WILD HUCKLEBERRY PICKER:
USER INSTRUCTIONS FOR ETHICAL HARVEST
Here at Gourmet Innovations LLC and Tastes of Idaho, wild huckleberries are a BIG part of our business, our income, and our
We want other people to enjoy picking the wild huckleberry, and maybe
even sell us a few if you are so inclined, BUT WITHOUT DOING ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE to the wild huckleberry
Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho extenstion horticulturist & leading
exhibits how to use a huckleberry picker,
without damaging the wild huckleberry plants!
The most DAMAGING thing you can do to a wild huckleberry
plant is clip or break off branches, or worse yet, the entire plant! Wild plants live in a very
competitive environment, and the first ones to grow and take up space in a particular spot, tend to keep that spot,
until or unless a taller species grows up over the top, and shades them out. But if you remove the desired plant
from a spot, something else will often takes its place... and then we lose the very species we went out in the
woods to enjoy!
Currently, wild huckleberry stands are
declining across most of their range, due to changes in climate, fire intensity, and even logging
practices. At the same time, more people and chefs around the world are learning about the unique, tangy sweet
taste of huckleberries. (Also, demand for dietary supplements, where huckleberries are called "bilberries", is
So have fun while picking, but PLEASE, do not damage the resource.
Fortunately, there are still lots of huckleberries to go around, but ONLY if we choose to be
responsible environmental stewards to the wild huckleberry resource. Huckleberry stands take 5
to 15 years to really start producing, after logging or after low to moderate intensity fires. So if you damage
plants, they are not likely to be productive again in the near future. Each plant someone destroys is a lost piece
of huckleberry pie (hot out of the oven, with vanilla ice cream) or jar of huckleberry jam that no one may ever
A HUCKLEBERRY PICKER is the best way to get more wild
huckleberries in your bucket, in an environmentally sensitive manner. Once you get into a good patch,
I've heard 10 times as many berries are possible. But I think four times as many per
hour is a realistic goal -- especially if you are having fun, and eating a few berries along the
(Additional Tips When Picking
Unfortunately, there are both good ways and bad ways to use a
huckleberry picker. Just like any tool, (A) it can be misused, and (B) it takes a few tries to really get good at
it. A hammer, screwdriver, or drill is a valuable tool - with practice and when used appropriately. But misusing
any of these tools can lead to vandalism, injury, or even death.
You probably would have a hard time killing someone with a huckleberry
rake, depending on the model (but please don't test me -- this is NOT a challenge!). But it IS fairly easy to
damage wild huckleberry bushes, if you don't approach picking with conservation in mind. Or IF you think using a
rake doesn't require a little time to uncover its
So first, a few things to know:
- There IS a short learning curve to using a huckleberry
rake effectively. Kind of like learning how to "set the hook" on a trout, catfish, bass, or
walleye... they are all a bit different.
- Wild huckleberries grow ONLY on the current years
growth, near the tips of the branches and branchlets, but NOT all the way down the main stems of the
plant. (So no need to rake anything but the tips of the branches!)
- A huckleberry picker is most effective where the huckleberries
are "good". If the berries are sparse, stick to picking one berry at a time, by
hand. In most wild huckleberry patches, thankfully, the rake will really get you a lot more
huckleberries, faster (before you poop out!)
- You WILL get more huckleberry leaves in your bucket with
a picker, than when picking by hand. But since the huckleberries are usually washed/cleaned
anyhow after picking, the extra work is not significant compared to the much larger yield in your bucket.
(NOTE: taking the extra leaves does not really damage the plant - shortly after the berries ripen and fall off,
the leaves fall off too, naturally. You will get an occasional branchlet with your rake, but with practice, the
damage will be incidental.) Also, if you use the model of Huckleberry Picker we sell, you can shake a lot
of the leaves out the bottom, without losing or crushing those precious huckleberries.
- The huckleberry picker is effective for MOST species
of roundish berries, in that general size range or larger, including blueberries, service berries
(Saskatoon berries), chokecherries, elderberries, cranberries, etc. However, the rake will NOT work for
"seedy" berries such as raspberries and blackberries.
And NOW, the moment you've all been waiting for -- let's
start with the actual instructions for using the huckleberry picker! (I apologize about all the background
information, but some is necessary for using the huckleberry picker effectively, and the rest... well, you can
see my passion for huckleberries, and for protecting the wild huckleberry resource!)
If you've read this far, you are MY kind of Huckleberry Hound!
So now, you are in the woods surrounded by a nice patch of wild huckleberries.
(And just another reminder that huckleberries ONLY grow on the current year's
growth, AND that the huckleberry picker tines, while made of sturdy metal, work best with a small, but
manageable numbers of berries. Don't try to "bull" your way through the huckleberry plant. Short, quick, easy
strokes, with just the right amount of branchlets as a target, will net you the greatest yield of huckleberries, in
the shortest time.)
Start small - chase the smallest branchlets first, to get the hang of the wrist action. Send the
tines in just under the lowest huckleberry in the group, then pull the tines up and through the loose clump of
berries, and this is MOST IMPORTANT: rather than trying to "scoop" the berries off, keep the bottom of the rake at
about right angles (perpendicular) to the branch... let the curve of the TINES, do the work.
"WHAT JUST HAPPENED?", you ask.
Probably one of two things. Either you went too slow, and the berries were pinched, maybe even
tore trying to detach from the stems -- while your rake hung up a bit on the tiny branchlets, possibly breaking a
couple off. Or, you went too fast, and most of the berries flew OVER THE TOP of your huckleberry
rake, peppering the surrounding vegetation. Just like the rookie shrimp fishermen in the movie Forrest
Gump, who only got old boots and a toilet seat in their first catch, your first efforts may net you more leaves
than huckleberries inside your huckleberry rake.
Not as easy as it looks, but it will get better, fast. If you are a fisherman or fisherwoman
(?), you know what I'm talking about when I mention "setting the hook". You get the line semi-taut, and then at
just the right moment, you feel a tug, give a little snap of the wrist and "fish on!". You can describe and explain
how to do the wrist motion all you want, but until you experience the sensation a few dozen - or even a few hundred
- times, you just won't know how to set the hook, and catch that lunker.
Using a huckleberry rake is much the same. But you will get proficient quickly, because the wild huckleberries
are ALWAY bitin', as they say, once you find a good patch. And they don't swim away!
So, here are my verbal instructions, and I will kind of describe the technique, breaking it down as if it were
in slow motion. Once you get comfortable, each wrist movement will bring in up to a dozen (or more)
huckleberries in the blink of an eye.
So. As you slide the tines under the berries, you want to bring up the picker against the "pressure" of
the attached huckleberries -- just like taking the slack out of a fish line. Note that if you try to
take in too many branchlets at the same time, the pressure turns your rake into a snarl among the twigs,
reducing the effectiveness of your efforts, and increasing the risk of damage to the plant.
Again, start small, maybe branchlets of 2 to 5 berries. When you feel the slightest hint of back pressure, you
will do a short, gentle "snap" of your wrist, upward and back toward the picker. Too slow, and you snag the
branches and bruise the berries, taking in lots of leaves -- because you are pulling the berries off, instead of
popping them off. Too fast, and more berries fly over the picker, than into the
Practice, practice, practice. Don't give up! At first you may feel like it would be faster to pick by hand. And
it would be! But hang in there, things will change, and once they change, you will rack up cup after cup of berries
much faster than you ever thought possible.
Once you get the hang of the basic stroke, and get a feel for how many branchlets or huckleberries you can
really rake in with one stroke, without snagging, you develop a sort of rhythm. Now it's time to
add your other hand as a feeder to the huckleberry picking production line. In fact, you probably were already
doing this by now, instinctively.
A huckleberry bush often displays berries across a span of ten or twenty inches (or more) around the top and
outside of the plant, while your rake is only six inches wide. You can really only cleanly strip a swath of
four inches wide or so. But by using your hands in tandem with the picker, you can cover a lot more of the plant in
Your free hand gathers huckleberry branchlets together, between the thumb and fingers. You
pinch the twigs, either together to make a larger clump of berries, and/or away from the main plant, so they are
easier to rake cleanly, without snagging a bigger piece of the huckleberry bush. Then in comes the picker. Swish.
Repeat. (You will always get a little snagging, so don't worry about it, just work to avoid pulling off branches
when you do hang up. Better to back out, and take a smaller stroke, than damage the plant.)
Again, you will get a rhythm going, this time with both hands. Some strokes will not need the second hand... a
branchlet with nice berries is hanging out there, all by its lonesome. In thick huckleberry bushes your second hand
will get a workout.
An experienced huckleberry "picker" using a picker, is a joy to behold, as he or she works around the plant, no
wasted motion, short wrist movements, gleaning most of the plant, while standing in one spot. Maybe a short step to
the side of the wild huckleberry plants to change the angle, and get any remaining berries. Then he or she works
right on through the patch in a semi-systematic fashion, with short interruptions where a stray berry gets popped
into a mouth, or the picker takes a swat at an insect.
Malcolm & Sandy
Gourmet Innovations LLC
PS With the instructions above, the videos to the left, the general huckleberry picking tips
below, and a little practice, you have what you need!
If you want more information, and results of FIELD TESTS with nine different huckleberry rake models:
CLICK HERE for More Info
on HUCKLEBERRY PICKERS!
© 2008, 2010 - Malcolm Dell
Elk River, Idaho
"Improving Wild Stands of Huckleberries" Workshop
July 29, 2005
According to Dr. Barney, "Huckleberry pickers, when used properly -- just like
any tool -- do not damage wild huckleberry bushes."