If morel mushrooms could run away, I swear I’d never find one. Thankfully they don’t, but still, they are at times one of the most advanced game species I’ve ever faced. Morel mushroom hunting is one of my favorite spring past times, and for good reason. First, they are delicious. They’re also challenging to find, and incredibly rewarding when I do get my hands on them. I don’t know what I enjoy more, eating the delicious morels after a long day of looking, or spending time in the woods with my family and friends. Here’s how I put mushrooms in my onion sack each spring.
First, mushroom hunting requires a location. In my home state of Michigan we are blessed with all sorts of public land. In fact, mushroom hunting on public land is such a big deal here the state has released all sorts of information to help people find areas to hunt. Mushrooms thrive on decaying root material, and they love post burn areas. Recently the state even released an interactive map guide showing all of the controlled burn areas on our public lands, complete with driving directions and suggested parking spots. Needless to say, these spots are busy, so Itend to look elsewhere.
I like to look for locations that other people don’t bother looking in, like that tiny spot behind the cemetery, or the clump of old elms out behind the new strip-mall. Many landowners will also allow mushroom hunting if you simply ask. In some cases, they appreciate it if I share what I find, in others, the landowners don’t want anything to do with them. In fact, on my best mushroom hunting farm, the owners can’t stand mushrooms and love that my family and I like searching for them. I like to make sure that I have plenty of places lined up to look, because I always end up losing one from time to time. Also, some years places don’t grow well, while others do. I make it a goal to find at least two new productive spots each spring. I even find myself scouting mushroom spots throughout the year, just like how I treat my obsession with turkey and deer hunting.
I could care less how I look when mushroom hunting, but certain gear is essential, and other things are nice to have. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I do like to blend in with the surroundings when mushroom hunting. I don’t want other people to see me. Yes… I’ve even worn camouflage from time to time. Just be sure to wear bright clothes if you are mushroom hunting on lands shared by spring turkey hunters.
As far as essential items, I never leave home without long pants and knee boots. One would be amazed at the places I’ve gone to find a mushroom. It is a guarantee that I’ll get poison ivy at least once each spring, with my personal record being three cases from April through June. Part of that was from turkey season too, but still, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty when it comes to mushrooms. I really also feel that bug spray is important. Inevitably I always get a tick on me somehow while mushroom hunting, and depending on the time of year, mosquitoes can be pesky too. I now tick treat my clothes and boots, and saturate myself in mosquito spray before each hunt. At times long sleeves are nice too, but not always essential. A mushroom hunter also needs a good knife, and a bag to collect mushrooms in. I like my tiny, sharp one handed operating spring assist knife because I can hold a bag in one hand, and cut a mushroom with the other. As far as bags, we just use old plastic mesh onion or orange sacks.
I like to take a GPS reading when I am hunting and mark the location on a mapping app on my smart phone when I find a good location. This is really handy when hunting giant chunks of public lands that I may not be familiar with. This way, the next year I can walk right to the spot instead of wasting time wandering the woods hoping I find it. I also think it is a good idea to bring a fake mushroom along. A fake mushroom, like a carved replica or key-chain mushroom for instance is handy because it helps the hunter get their eyes acclimated to what we’re looking for. I don’t know how many times I’ve had my lucky wooden mushroom in my pocket, glanced at it, and found a real mushroom soon after. Some people may want to enhance their experience by bringing along reading gasses to help the see better. I try to bring snacks and water too just in case.
As strange as this seems, mushrooms are pretty finicky. The first thing to understand when mushroom hunting is how dependent they are on a good weather. The first mushrooms to show each spring are the black morels. I live in southern Michigan and in my region of the country, we start to look for blacks at the end of April or beginning of May. The mushrooms need a handful of straight days above freezing temperatures. Ideally, a couple days with some rain and 50 degree temperatures at night are perfect to get things fired up. It is really very important that the soil temperature is right, or the mushrooms won’t pop up. A good indicator of proper soil temperature are dandelions. As pesky as those things are, they can be a mushroom hunter’s best friend. When the dandelions are blooming, get ready. When they start going to seed, start looking for mushrooms.
You should always start looking for mushrooms near dying trees such as elms, ash, apple, and generally any softwoods. Ash is considered a hardwood, but there is not much of it left around the Great Lakes thanks to our enemy the Emerald Ash Borer. If a tree is too dead, (to the point where the bark is falling off it while still standing) it might be past its mushroom hunting prime, but it doesn’t hurt to look nearby anyway. The best advice is to find dying trees who haven’t quite shed their bark yet. Start by looking on the southern edge of these trees because that is where the soil will be the warmest from the most direct sunlight exposure.
Too much heat isn’t good for mushrooms either, so later in the season make sure to always make a complete circle around the tree when looking, and don’t neglect the little nooks and crannies. For instance, areas under logs might grow some giant mushrooms where they can remain moist and still maintain a proper soil temperature. Generally the blacks show up first followed by the “half frees,” then the grays, followed by yellows or whites, and lastly the jumbos. Blacks tend to grow rather sporadically, whereas the others might grow in clumps. Many times people don’t even find blacks because they start looking too late.
We have a tradition when mushroom hunting, just like when we hunt for shed deer antlers. When the first mushroom is located, everyone gathers around to thoroughly look it over. I find that the first one is often hardest to find. Once we see that first one, our eyes become acclimated to them again and the rest seem to pop out of nowhere. We cut or pinch the mushrooms, careful to not bring any more dirt in the sack then we need to. I have heard if the mushroom is cut delicately enough, the organism below the soil may produce more fruit. Each person gets their own plastic mesh onion sack to collect their mushrooms which allows any leftover spores to fall out onto the ground. The mesh bag also keeps the mushrooms from getting too soggy.
It is one thing to mushroom hunt with friends and family, but it’s another to hunt the same property that others are on. In a competitive hunting situation, be smart. Don’t let others see where you park. Carry your haul out in a secretive manner, like under your shirt or in a backpack. Don’t share on social media. I learned this the hard way a few years back. I found a sweet spot on some pubic land, and bragged about my find on Facebook. Not long after, and in the years since, this spot is no longer a secret. I have literally had people follow me in my vehicle during mushroom season! (I’ll show them though… this year I’m driving my son’s truck). Remember as I mentioned earlier too, it doesn’t hurt to wear camouflage.
Keep in mind that just because someone has already hunted a spot, or other people are there at the same time doesn’t mean they have found everything. At that same said public place, I backtracked a trail that two guys had just gotten done hunting and found 35 mushrooms in a half hour! I know those two guys found some too, I watched them leave with a bag full, but from my new angle, many more were visible that they missed.
That’s it, in a nutshell, I wait till the conditions are perfect and hit the woods. Get out with your family and friends this spring, find some mushrooms and create memories. Research shows that when adults reflect back on their childhood, they do not remember playing video games or watching TV, they remember vacations and being outdoors. When you do find some mushrooms, be sure to “forget” where you found them!