This harvesting information is specific to the Nevada soft shell type, but should be very similar to the other types of pine nuts that are available.
This information is taken directly from the Nevada BLM web site. Since the Government has already taken the time to create the page, we will just pass it along to you. Also, I can no longer find the original page on the BLM's site.
PICKING PINYON PINE NUTS!
As with other quirks of Nature, the seed from the pinyon pine is far out of proportion to the general size of the tree. Large seed, small tree. And this seed size is what had made the pinyon one of the staples of man and animal in the Great Basin. Far before recorded history, and since, this little tree of the arid region has played a part in not only the survival of those living near it, but has been a part of their spiritual life as well. The gathering that is popular today as a form of recreation, was in the past, a focus for great ceremonies and dancing, a time of arranging marriages, and a time of planning and sharing next year's hopes and plans.
Various parts of the pinyon pine have been used for food and medicine and have spiritual significance. For food, it has served as soup; and as a mush, either boiled or roasted. The seeds were stored in caches and as the winters progressed used as the mainstay of Native Americans' diet, as weather prevented great hunts for fresh meats.
The not-so-stately pinyon has been selected as the State Tree of Nevada for a good reason: it has provided this state with a wealth of spirits and nutrition from long before recorded time, and it will be shedding its wealth long after other land uses have disappeared from the memory of mankind.
The little pinyon pine has not changed over the thousands of years it has dotted the Great Basin landscape. The seed crops are still unreliable, coming in good every three to seven years, varying from one geographic area to another. It is this variance of seed crops that caused the early Americans to follow the pinyon from place to place each fall. Because it takes two years for the seeds to mature, they were able to predict where the next year's harvest and celebration would take place.
Some things, however, have changed over the years. As modernization reached the Great Basin, the importance of the pinyon has decreased from a necessity to a luxury for some, and a ceremonial tradition for others. It is great recreation for families to gather seeds in the months of September and October, doing their own roasting and salting, caching them in the cupboards for the winter. The taste of the seed is known throughout the United States. It is common today for commercial gatherers to harvest thousands of pounds of pinyon seeds for distribution in health food stores and outlets for gourmet chefs.
It is also still a common practice for many of the Great Basin Indians to supplement their diet with the traditional pinyon seed, gathering them in the time-honored methods passed from generation to generation.
Wild animals including birds and rodents eat pinyon nuts in season and store them for later consumption. This is an important means of dispersing seeds and spreading pinyon woodlands as seeds commonly sprout from such caches. Bears and deer are also known to forage on quantities of pine nuts.
For the recreationist wanting to gather pinyon nuts on public lands, a permit is not required. There is, however, a reasonable amount that is allowed before gathering is considered to be of a commercial nature, and that is 25 pounds. Anything above this amount is considered to be commercial usage, and a permit is required.
Permits are handled by the individual Field Offices within the State of Nevada, and application can be made with them. In areas where there is known competition for commercial harvest of the nuts, competitive bidding sets the fair market value per pound.
WHERE TO GATHER
Pinyon pine is of the woodland landscape, covering slopes between the valley floor and the higher elevations where other tree species may be found. As mentioned earlier, the abundance of the nuts varies by year and geographical location. It is best to scout out areas during mid-summer to determine where the best crops will be, and return in September and October for the actual harvest.
In the BLM Carson City District, pinyons occur across most of the Pine Nut Mountains -- near Minden, Yerington, Dayton, and Wellington, Nevada. They are found in the Wassuk Range between Yerington and Walker Lake, in the Excelsior Mountains southwest of Hawthorne, and the Gabbs Valley Range in Mineral County. Pinyons are easily accessible in the Clan Alpine and Desatoya Mountains of eastern Churchill County. Good crops are sometimes produced in the Indian Creek Recreation area in Alpine County, California, south of Minden.
Pinyon pine nuts grown in Nevada can also be purchased in season in supermarkets at costs that depend upon the abundance of the harvest. Singleleaf pinyon nuts are soft shelled and are usually sold in the shell, either in bulk or bagged. Pine nuts from other species and other parts of the world have harder shells and are often sold shelled and bagged.
Maps showing travel routes and public land boundaries in these areas are available at the BLM offices in Carson City and Reno.
THE "NUTTING" PROCESS
If you are going to gather the still unopened cones of the pinyon pine, you will need gloves to protect you from the pitch that covers the cones, heavy duty footgear, a light ladder and sacks. You can lay the ladder against the tree, climb and pick only the cones from the tree. Breaking off the limbs is unnecessary and destroys the capability of the tree to be productive.
Another method is to try and knock the nuts from the cones after the cones are more ripened. In this case you would want to lay a tarp under the tree, place the ladder against the tree, and knock against the cones to shake the nuts loose. They can then be gathered from the tarp on the ground.
Pinyon branches and cones are very pitchy. Sap can be removed from hands and clothes with solvents such as cooking oil or alcohol.
When picking the cones before they open, you can leave them in the sacks, placing them in the sun for several days. Take the time to turn the sacks daily to give even heating to the cones. When the cones are dried and opened, you can shake the sacks, dislodging the nuts from the cones. Another method is to lay the cones on canvas in the sun and use a shovel to turn the cones until dried.
In order to have clean pinenuts, the Indians would use wicker trays to throw the nuts into the air and let the wind carry away the broken cone scale and bracts. You can do the same, or use a screen or wire mesh of 1/2-inch spacing to separate the nuts from the waste materials.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
The basic reason for gathering, drying, shaking and cleaning, of course, is to produce a pinyon nut suitable for eating. They are nutritionally good to eat as is, without further enhancement. But, their flavor may be improved in a number of ways. One is to soak the nuts in brine water, then toast them in an open pan in the oven at a moderate temperature.
Another way is to wash them in cold water, salt them, and put in a covered roasting pan. Steam them in a moderate oven for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the cover, and stir until completely dry.
Native Americans would grind some of the nuts into a paste that could be eaten either cold or warmed. This was done after the outer seedcoats were removed by rolling them over a metate with a hulling stone.
Pine nuts ripen about the same time as hunting season is in progress. For your own safety, it would be best to wear bright clothing when in and around the pinyon trees as people sometimes resemble deer under certain lighting conditions.
Woodlands may also be extremely dry during the harvest season. Care should be taken with warming and cooking fires, and never leave a fire unattended. Always be sure your campfire is dead out when breaking camp.
Leave your harvest and camping area clean; pack out what you pack in. We hope you enjoy a tradition that's been in the Great Basin for thousands of years