How You Can Enjoy All Three Wild Edibles
Have you ever stepped into the woods filled with the hope of harvesting the spring trifecta? You probably don’t recognize it by that name, but we bet you’ve thought about all of the activities involved once the snow disappears and the temperature starts to climb.
If you’re wondering what we’re talking about when we say “spring trifecta,” it includes turkey hunting, trout fishing, and foraging wild edibles like morel mushrooms. That’s a tall order, and most would consider it a personal challenge to accomplish in a single day. It’s very easy to let the optimism of a beautiful spring morning convince you of your outdoor prowess. But finishing all three in even a single weekend can be a real challenge.
But if you can manage to do so, you can enjoy the ultimate satisfaction that goes along with taking and harvesting all three natural and renewable resources while feeding your family the perfect outdoor spring feast. If you’re up to the challenge, we’ve got the steps you should take for each activity outlined below. Study up and then get out into the woods near you for the amazing opportunity that we are privileged to have in this country. If you’re successful, you’ll also find tips at the bottom of the article to prepare your bounty and amaze whoever partakes in your feast.
We’re sure you know by now that turkey season and #CantStopTheFlop is just around the corner. If you’re not already dreaming of gobblers echoing their frantic calls in the woods on a misty spring morning, then here are some turkey hunting tips for beginners to get you in the right frame of mind. Turkey hunting is really special among other types of outdoor recreation because it can be such an interactive style of hunting. When you call to a tom, he may gobble right back, which gets your adrenaline flowing. Some people are lucky enough to tag a gobbler by just being in the right place at the right time, but the vast majority of hunters have to put in some serious effort to consistently bag a turkey.
The work all starts with a solid pre-season scouting plan. Many beginners aren’t sure how to find turkeys in the spring. You can start by looking for turkey sign in open feeding areas (e.g., food plots, agricultural fields, short meadows, forest openings, etc.). If you find some droppings or scratching in the dirt, you now know where to start. Next, you should ideally find the nearest turkey roosting sites as well. Locate any tall, mature trees (e.g., oaks, pines, etc.) within a few hundred yards of the feeding area and look for more droppings or feathers below them. After you find the right location, it’s time to get tactical.
Turkeys roost at night in these trees, and then fly down in the morning and head to the feeding areas you found. One of your first turkey hunting strategies should be to set up on the field edge before dawn with some turkey decoys placed in front of you. Typically, a hen and jake decoy combination work the best for bringing in the most birds. Set them up within 15 to 20 yards of your location, with the hen and jake quartering toward you. It’s best to use a blind if you’re shooting your Hoyt bow, simply because it conceals your movement much better. If you’re using a shotgun, then feel free to sit out in the open using Realtree Xtra Green Camo clothing to hide you. But beware: a turkey has some amazingly keen eyesight that is tough to beat and may require sitting absolutely motionless for a stretch of time. As such, your turkey hunting gear can make a big difference in the quality and comfort of your hunt, so keep that in mind.
Next, you’ll need to actually entice some long-range gobblers to come to your location. You’ll do that by calling with these spring turkey calling tips. Ideally, these should be practiced in the off-season before turkey hunting season begins, but you can pick up the basics pretty quickly. Calling spring gobblers into range can be accomplished with three basic calls: the yelp, the cut, and the purr. Many hunters get by just fine using only yelps, so don’t be intimidated by the vast turkey vocabulary. You can use anything from the Dual Threat Glass and Slate Turkey Pot Call to the Black Mamba Diaphragm Call to achieve the sounds you’re looking for. Once a gobbler is within comfortable shooting range, then it’s up to you to make the shot count and close the deal. If you succeed, it’s time to move on to the next phase of the challenge.
The second event of the spring outdoor trifecta can still be found in the woods, but only along winding water channels. Spring marks the opening of many stream trout seasons across the nation. Some streams become catch-and-release after a period of time, so you need to capitalize on the spring season if you want to put some fish on the table. If you’re lucky enough to harvest a tom turkey using the steps from above, then pick up the old spinning rod and head to the local river or stream. If you’re not familiar with the fish species in a given waterbody, reach out to your local state agency before planning any trips.
Trout fishing is very accessible for all anglers, because you don’t need a lot of fishing gear to get started. Most people associate stream trout fishing with a fly rod in hand, but many of the trout-supporting streams in the eastern half of the country are simply too small and overgrown to use one very effectively. Pick up your spinning rod and tie on a few different trout fishing rigs, and you’ll be ready to go. Some of the best options include plain hooks with night crawlers (i.e., gather these from the back yard the morning of for the best results), dry flies, or spinners. Other than that, you just need a few split shot sinkers to weigh your line down enough in the current.
Many don’t realize that fishing for trout often includes more stalking than fishing. One of the best trout fishing techniques for small streams is to stealthily sneak along the bank casting upstream as you go. Trout face upstream, so you can sneak up behind them provided the sun doesn’t cast your shadow on the water. Always be aware of this and tread lightly, as they will be able to sense your heavy footfalls vibrating through the bank. Since they are so wary of these things, this is probably one of the best tips for catching brown trout in small systems. Also keep a low profile so your silhouette is not sky lighted against the horizon. It’s a lot like hunting after all, isn’t it?
Pitch your presentation upstream and let it drift back towards you, tumbling along the stream bottom or floating on top of the swift moving water. Fat night crawlers are probably the best bait for trout fishing on cold spring mornings, because it lazily tumbles along the bottom and doesn’t force a fish to work very hard to get it. Later in the spring, you can switch to dry flies to “match the hatch” as native invertebrates start to show up. Focus on pitching near structure, such as log jams, large rocks, undercut banks, and the upstream edges of deep pools. Trout rest from the current behind such objects and await food to drift down towards them. You should position your rig to drift right past such structure.
If after a few pitches you do not get a strike, move forward and try a slightly different angle. If you don’t get any bites after a few pools or log jams (and you’ve confirmed trout do in fact live in the stream), you may want to switch your trout presentation before moving on. It may take a couple options, but hopefully you’ll end up with at least one trout to keep for the frying pan.
If you’re trout fishing on a larger waterbody, such as a river system, you can get away with a little more and the payout can be larger. Generally, larger rivers can sustain larger trout. It’s often better to wade through the water in these systems to get out far enough, casting spinners or even small Rapalas to resemble small fish. With the open room, feel free to break out your fly rod if you want to!
Foraging for Wild Edibles
Hopefully by this point in the process, you have some delicious wild game and fish protein for the plate, but now it’s time to add some side dishes to round it out. Grab a local list of edible wild plants and head to the woods. A forager with a keen eye and solid understanding of identification can fill a plate with the foraging bounty that nature offers each spring. Mushrooms (morels, chanterelles, etc.), wild ramps/leeks, greens (dandelions, lambs-quarters, nettles, garlic mustard, cress, etc.) are all available to be harvested responsibly. When foraging, you don’t want to harvest more than 5 to 10 percent of a given stand, unless of course it’s an invasive species in your area. This allows the species to persist and provides other foragers the opportunity to harvest some too.
The most important part of identifying wild edible plants is having a reputable edible plant identification guide and preferably some field time with an experienced forager. Many wild plants can be wholly or partially toxic, so you cannot guess at the identification – you need to be positive. That token warning out of the way, there are numerous wild plants you can eat, especially in the springtime. When you’re sitting on your favorite turkey hunting chair, survey the area around you to see if you can spot some of these natural delicacies. While stalking fish along a stream bank, keep an eye open for morel mushrooms and nettles, as they often occur in such environments. It will take some practice, but once you spot a couple of these plants or fungi, you’ll start to recognize them more easily. In that regard, it’s like shed hunting. It gets easier after you’ve seen a couple on the ground.
Pulling It All Together
Assuming you’re able to have a banner day in the woods and complete the spring trifecta, take a moment and congratulate yourself! All of these require a little bit of luck, but there’s a lot of skill and perseverance involved too. The next and best step is to bring all the raw ingredients into an unforgettable meal for your family or friends. Feel free to experiment yourself, but it’s tough to beat a trout and turkey main course served alongside a bed of foraged greens and mushrooms. It’s an unusual and wild take on a ‘surf and turf’ type of meal. We’ll call it ‘creek and beak’ for lack of a better description.
You really can’t go wrong with the turkey, but a good and quick starter method is to breast it out. That way, you can easily inspect for any rogue pellets and cut it into manageable strips. Turkey breast filets are delicious when battered and deep-fried until golden brown. Simply rinse each filet in buttermilk, and coat in your favorite breading mix. Deep fry the strips for several minutes in hot oil until golden brown. Set aside to drain and cool.
Stream trout are delicious when left alone as much as possible. Simply remove the entrails and wash the skin and body cavity out well. You can remove the head, fins, and tail if they bother you, but it’s not necessary. Stuff some herbs (e.g., dill, thyme, parsley, etc.) and lemon slices into the body cavity, and then bake or pan-fry until the flesh takes on a pinkish/orange color and easily flakes apart. The skin will practically fall off and the flesh should separate from the bones pretty easily.
Depending on what wild foods you forage, you’ll have quite the range of options and will need to research the best preparation for that species. But generally, you’ll almost always be able to find some type of greens and a few mushrooms. Clean the greens using fresh cold water, and soak mushrooms in a salt water bath to chase out any small critters hiding inside. Add the halved mushrooms to a hot frying pan with a little butter. Cook until they are almost ready to eat, and then add the greens to wilt a little. Add some salt and pepper, and plate with your turkey and trout combo.
This preparation is sure to please your taste buds, and captures the essence of spring beautifully. So if you know how to forage for food, go trout fishing, or hunt turkeys, you should now be able to produce a beautiful meal as well. And what better way is there for a hunter, angler, or forager to end a spring day in the woods?