Huckleberry Rake Controversy

Huckleberry Picking Methods

As the popularity of the huckleberry grows and the demand for them increase, the more pickers you will see out and about.  Picking berries can be a tedious task to say the least.  Where there is a monotonous task, there will be someone with ingenuity to create a tool to make the task easier and faster.  This is where the advent of the berry rake began.  As with all tools, there comes responsibility.  Unfortunately, where there are humans involved, there comes moments of irresponsibility. This is where the controversy of the berry rake begins.

Though there are an abundance of plants in North Idaho, I have read many posts that indicate thinning stands in other areas of the northwest including Oregon and Washington are few and far between.  I cannot tie the reason for the diminishing stands directly to the berry rake but wonder if they could have played a role in the problem.  Not the rake itself but the rake in the hands of the wrong person.

From what I have read, it can take up to 5 years for a stand to mature and produce a significant amount of fruit.  The stems are thin and can be brittle.  The leaves can fall off with little more effort than it takes for the fruit to come off the plant.  Improper use of the berry rake can tear leaves and break branches.  I have heard stories of irresponsible users ripping entire plants out of the ground.  This is the type of behavior that can cause irreversible damage to a huckleberry stand.

Many folks use the rake so they can pick a large number of berries in a short amount of time.  A quick search on craigslist, I found huckleberries going for anywhere from $30/gallon to $20/quart.  Locally, there are individuals that make a living off nature.  Whether it be from gold panning, selling firewood or picking berries, this is there way of life.  The rake increases productivity for them which puts more money for them to live.  I commend them for this lifestyle because in general, I find that many of these folks have a greater respect for the environment.  Nature’s sustainability is a factor in their livelihood.

I personally hand pick berries.  I enjoy going with family and friends, often competing to see who can pick the most or largest berries.  I find this a common past time for most pickers in general.  I understand the delicate nature of the huckleberry bush.  I choose to hand pick over using a rake because I try to cause as little negative impact on the bushes as I can.  I am not here to pass judgment on those that use the rake or recommend their use.  I personally weigh on the side of caution.  If there is the slightest chance that I will have a negative impact on the huckleberry stand by using rake, I choose not to.

My one recommendation is that each of you make your own judgment.  Do your research on the rake before you do.  Make yourself aware of the pros and cons.  Determine your end goal; why you are picking.  Is it for profit or for self-indulgence?  That could be the answer for you there.  I will leave you with these thoughts: Leave as little impact on nature.  If you use the rake, use it responsibly.  Follow the old adage “pack out what you pack in”.  In other words, take your litter home with you and dispose of it properly.  Let’s try to preserve these wonderful fruit baring plants so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them in the future.

Huckleberries and Bears

 (ok, not lions or tigers)

Remember, out in the wilderness, you are out of your element and in the element of other predators.  When hiking, remember to be aware of your surroundings.  In our area there is always a threat from bears, mountain lions, wolves and bobcats.

Bears are a viable threat when encountered.  You have a higher chance of encountering one of these predators when huckleberry picking as this wonderful fruit is a staple to their diet as well.

If you see a bear before he sees you, leave the area quietly and give the bear its space.  Try to retreat downwind to lessen the chance of the bear noticing you.  If the bear has seen you but is still a good distance away, talk normally and wave your hands in the air.  This will give signs that will identify you as human.  Back away and in this instance move upwind so he can get your scent and knows where you are and where you are going.

If the bear shows signs of aggression, do not run and try to retreat slowly.  Bears will often bluff charge you.  This is a defense mechanism designed to let their enemies to back down before actually making the attack.  The last resort if the bear charges and is at a very close range is using pepper spray.  Hopefully this will slow the bear down or stop him from attacking long enough for you to get away.

In the event of an attack:

Grizzy Bear

  1. Description
    1. Medium to dark brown
    2. Distinct hump between shoulders
    3. Average height of 6 to 6 ½ ft
    4. Long claws that can be seen from a distance
    5. Mostly found in Canada but there are populations in western states bordering Canada
  2. Surviving Grizzly attack
    1. Use bear pepper spray
    2. Bears can run up to 30 mph….you can’t so don’t try to outrun one
    3. Drop down to fetal position and cover your neck with your hands
    4. Play dead, when the bear stops playing with you, continue to play dead until you know for sure the animal is gone.  Grizzlies will often wait to make sure their prey will get back up


Black Bear

  1. Description
    1. Black to light blond in color
    2. No hump like the Grizzly
    3. Smaller than grizzlies
    4. Shorter claws than grizzlies
    5. Are the most common in North America populating 41 of the 50 states in the US
  2. Surviving a black bear attack
    1. Use bear pepper spray
    2. Stand your ground and make as much noise as you can.  They are more timid and if you show you mean business, they are more likely to leave you alone.
    3. Black bears have claws that make them excellent climbers….you don’t so don’t try to out climb them
    4. Fight back with anything you have.  Try to hit them in the snout and eyes particularly.  A black bear will usually give up if they see their victim is willing to fight to the death.


Visit our post Preparing for your huckleberry adventure for other tips on a safer huckleberry adventure