how to find sticks

Being retired, I spend a great deal of my time at the cabin and in the bush, hunting more Diamond Willow sticks. People often ask me about how and where to find them. Come with me now, and we'll take a photographic virtual Stick-ing trip at my cabin, up here in northern Alberta, Canada. This page is mostly photos, so please be patient. If you want to show as much of the page as your browser will allow, toggle F11 on your keyboard. Please note: I've reduced the pictures to as small a size and low a resolution as I dared, both to save space on my server and to avoid you having to wait too long for them to load; I do have all the original pictures in HIGH quality and very large size if they are needed.

As to WHEN to go stick-ing; my advice: harvest the green/live sticks only when the sap is running, so that they will "skin" easily. BUT see my note and picture on this at the bottom of this page.

NEWS FLASH: West Nile Virus is a new danger, especially because we find Diamond Willow in wet places where mosquitoes flourish. Please take reasonable precautions.

To get started right, let's make sure we have all the necessities with us: (details below the picture)

how to find sticks A: a heavy leather belt
B: tall rubber boots
C: leather work gloves
D: a wrist compass
E: hunting knife for protection
F: 4 pieces of cord
G: saw with ribbons tied to handle
H: tissue paper
I: bear spray
J: bag of plastic ribbons
K: Garmin G.P.S.
L: mosquito repellent
M: "Boot Skirts"
N. cold drink
O. rifle (30-30)
P. apple
Q. noise maker
R. large plastic bag
S. pocket knife
T. hat with rag

A. the belt: I had this extra-thick/strong belt custom-made to carry heavy tools

B. in swamps, this is a necessity

C. leather due to all the thorns of "Wild Roses" etc.

D. a tiny, 50-cent item, has saved my skin a few times when I got confused in the bush

E. Just in case........ a large, sharp knife could be a good weapon in case of bear attack

F. absolutely necessary to tie sticks in 2 bundles to carry them like two suitcases*

G. fold-up saw; I tied a cord on it and clip the cord to my jeans. Ribbons are there in case I still manage to lose it. And I have.

H. Moss, leaves, grass work too but a bit of tissue is a luxury when Mother Nature calls.

I. Bear spray just in case. BE VERY CAREFUL; accidental discharges are TERRIBLE!

J. plastic ribbons to tie on willows that you may want to come back for later, or to mark a trail to a spot.

K. A GPS is very handy.

L. Naturally, very important; I carry mine in another bag/pouch on that same belt.

M. "BOOT SKIRTS" to keep all the junk and (biting) insects out of my boots. IF YOU NEED a pair, let me know; the friend who made these for me will make and mail you a pair for $10. Absolutely necessary; we tried many different ways to avoid this problem and this was/is the FINAL SOLUTION.

N. My cold drink is a pop bottle with half-frozen tea, wrapped in foam rubber, in a milk carton. We carry that in a backpack or throw it in the ATV.

O. Best bet in case of bear attack as long as you can hear him coming; my hearing is so bad now that I may still be in trouble.

P. Something to eat can be handy but don't leave it in your ATV; a bear may try to get at it. Happened to me.

Q. A "horn" with compressed air; might frighten a bear who seems unfriendly. Never had to use mine yet.

R. A bag is a cheap emergency rain coat; very easy to carry.

S. Handy for all kinds of things.

T. I fastened this old rag with 4 diaper pins to my hat; soaked the rag in mosquito repellant and store the hat/rag in a zip-lock bag between uses; works very well!

* A word about item F; the cord so you can make bundles of several sticks and carry them like two suitcases.

how to find sticks

If you forget your cords, (and you should carry 4 pieces) you can make do with strips of bark like this. I've used this method to carry 10 sticks in two bundles.
Are YOU going to carry the rifle, or shall I? We don't both need one, I hope. Let's just HOPE the bears are someplace else today. Man, THAT is "Life on the Edge!"
OH, OH, see what happened June 22, 2002; details further down this page.

wild rose

AND, let's be sure to wear LONG-sleeve shirts and TWO pairs of pants. Two pairs of pants are needed to protect us from the thorns of the Wild Roses. That miserable weed flower is Alberta's "provincial flower."

diamond willow bush

These willows are found in wet places so let's head for some of those. Here are several.
Here is a typical clump of several fairly large Diamond Willows. Note that the stems are covered with lichen which often obscures the diamonds.

When they get this size, about 6 inches in diameter, more often than not the middle of each is rotten.

You can see that the big one on the left is rotten; it is brown and covered with fungus.

Note the poplar trees nearby.

diamond willow bush

Here we see a swamp on the edge of an area of pine trees, with the willow growing in the swamp.

Note the tangle of willows; virtually impossible to get through.

Not that you would want to.

diamond willow bush

Besides finding Diamond Willow, we can expect to find other items such as the bones left by an unfortunate moose.

diamond willow bush

Here the willows are bent over the water; growing at quite an angle. Note the new, green shoots coming off and going straight up. These shoots are what I look for when I need them for the Willow Chairs which I teach others to make in my workshops.

diamond willow bush

Yes, that's all mosquito swamp! Hope your boots are tall enough to let you cross; if not, we'll go around.

diamond willow bush

Don't let all that dry-looking weed fool you; there is water all over! You can see the tops of pine trees in the background; they surround this swamp and are on dry ground. Any of these small clumps of willows may have some fantastic sticks in them.

diamond willow bush

And, of course, if we find any garbage, generally left by moose hunters, we will pick it up and dispose of it properly.

Don't you wish people weren't such slobs!?

diamond willow bush

Now, here is something. This is an Ant Hill. NO, don't mess it up with a stick! Leave it alone. This is our "bear barometer." If it is all messed up, chances are that is a sign there is at least one bear in the vicinity.

This one has not been messed up in awhile so probably no bear is nearby. A handy tool.

diamond willow bush

See that big black thing in the middle of the picture? You frequently see something like that from the corner of your eye and it requires a good look; could be a bear getting ready to have you for lunch or a cow moose ready to stomp you to protect her calf.

The fire many years ago left a lot of black stumps of all sizes and shapes and they sometimes scare you for a second or two.

Keep that bear spray handy!


HOPEfully, it won't be one of these! If it is, say your prayers. IF you have time. Game over. This grizzly was in my stick-hunting area in 2003. You can see more pictures of THAT event HERE.


More likely, it will be (and let us HOPE it is!!) one of these; a cow moose.

But don't be too smug; moose can be very protective of their young and will attack you. I've had that happen to me.


Looks like a few good sticks in that clump. Best rub some of that lichen off and have a better look. Some of them are definitely great, but too big for Hiking Sticks.


Some of these are great for making willow chairs and some look like they will be very nice hiking sticks. Note also the birch tree; they thrive in wet areas too. And, as usual, note the water. And mosquitoes. That big willow is probably 9 inches in diameter.


Some nice looking willow there but the going looks tough and wet........ do we really want to go further?

Maybe we can skirt the swamp and stay in the poplar trees on the left.


This one was easy to miss. It has some really nice diamonds but they are almost hidden by the lichen.

Now we are at the edge of this small swamp; mostly poplar trees here but still some water.


Another nice stick especially if we rub the lichen off it. Note the thin branches growing out of it; good stuff for making willow chairs.

Now we are just about out of that little swamp, back on more dry ground, into the poplar trees.

Note the green moss on the north side of the bottoms of the poplar trees. Like a compass.

Just back to the comment about carrying the rifle for a moment; On June 22, this happened:

On June 22, Marie Rose and I were about a mile into the bush, north of the cabin; "No Man's Land" I guess. We were on a narrow hand-cut line, made in 1999 by oil exploring seismograph lines through the woods. I know of a spot where I'd found some terrific sticks last year and wanted to collect some more from there. It was great to have Marie Rose along; she "rides shotgun" for me.

We were on our way down a hill to a creek when I saw a red ribbon on a willow about 50 yards from the line and told MR to "cover me while I go get it." I went and got it. Carrying the stick back to the trail I could see my "coverage" was somewhat lacking. MR was sitting, back to me, reading her book; Winchester 30-30 rifle leaning against a tree.

I got to the trail, told her she was fired, and she put on her backpack and picked up the rifle. Just about then all hell broke loose. There was the most terrifying sound I've EVER heard. Loud as a freight train at 50 feet. Words in the English language cannot describe the horror of that noise nor the fear I felt. It was half "roar" and half "growl." But so loud! I shudder when I think of it now. I cried, "give me the rifle" and reached for it. MR handed it to me and I levered a shell into the breech and got ready, telling MR to "Get Behind Me!!" Also I told her to watch for a tree that she might be able to climb.

There was absolutely no question of doubt in my mind that this was a HUGE grizzly bear, charging at us at full speed and THIS WAS the day when IT would happen; just about what I had been expecting would happen SOME time. Today was IT!

The awful roar/growl continued for maybe 10 seconds but seemed a lot longer. Then it changed from a roar/growl to a barking. That was a huge relief; NOT a grizzly but a wolf; and a huge one at that. I have seen big wolves there and even taken pictures of a black one, and made a plaster casting of a huge paw-print.

But, I would far sooner face a wolf than any bear. The barking was scary, and close but then my fear evaporated and I wanted to get a shot at the wolf. I proceeded into its direction a little ways but could not leave MR so gave that up.

Then the barking made it clear that the wolf was retreating.

After a bit we continued down the hill to the creek and even went to that clump of willow even though it was in the same general direction of where the wolf had been. No doubt it has a den there, with pups in it. It would be interesting to go and look for it.

nesting bird bird nest

Often we'll find a bird nest with somebody home; maybe they'll let us take a close look at the contents of their home.

bear claws marks

But, if you see something like this, let us please be extra cautious!! Here Marie Rose is holding the 30-30 beside a set of fresh bear claw marks to show how large the bear must be that made this marking to indicate his territory!! This spells extreme danger!! The bear had marked this tree in three places.

huge diamond willow

If you do happen to see a HUGE one like this (note the Winchester 30-30 hanging in it to show relative size) be sure to holler at me; these HUGE ones are rare.

We found this one in July 2002 and took a GPS reading to get it's location in Latitude and Longitude so we can haul in a chainsaw some time in the future if we decide to cut it. First, I may go in during winter and get some winter pictures of it. Those big diamonds must be a foot across!

bear diggings

And this helps to keep us on our toes; a bear has just very recently dug up this squirrel's home. It was under an old rotten log and the whole area has been ripped up.

Note the (empty!) squirrel nest just outside the hole. Let's hope for the squirrel's sake (s)he was not home when Mr. Bruin came calling.

rotten log

Speaking of dead logs, these sometimes make for a very nice picture, like this one.


And best keep your eyes peeled for antlers; "Sheds" we call them as they were shed (dropped) by a buck. And if you do find one, be sure to search that area; often a deer will shed both at the same place/time. In fact, 15 feet from this one, I found the matching twin.

rotten antler

And here is one dropped long ago by a moose. I can't help but wonder if the Bull Moose which dropped this is still alive......... somewhere........ Not likely; it is a very old piece.

red hand

Oh, sometimes you will find some ALDER trees. Don't bother with them. They are much more awkward to skin because the bark does not come off in long strips, and you will find the sap turning your hands and clothing red. AND, I suspect, the wood is not as strong as willow is.

And I took this picture AFTER washing my hands with soap!

WHEN to go stick-ing:

debarking sticks Back to that subject for a moment. I have found that SOME of the "smooth-bark" sticks which I call "Scout Sticks" might be ready to skin a bit sooner than the "rough-bark" ones which are on the very same root/stem. If the trees are showing signs of turning green, these "Scout Sticks" might be ready to skin, with a little extra work. This picture shows 5 "rough-bark" diamond willow sticks on the left, then five "smooth-bark" sticks and then 5 more of the latter, skinned on or about May 7 up here in the north. I would NOT have gone for the rough-bark sticks for another 10 days or more but these skinned fairly well and using a tool such as the jacknife or the carpet knife you see there, they cleaned up perfectly.

So, hopefully by now, you will have cut out a few of the sticks we've seen and you are anxious to get them back out of the bush and start skinning them.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed our Stick-ing trip; maybe I'll add some more pictures to this site soon. Y'all come back soon, y'hear? It has been my pleasure to have you along.

For some information about hiking in YOUR location, you might find some help here: hiking

Finally, a suggestion: After you return home from your Stick-ing trip, hop into the shower and toss all the clothing you used into the washer. Inspect your body for insect bites and if you happen to shower with a friend, so much the better; have said friend check your backside for insect bites. I have picked up bugs and suffered a long time from their bites, even though I never did SEE any of the bugs on me.

how to get Diamond Willow

in fact, tell EVERYBODY!

Diamond Willow Sticks

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