Every spring, for a few weeks, morel mushrooms pop up in forests across the country. These intricate honey-comb patterned mushrooms are such are simply delicious. They’re a treasured spring treat for many.
Here’s some tips for having your best year of morel mushroom hunting.
First a few ground rules for mushroom hunting:
- Only forage on public land, or on private land that you have express permission to mushroom hunt on.
- Don’t forage within XX feet of roadways, train tracks or other areas that have been chemically treated.
- Forage responsibly. Don’t clear out a patch. Try to stay out of sensitive areas and leave no trace.
- Don’t ask someone to share their spot. Mushroom hunters are just as secretive as fishermen are about their honey holes. Feel free to ask someone to take you mushroom hunting, but don’t ask for specifics on a spot. Most mushroom hunters are eager to show someone the ropes, so don’t feel like you can’t ask for help.
- ID your find before you eat it! Morels have some pretty specific characteristics that set them apart from most mushrooms. It’s still a good idea to get an ID from a knowledgeable mushroom hunter in your area or an ID from several sources.
- Also be aware that you can have an adverse reaction (usually stomach related) to edible wild mushrooms. It’s a good idea to start with a small sample if you’re eating something new.
Morels are great at hiding on the forest floor. Once you develop an eye for them, they get a little easier to find. If you’re new to hunting morels, it can be very helpful to go with someone who knows the ropes. When they find one, have them call you over to the area and see if you can find it. Similar to shed or agate hunting, it’s hard to know what to look for until you find it.
Here are my tips, in no particular order.
1. Go early, go often.
Morels usually pop when the soil temperatures are in the 50s. They need a good mix of rain/moisture and sunshine along with warm temps. Most years, I go 5-10 times before I find a mushroom. Part of it is excitement for what’s to come. I also use these trips to scout new areas and check areas I know have produced morels in the past.
2. Learn about morels in your area.
There are some general rules for morels (like soil temps), but different parts of the country have some variations. In Alaska, old burns produce a prolific fruiting of morels the year or two after the fire. Otherwise, it’s pretty uncommon to find these treats in that state. Most conservation, fish and game or extension offices will put out some information on morel hunting. Check your local calendars in the spring for mushroom talks or walks. Knowledge is power.
3. Learn other plants and trees in the area.
This tip is two-fold. In the midwest, you’ll likely find morels near oaks, hickorys, sycamore, ash, apple and elm trees. It’s not a hard and fast rules, but a good guideline. I also use what other trees and plants are doing to help me know if it’s time to go hunt. May apples are open, redbuds are in full bloom, violets dot the forest floor. These are all indications that it’s time to go morel hunting.
It’s also nice to know what other wild edibles you can collect while out looking for morels. In the midwest, you can find a lot of other wild edibles – wood sorrel, violets, redbuds, mints and more.
In Alaska, it’s also time for fiddleheads, devil’s club buds and more. Again, always make sure you have a positive ID before eating anything you forage.
4. Walk slow, get low
Get off the beaten path, walk slowly through the woods while scanning the forest floor. Every so often, I drop down into a deep squat and look closer. If you find a morel, drop a hat or bandana on the ground to mark the spot. You’ll usually find morels in a group, so if you’ve found one, it’s worth spending some time in that area looking for more. Scan the area around you. Carefully walk and look for more. Get low again and scan the ground.
5. Try new places
You never know until you go. Seriously, I’ve been looking in public land around a lake for over 5 years. This year, I found my first morel in that area. Sometimes you get lucky and you find morels on your first trip to a new spot. Look for areas that have similar topography to places where you’ve found morels in the past.
6. Be willing to work harder than the next guy or gal
If you’re hunting on public land, this one can be a game changer. Things like crossing a creek that will definitely get your feet wet, or walking a mile of a road or trail can produce good results. You can find morels in a variety of wooded habitat – on hill tops, at the edge of open areas, in wooded bottom land. If you’re willing to work a little harder than the average mushroom hunter, you can have good success.
7. Enjoy it
Take in all the sights and sounds of spring! Usually I’m mushroom hunting solo or with a close friend or family member. You tend to move through the woods quieter than on a regular hike. It increases your chances for seeing wildlife. You’ll also get to see spring flowers, other mushrooms, bones, antlers and unfortunately trash. I always snap some pics of new things I find, like wildflowers, so I can try to identify them when I get home.
8. Leave it better than you found it
I always carry an extra trash bag or two and pick up litter on the way back to my vehicle. It makes the area more enjoyable the next time I’m out. Plus I think it gets me some good mushroom karma. 🙂
9. Protect yourself against ticks
In most of the U.S., morel season is synonymous with the start of tick season. Use a repellent or treated clothing. Try to avoid walking through tall grass and thoroughly check yourself for ticks when you get home.
10. Don’t let the rain keep you home
If it’s a wet spring in your area, don’t assume it will be a bad morel season. I’ve often found a “mess” of morels in the rain. This tip goes along with being willing to work harder than the next guy or gal. Plus there’s something magical about being in the woods on a rainy day. The colors are more intense, you make less noise walking through leaf litter, you’re less likely to run into other people.
Speaking of other people, what to do when you run into someone else morel hunting? If you’re on public land, give them space. You don’t have to leave the area, just start hunting away from them and put some space between you.
Now get out there and see if you can find some morels!