When my charming cousin, a hardworking mother of two, asked me to write a blog post about Morel Mushroom Hunting my first thought was “Oh Great, and then I will have half of Michigan crawling all over my favorite spots!” That’s the thing about mushroom hunting…you DON’T talk about mushroom hunting!
I remember one hunt in particular. I was by myself moving slowly through the spring forest. I was enjoying all of the spring birds and flowers (as much as possible for someone not finding Morels) when I noticed another person, a hundred yards away or so and walking towards me. The first thing I noticed about this person was his slow walk and as he got closer I registered his prodigious girth.
If you have ever mountain biked or trail ran or hiked, you know that most of the people you find deep in the woods tend to be a bit more…willowy…than this gentleman walking towards me. As he came even closer I noticed the tell tail red plaid flannel on a well rounded Michigan outdoorsman and a HUGE sack of morels. Breaching all etiquette I placed myself in his path and as he approached, huffing and wheezing with the effort of walking with his bag, and asked “did you get them all?”
This was the moment that I learned that I knew nothing about mushroom hunting. He looked right at me, ignored the fact that he was an overweight man using a morel carved walking stick, a mile into the morel woods, carrying a sack of what looked to be morels and replied “All of what?” and moved on without another word.
That whole story is another way of saying you will never be shown, or told about a secret hunting spot, by any hunter, ever. But if you are interested in mushroom hunting I do have some tips to get you going.
Mushroom hunting is one of the easiest hobbies to outfit you and your family for. If you have a pocket knife, a compass, bug spray, sunscreen and a sack to put them in you are ready for a leisurely day in the woods, all for about $10.
Now the thing about morels that make them so intriguing is that you can never be sure when the big fruiting of morels is going to occur on any tree. Morels grow along with trees, actually connected to their root system, sucking sweet sugar out of the tree and giving the trees access to way more nutrients and water. But that doesn’t matter… remember Morels grow on trees!
So as my three year old says, we aren’t morel hunting, we are “tree hunting.” Find the trees, find the morels. Simple. So what trees? For starters I would learn how to identify an elm tree. Particularly dead elm trees. Check out this youtube video on identification…
The thing is, you don’t need to don red flannel and head miles out into the local forest, Elm trees grow everywhere. There are probably 20 behind your local grocery store. The same store that is selling Morels for $75/lb has them growing for free right outside…help yourself! But hunting morels is a bit of a numbers game: 1 good tree (with morels) for every 20-30 bad ones (no morels)…keep looking. But when should you look?
There is a lot of folksy wisdom about when you should look for Morels. Blooming lilacs, oak leaves, or when you just can’t stand it any more and need to hunt. I think the simplest method is to start to hunting around when the first dandelions are blooming and especially when they go to seed.
Now, if you have come this far, and read all this, you are probably going to find a Morel. All it takes is a bit of passion and hard work and, year by year, you will find more and more good trees. Your Spots. But when you find your first Morel, it is time to be careful. They are easy to identify and nothing really looks like a morel, but sometimes in excitement and the heat of the moment…well be cautious, but don’t stress about this.
The hardest part of finding mushrooms is giving yourself permission to do something that doesn’t in any way advance your station in life. This is a very real problem that has hamstrung many a would be great hunter, you can’t see Morels when you are thinking about how you should be mowing the lawn or working on that TPS report…speaking of which – the weather looks great tomorrow, maybe you should call in sick to work and go give this a try!
Remember – they can hide but they can’t run!!