Fall Harvest: Traditions, Meals and Foraging on Refuges

Throughout the country, many people take to national wildlife refuges to hunt and gather wild foods. Many cultures, traditions, and even recipes are influenced by wildlife refuges. Here’s how some Americans honor fall harvest on refuges.

Harvesting Waterfowl

Name: Moira M. Tidball — Cornell University professor and creator of Wild Harvest Table

Where: Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge Seneca Falls, New York

What do you hunt? My family and I hunt upland game birds [grouse, woodcock] at Finger Lakes National Forest. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is nearby, with accessible hunting and fishing. My husband hunts waterfowl there. They also offer a youth hunt every fall, which is very cool. Both my daughters have participated in the youth hunt. To hunt most species there you have to take a waterfowl ID class.

Victoria (left) and Charlotte Tidball enjoy youth hunt weekend in upstate New York. Photo: Moira M. Tidball

Why do you hunt? For food! And to enjoy time outside with my family. I love the North American Model that the wildlife belongs to the people and that we have public lands where people can harvest wild game [with the appropriate licenses] and enjoy the nutritious food. The connection to the land and the food on one’s plate gives such a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Pan-seared duck. Photo: Moira M. Tidball

Recipe: Pan-seared duck with potatoes, apples, and bacon

Harvesting Moose

Keemuel Kenrud gets ready to fish. Photo: USFWS

Name: Keemuel Kenrud — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge information technician/Artic Youth Ambassador

Where: Togiak National Wildlife Refuge Quinhagak, Alaska

Tribe: Togiak — Tuyuryaq

Why do you hunt? Hunting is fulfilling. It’s a way of life. My grandfather would take me and my cousins hunting all the time. I shot my first moose at the age of 12. I remember pulling the trigger and seeing everything happen in slow motion. It was like a dream. The cold didn’t feel cold. The wind didn’t seem to exist. Seeing the moose slowly fall was unbelievable; it was such an adrenaline rush. Before we started butchering it, Grandpa had us gather around the moose. We honored its spirit through prayer. I hunt to feed my family. One moose can a feed a family of five for the whole winter season. We take only what we need.

How do you harvest moose? It takes a team to hunt one moose. It’s a lot of driving and waiting around ’til you find one. I hunt with my family and use a .30–30 rifle. Once we hunt a moose, we butcher it in the moment. We put all the fresh meat on a tarp and take it back to our vehicle. The liver is a delicacy that we eat while butchering, with a little bit of seal oil. It tastes like medium-rare steak.

Recipe: Dried moose meat

Harvesting Pine Nuts

Name: Jeremy Spoon — cultural anthropologist, Portland State University/ The Mountain Institute; Richard Arnold — tribal chairperson, Pahrump Paiute Tribe

Where: Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex Las Vegas, Nevada

Photo: Jeremy Spoon

Tribe: Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) Tribes

Why do the Nuwuvi harvest nuts? For the last seven years, federal workers and volunteers from The Mountain Institute/Portland State University have worked closely with Nuwuvi tribal members to celebrate and harvest pine nuts on Nuwuvi ancestral territory. The annual fall gathering allows for multiple tribes to reconnect — sharing traditions, culture and conservation. Harvesting pine nuts helps manage the pinyon and juniper habitats and reduce the risk of wildfires. Tribe members, volunteers and federal staff help trim, prune and maintain juniper and pinyon pine trees for future harvests.

How do the Nuwuvi harvest pine nuts? Nuwuvi members begin harvesting by explaining their actions to the land in their native tongue. They whip the pine trees with long sticks to knock down old growth and collect pine cones. They break open the pine cones, tapping the back end to reveal the pine nuts. Participants take only what they need, leaving plenty for other tribe members, animals and future crops.

Photo: Jeremy Spoon

When: The event takes place around mid-September. Throughout the fall season, harvesting is open to tribe members only.

Recipe: Collect brown pinyon pine cones. Crack them open by hand. Remove the seeds and roast them inside their shells over an open fire until they are golden brown.

Roasted pine nuts. Photo: Jeremy Spoon

Harvesting White-Tailed Deer

Name: Richard Carter — hunter

Where: Patuxent Research Refuge Laurel, Maryland

Why do you hunt? I hunt for food and for a trophy. I use the meat to feed my family and friends and donate it to homeless organizations. I send the heads to get mounted by a taxidermist. I started hunting in 1984. My buddy took me for my first time, and it was a big learning experience. It’s like going to school. I had to learn about the woods, the animals, everything about deer and their environment. I got buck fever as soon as I saw my first deer. I had such a big adrenaline rush. I kept missing the deer with my arrows and almost gave up the bow completely. Now I am able to take my friends and grandkids out to experience hunting.

Photo: USFWS

How do you harvest deer? My hunting buddy and I follow the signs of deer. We look for tracks, rubs on trees, any signs of where the deer eats or sleeps. Once we find a good spot, we set up in a tree stand. It takes a lot of patience and quiet. Any sudden movement can startle the deer. I aim my bow at the right shoulder of a deer [near the heart or lungs] for an ethical shot. We wait about 20 to 30 minutes and follow its blood trail. We field dress it, taking all the organs out. We drag it out of the woods and take it straight to the butcher. The butcher will make me burger and steaks out of the meat.

Recipe: Venison Burgers

Venison burgers. Photo: Moira M. Tidball

Harvesting Pheasant

Name: Mark Norquist — hunter and editor of the Modern Carnivore

Where: Halva Marsh State Wildlife Management Area Hutchinson, Minnesota (near Litchfield Wetland Management District)

Why do you hunt? It’s a part of my identity. I started hunting as a really young boy in Minnesota. My dad would take my brothers and me hunting for ducks, geese, pheasant and grouse. That passion grew throughout my life. It keeps me connected to the natural world. There’s an honesty I appreciate when I am outside and participating in the natural cycle of life and death. That honesty is core to the hunting activity. The outcome is healthy food for my family that’s organic, free-range, hormone-free and local. I’m also passionate about helping re-connect people to direct harvesting [foraging, fishing and hunting] through my website.

Mark Norquist on his first goose hunt with his dad. Photo: Modern Carnivore

How do you harvest pheasant? Hunting on public lands requires research. I scout for locations, check the weather, make sure all my licenses and stamps are up to date. I usually go by myself or with a friend who has a dog. Dogs can be helpful in flushing and retrieving pheasants. I’ll work field edges, windbreaks and other spots where pheasants like to hang out. At the end of the day I’ll clean the birds and try to find a new recipe that will impress my family and friends. Pheasant meat is very mild and can be prepared in so many different ways, so nearly anyone can enjoy it.

Chef Lukas Leaf prepares one of Mark Norquist’s favorite recipes, pheasant roulade. Photo: Modern Carnivore

Harvesting Grouse

Name: Lukas Leaf — hunter and chef of the Modern Carnivore

Where: Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge McGregor, Minnesota

A freshly plucked grouse. Photo: Modern Carnivore

Why do you hunt? I became interested in being self-sustaining by growing, foraging and hunting my own food. I grew up fishing and didn’t really get into hunting ’til college. My buddies showed me the proper path to hunting. I hunt purely to put healthy sustainable meat in my freezer. It’s great to learn about what’s around you, locally and seasonally. I take only what I need because I want to make sure there is enough for the future. I also like showing people all that is possible with hunting your own meals. It’s also a time for me to reflect and enjoy being by myself in nature.

How do you harvest grouse? The best way to hunt grouse is with a dog. Dogs help flush the birds out. I like going by myself or with a friend. It’s never guaranteed I’m going home with some grouse. I get up really early, grab all my gear and set up my blind. The best times to hunt grouse are sunset or sunrise. Grouse like hiding in corn stalks. I use a 20-gauge over-under shotgun. I wait, aim and shoot. If I do get a grouse, I’ll take it home and share it with family and friends. It’s a good way to introduce them to the benefits of hunting.

Grouse cooking over an open fire. Photo: Modern Carnivore

Recipe: Grilled Spatchcock Grouse with Apricot Agrodolce

Serves 4


2 whole grouse dressed

Fresh vegetables for grilling: zucchini, asparagus, peppers and onion

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Apricot glaze

One 12-ounce jar apricot preserves (or three apricots halved and sliced thin)

1 cup water

1 cup white wine

½ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup brown sugar

Pinch kosher salt

½ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

Step One: Dress and spatchcock the grouse — remove its backbone and prepare it for grilling. To do this, make a cut down the spine of the grouse with a kitchen shears or large knife and flatten the bird with the legs out. Brine in a basic salt brine for 2–4 hours.

Step Two: Combine all sauce ingredients in a small sauce pot. Bring the sauce to a boil. Then turn down to a simmer and reduce liquid by half. Reserve half of the sauce for serving and half for glazing while grilling the grouse.

Step Three: Cut the vegetables into chunks for grilling. Toss the vegetables in the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Step Four: Start your coals, fire or gas grill and raise to grilling temperature. Season the grouse and veggies with oil, salt and pepper and begin to grill. Remove the veggies when they are cooked to your taste. Lightly glaze the grouse with the apricot sauce every time you rotate the birds. Grill the grouse until they are cooked through and caramelized on the outside. Then remove them from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Step Five: Cut each grouse in half and serve with the sauce and vegetables.

Harvesting Mushrooms and Berries

Name: Matt Bowser — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge entomologist

Where: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Soldotna, Alaska

Why do you harvest? There is so much good wild food available in our area that it just makes sense to partake. I enjoy learning about wild plants and fungi, and I love the unique flavors that are available from wild foods. My family and I harvest blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries, highbush cranberries, crowberries, nettles and a variety of mushrooms. One of my family’s favorite wild foods is chaga mushroom, which is both medicinal and tasty. It has an earthy taste reminiscent of butterscotch when sweetened.

How do you harvest? I do research beforehand. It’s important to know what is edible and what is poisonous. You want to make sure whatever part you are harvesting (leaf, fruit, root) isn’t going to kill the plant. A rule of thumb is to harvest only what you need. It’s everyone’s part to make sure there are future harvests. Timing varies on when to harvest. After a good rainfall, you have a couple of days to get mushrooms. There have been a number of times when I would go out hunting for grouse and end up instead with an abundance of mushrooms — a “mushroom emergency” as my kids call it. For chaga mushrooms, I’ll bring a basket and a hatchet. Most other mushrooms go straight from the basket into the dehydrator for future use throughout winter. For berries I use plastic containers. Berries go into jam, jelly or into the freezer for fruit smoothies.

Chaga mushroom grows on tree trunk. Photo: Matt Bowser/USFWS

Recipe: Dairy-Free Chaga Ice Cream


13.5-ounce can coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 cup cashew milk or almond milk

1 cup dark chaga tea, cooled


To make chaga tea, simmer chaga for 30 minutes to several hours. For ice cream, use relatively little water to produce a concentrated tea at least as dark as coffee.

Whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Churn in an ice cream maker. Serve immediately.

Written by Ashley Suarez-Burgos

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Written by

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.

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