Mushroom hunting has become something of an obsession for me. First of all, I could eat morel mushrooms until I burst. I like them fried in a light seasoning, but prefer morels simply rinsed, halved and sautéed in butter. Throw a few of those over a medium-rare venison filet paired with a nice red wine and you’ll understand why mushroom hunters take the secrets of their best spots to the grave.
Finding a place to hunt mushrooms is pretty easy. Conservation Areas are great places to look for morels, while offering outdoor enthusiasts’ numerous opportunities to explore the wild and enjoy nature. Mushroom hunting is legal conservation areas, which means you can stomp nearly 1-million acres of prime, Missouri public ground for mushroom hunting.
Experts say there are tips and tricks for finding morels. They say to focus on dead elm and apple trees, to scour south facing hillsides and to spend a lot of time around moist soil. I might be the worst mushroom hunter in recorded history. I try to do what the experts say, but I rarely find mushrooms where they are supposed to be. My advice is just go for a long, slow walk in the woods. Keep your eyes on the ground.
According to the MDC, there are at least three species of morels in Missouri. All are hollow-stemmed mushrooms emerging from the ground in the spring, with a somewhat conical cap/head covered with definite pits and ridges, resembling a sponge, pinecone, or honeycomb. In black and yellow morels, the bottom of the head is attached directly to the stem. In half-free morels, the bottom half of the cap hangs free from the stalk. In all cases, the stems of true morels are completely hollow. Look-alikes: Don’t confuse true morels (Morchella spp.) with false morels (Gyromitra spp.), which can kill you. Don’t eat any wild mushroom unless you’ve identified it as a safe edible and have cooked it thoroughly.
A few tools of the trade include a walking stick, a knife and a mesh bag. Don’t forget water. Walking sticks are important because they allow you to scoot leaves and brush around without having to bend down. Use a knife to cut the morels off at the stem instead of pulling them completely out of the ground. Supposedly this helps their sustainability. A mesh bag sort of works the same way. The theory is a mesh bag allows spores to fall from the mushrooms as you walk through the woods, thus the spreading the bounty for future years. A good Google Earth map of the area you’re walking is a good idea too, so you can mark finds and return for years to come.
Spring is roaring. Dogwoods are blooming. So are the red buds. Turkeys are gobbling, crappie are biting, and mushrooms are starting to pop. Sometimes I think about when a bear wakes up from their long, hard winter sleep. When they open their eyes for the first time, then stretch all four legs out as far as they will go. A deep yawn draws a surge of life into their blood and the bear slowly stands. Walks out of its burrow and lets the sun hit its face for the first time in months. The last week has been a long version of that moment for me.
See you down the trail…
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Pic: Morel mushroom can be tough to find, but hunting them is fun and enjoyable, and worth every minute if you find a batch.