Gratitude for Hunting and Gathering

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Tompkins Weekly      10-27-21

By Zak Kozlowski

Have you gathered any wild foods this month?

This October is often my favorite time of year. Like many folks around Tompkins County, I enjoy gathering and hunting wild foods from the local landscape. September through mid-October is usually when I do most of my foraging, processing and storing of wild edible plants. It is also the time of year that marks the start of hunting season.

Since starting to learn about and use wild plants in 2009, I have spent more time noticing and working with certain plants than others. Maybe I get excited by certain species of plants more, or maybe they were the ones trying to get my attention. Either way, I’ve noticed that I get motivated to spend time collecting and working with some of the fruits and nuts during this time of year.

Many of the wild food plants that I enjoy, I’ve noticed, also choose to live and share space with the human environment and can be found in both the city and countryside. They seem to benefit from a close relationship with humans, needing disturbed ground, fences and maintained edge habitats. Sometimes the line between what is wild and what is landscaped appears blurry or nonexistent.

Zak Kozlowski. Photo provided.

Wild grape vines are one of these plants that come to mind. I so love the flavor of most wild grapes when harvested at a certain time. Picking the grapes and crushing them are a lot of fun as well. And they can be really easy to find! “We’re on the planet of the grapes,” I like to jokingly say to myself some years.

Over the years, I’ve had fun showing different groups of children and adults the way I go about juicing and storing the grape juice. I also enjoy hearing and seeing the ways other people use wild grapes. In the past, I spent a good amount of time seeking the right place and opportune time to harvest them; usually around mid-September is when I like to pick them. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy the process each time that there are abundant wild grapes.

Other foods I harvested this last month include apples from roadsides and from private yards where I obtained permission to gather. It is always amazing to me how many apples grow along the roads, hide away in thickets and grow in yards. I am thankful to live around incredible amounts of wild edibles, and I feel very grateful for the opportunity and privilege to go about collecting these wild foods.

I also gathered some walnuts and shagbark hickory nuts. Typically, I enjoy gathering nuts from the black walnut trees. These trees too are common in both the urban environment as well as the rural landscape. In places around Tompkins County, the black walnut trees produce very large nuts and appear to produce them just about every year! I think they are my favorite tree.

This year, however, I ended up storing some butternuts, another kind of wild walnut. I have never found a crop of these before, so it was exciting for me to start husking, get drying and start trying them. At first, the taste I had was like banana pudding. I am thankful to get to know this tree a bit more, and I am trying to grow more of them.

Shagbark hickory nuts were also easy to find this fall, and I spent some time collecting those. Shagbark hickory nuts have such a wonderful pecan-like taste, as well as some interesting qualities. For instance, they are very easy to husk and dry. I am excited to crack them and eat them with friends over the coming seasons.

Along with gathering, hunting has been an activity I’ve enjoyed over this past month too. My love for wild landscapes and local self-sufficient eating led me to pursue food through hunting. I feel grateful to live on a landscape with healthy populations of diverse wild animals, and I am equally thankful that these animal communities are protected and sustained through defined hunting laws, ethical hunters and balanced landscapes.

In September, the season for gray squirrels opened, and I spent a great deal of time hunting for them on public lands these two months. It’s not a popular activity out in the fall woods from what I can tell, but it’s a great way for me to get out hiking, exploring and learning from a wise forest creature. I have enjoyed the meat of grey squirrels very much, and I am glad I went on some exciting outings this year.

I also spent some time in October preparing for and going on hunts for other species. Wild turkeys have a short fall season when they can be hunted. I haven’t had any success yet, but I am excited by the opportunity and challenge of fall turkey hunting. And this week, I am beginning to go out deer hunting during early bow season.

As it is for many hunters alike, my connection with deer and deer hunting takes up a lot of my energy, time and focus throughout the entire year, so it feels deeply special to have the yearly circle come around to actually going hunting again. I can’t wait to be out there, fully present with the moment.

I’m sending thanks for all these wild experiences time and time again, and I thank the people and earth that create and sustain natural places where things thrive and where people can access nature. Happy gathering and hunting!

Zak Kozlowski is an outdoor skills and nature connection mentor. He enjoys learning earth skills, practicing land stewardship and teaching for many organizations in the area. He received a bachelors in environmental studies and spent nearly a decade leading and coordinating programs at Primitive Pursuits. You can learn more about his work and hobbies on Instagram and at Kozlowski can always be reached with comments at

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