few and carefully inspect them. Get to know them. It will be money and time well spent. Then you can eat them. 🙂

Cantharellus cibarius - Chanterelles

Cantharellus cibarius – Chanterelles

I strongly recommend a good visual reference book. One with full color pictures, not drawings, and preferably a picture of more than one individual of each species. It should also have a simple, straightforward key and instructions on how to use that key. The Knopf guide I mentioned is perfect, in my opinion.

When you are out in the field, take a few pictures of the mushroom from a few angles, including a picture of it that includes the habitat it grew in. Many mushrooms have mycorrhizal relationships with specific trees or only grow on certain substrates such as hard packed soil or rotting wood.

Having this information when you are at home with your reference materials will help you identify your finds with much greater confidence. You might also take a few notes, though I have found it’s difficult to link the notes to the correct mystery mushroom – “the small brown one with the gills was growing near water.” Yeah, that one.

Speaking of small brown ones – there are many. Known collectively as LBMs and almost universally ignored by amateur mycologists except those who enjoy frustration and wasting loads of time, these “Little Brown Mushrooms” should not be your focus until you start your PhD work in mycology or decide that you want to find every member of the Psilocybe family growing near you. Those that are edible (the few) aren’t tasty, and none of them are easy to differentiate. Not easy enough, anyway.

Since you’re not going to be eating any of your finds this year, I won’t go into the cooking aspect in this post, but there is a list of methods of cooking and preservation that work best for a number of species along with recipes for various species in the back of the Knopf Mushroom Guide. If you have even a passing interest in understanding the fungi around you, get that book.

On second look, I take that back. it appears that it’s out of print and costs upwards of $200 now. Sorry about that! I guess it’s time to look into a new book to recommend! If you do find a copy at a reasonable price, grab it, though.

UPDATE:

I’ve found a likely candidate for replacing the Knopf Mushroom Guide. Though I haven’t seen it in person, two of the authors of the Knopf Guide, Anna Del Conte and Thomas Laessoe, are responsible for this one, too, so I’m betting on it being good. Anna is the chef from the first book, too, so the recipes will be great. It’s also published by the same publishing house – DK Publishing. Who knows, maybe it’s even better!

Here’s the link: http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780756638672-3

It’s called The Edible Mushroom Book. Buy local! Fuck Amazon!

Laetiporus sulphureus image By Gargoyle888. (Own work.) GFDL or CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Hunt with a Friend

Time spent in the wilderness can be relaxing and therapeutic. The trees and slugs and rocks and clouds and dirt don’t care a bit what troubles you insist on clinging to, gently encouraging you to let them go. Time outside is even better with a good friend. Few worries can stand up to that kind of double-barrelled attack.

I spent a day with my good friend and mentor Bruce down in Gray’s Harbor county. We ate tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons from his garden, delicious apples and amazing canned crabapple sauce from trees in his tiny orchard, pickled kelp (it was incredibly tasty!), eggs I brought from our hens, coffee I roasted, and honey from his bees. It was a smorgasbord of foods we each had our hands in creating.

Eggs from our hens.

Eggs From Our Hens

We stayed up late and talked about whatever came to mind. There was no room or need for television or other distractions.

After an early breakfast, we struck out in search of adventure and sustenance in the form of grouse. I’d never hunted grouse before, so I was full of questions, as usual. After a quick rundown on the basic species (blue and ruffed) in the area and their attributes (blues are fatter but not quite as tender), we settled in to long walks down country lanes…with shotguns.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse

I’d brought a couple shotguns with me, but neglected to notice that I had my slug barrel on one of them, so that meant I only had one real option – our (that is, Becca’s) “new” 1968 Remington Wingmaster 870. I loaded it up with Federal Black Cloud 2 3/4″ #3 shells, which turned out to be deadly on grouse. Federal claims, and I now believe, that the Flitecontrol wad creates tighter groups and a shorter, denser shot string that makes the loads effective at longer ranges than other shells. The results were impressive. I wish I could get a hold of those wads for reloading purposes!

Federal Black Cloud Shotgun Shells with Flitecontrol Wad

Federal Black Cloud Shotgun Shells with Flitecontrol Wad

Things were slow at first, but Bruce and I were sharing stories and enjoying the fresh air. Mostly, he was sharing stories because all of mine are terrible. He was a logger for many years and has been living and hunting in the area where we were since 1960, so he has much better stories. After an hour or so of walking and talking, we saw our first two grouse, but only after they saw us.

Grouse feed on the ground, then fly up and roost when danger approaches. This technique works well, I’m sure, when the predator is a coyote, fox, or bobcat. But we had shotguns, which skewed the odds heavily in our favor. They have camouflage, though, and damned good camouflage at that. Those first two grouse easily evaded detection once roosted high in the dense regrowth.

Another half hour of walking brought us back to the truck and we started exploring the miles of logging roads from behind the windshield. After a bit, we turned into a clear cut and, as we crept along, flushed three big blue grouse. Bruce threw the truck into park and we jumped out, readying our weapons as we tracked the flight path of our quarry.

I hadn’t taken three steps from the truck when three more grouse flushed and headed to the trees near the first three. We now had six birds to find. We headed across the 100 feet or so of crunchy, dry slash toward the 60-70′ tall trees the grouse took refuge in. Feeling about as quiet as an avalanche, I focused on the trees I saw the birds go into and tried not to faceplant.

We reached the trees – limbless up to about 30 feet – and started scanning the canopy for silhouettes. The first one I saw was at about 40 yards through some branches. I decided to put my aim, the Wingmaster, and the Black Cloud shells to the test. Seconds later, there was a fat blue grouse headed earthward. It’s strange, in those moments, when everything seems a little crazy, that you can perceive so much. Even while taking aim and firing at a single bird, I was able to notice that none of the other grouse broke cover when I fired.

I kept looking around, and spied another at 25 yards and took that one, then caught the outline of a third at about 40 yards and somehow blew the shot. I must have really blown it, because the bird did not flinch. My second try found its mark, and now I was up 3 birds with 4 shots in under 60 seconds. Nice math, if you can get it.

Just like a little chicken!

Just like a little chicken! Bruce says to soak overnight in salt and vinegar water, then fry.

We spent a lot more time driving from clearing to clearing after that, and picked up one more out of two birds that I took shots at. The one I solidly missed was at 50 yards and on the ground. I must have hit the ground in front of it, as it took off fast when I missed. The other was a clean head shot at only a few yards yards. No contest there.

My limit filled, we kept searching for a while longer so Bruce could fill his. Afterward, as we were leaving the timber property/national forest area, I spotted a big old reddish-orange mushroom and felt compelled to investigate. I absolutely love finding and eating wild mushrooms. There may have been a few seconds of near-begging as I tried to convince Bruce to stop.

Some Books We Use for Identifying Edible Mushrooms

Some Books We Use for Identifying Edible Mushrooms

He does not trust mushrooms at all and made me promise to be 110% sure of what it was before I ate it, which I did. As I thought, it was a terrific lobster mushroom and will be part of a meal or two in the near future here in the HGB household.

Lobster mushrooms

Lobster Mushrooms

Most of us have enough noise going on upstairs that a few hours in the wilderness can do us good. Even if you don’t hunt, maybe you like mushrooms, or wild edibles, or pressing flowers, or the sounds of streams flowing by. Maybe you have a friend, or someone you want to know better, to bring along. You don’t need to make it a once-in-a-while type of special occasion. Relaxation does not need to be stressful. Grab an extra layer, your mini-emergency pack, put on some comfortable shoes, and walk out the door.

Winslow

A Successful First Grouse Hunt

A Successful Grouse Hunt

Thanks, Bruce, for a great first grouse hunt!

Grouse photo at top of page by MdfOriginal uploader at en.wikipedia was Mad Tinman at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.