Saturday, April 27, 2013

Morel Mushroom Season is upon us!

I grew up in the backwoods in central Illinois near a beautiful timber with a creek and more land than I could possibly play on.  As a kid its Mecca and as a morel mushroom hunter its even better. 

My dad always took the lead on our morel expeditions as he grew up near the woods and foraged for mushrooms every spring.  So here is the advice, gathered from years of mushroom hunting with him:

1. Know what you're looking for.  It should go without saying that grabbing the wrong mushroom and eating can be deadly-so best advice is to go with someone who knows which mushrooms you need to be looking for.

2. Dress in thick layers.  Not only are mushrooms popping up, but so is poison ivy, poison oak and (my personal favorite) poison parsnip.  The itchy rashes from each of these can last for weeks and depending on the level of exposure can lead to scars-or worse-hospitalization.  So wear thick layers (including gloves and a hat), shower immediately after coming back from the woods, wash your clothes immediately (you're dealing with OILS-so they will cling to your cloths and you can still develop a rash by just touching exposed clothing or pets) and if you want to take and extra precaution, use Tecnu when you shower to cleanse your skin from poison.  Also, due to ticks-please spray yourself with insect and tick repellant. 

3. Remember you want to look in a wooded area-be sure you have permission by the owner of the property (if private) and check your state regulations on mushroom hunting-as they may vary.

4. The best time to go mushroom hunting is in the month of April.  Mushroom hunting is a constant gamble with the weather-so you are looking for wet ground and hot, humid days.  For example: If on Monday you get a nice spring rain and on Tuesday its 80 degrees and humid-you're in business!  But if it rains on Monday and is 70 and cool-I wouldn't even bother looking.  Mushrooms love the humidity-so sticky weather is what to look for.  If you go out on a hot and humid day to look and the ground is dry-that is another bad sign.  Mushrooms like wet and hot.

So you have permissions, you're dressed like an Eskimo and ready to forage...now, where do you look?  The proverbial, 'can't see the forest beyond the trees' takes on a whole new meaning when you're looking into a vast wooded area.  Are you expected to look around every tree?  Are there tells to where the mushrooms are?  I'm glad to tell you yes, there are tells:

1. Look for dead trees: trees that are dead and dry and all the bark has fallen off-not a total waste of time, but the chances are slimmer you will find morels.  The best trees to look for are dead elm trees, when the bark is just starting to fall off.  Morels love dead elms!  Careful upon approaching these-depending on the size of the tree, the morels can pop up a decent radius from the tree-good rule of thumb is 5 feet out.  If the tree is fallen-5 feet from any part of the tree on the ground.

2. Look for places the sun can touch the wet ground.  Since the heat and wet are the best combo for growing morels-look for low sparse grasses with sky overhead.

3. Look for animal paths.  Animals (deer and coyotes) make their own paths in the timber.  These paths can often lead you to the dead trees or certain clearings you may not have found otherwise.  Warning: they can also lead you to coyotes-so proceed with caution.   

4. Go in the evening.  This may go without saying, but for those novices out there-the evening while its still bright out and just starting to cool is the best time to go.  You will have given the mushrooms all day to grow.  Even if you cant go until a day or so after a rain-as long as the weather stays humid-the mushrooms will still pop and you can go hunting as often as you like, pending good conditions.

Happy Hunting!

*I am in no way an expert, just someone with a lot of experience.  Please contact your local wildlife experts for more information regarding morel hunting in your particular area.*

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