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Stalking Huckleberry Nirvana

Sun., July 9, 1995, midnight

Huckleberry hounds always have been looking for a free lunch.

They’ve tried putting blankets on the ground and beating the huckleberry bushes to shake off the fruit. They’ve experimented with putting a row of nails in a wooden box or cutting teethlike notches in gallon plastic jugs to rake berries from the bushes.

The newest huckleberry helper is the Berry Master, computer-designed and laser-cut in Spokane.

Terry Fowler, a lifelong Valley resident and berry picker, made a prototype in 1993 that became such a rage among family members, he had no choice but to make more.

Last year, he made 100. This year, he made 500.

The design is similar to a berry picker that was handmade and sold on a small scale by the late huckleberry guru Lou Hyatt of Spokane. Fowler’s picker is more refined, using lightweight aluminum with a slick finish.

Like Hyatt, Fowler tries to educate his customers on proper use of the Berry Master.

“You don’t rake the bush to get the berries,” he said. “You hold the bush with one hand and bump the berries with the Berry Master to make them fall into the container.”

Done correctly on a loaded bush, one can “pick” more than 2 gallons of huckleberries an hour, he said. Done incorrectly, the Berry Master saves little time, considering the effort it would take to pick out all the leaves and stems from the crop.

“If you do it right, it doesn’t hurt the bush,” Fowler said.

Some Forest Service biologists are concerned that tools such as the Berry Master might catch on with legions of pickers who could leave slim pickings for bears.

“I guess I’m more concerned with the increased numbers of people going into bear habitat than I am with the amount of berries they’re taking,” said Tim Bertram of the Sullivan Lake Ranger District near Metaline Falls, Wash.

“We’re hearing about berry pickers carrying guns. That means they’re not likely to yield a berry patch to a bear.”

One longtime huckleberry picker noted that the Berry Master also is less selective than handpicking, which means more berries might be picked before they are ripe, and wasted.

The Berry Master is available by mail order or to walk-in business from Weld-Rite Fabrication & Repair, E3927 Princeton in Spokane, telephone 483-2434. Cost is $24.95

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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