I’ll never forget the moment when all of the stars aligned: good weather, a dead apple tree, a south-facing slope, the day before Mother’s Day—and there it was. Peeking up through the dead leaves below me was the first morel mushroom I’d found on purpose, and I beamed with pride. Since that significant day, I’ve become a hopeless, morel-mushroom-hunting addict.
I’m by no means a mycologist, but I’ve learned a few things along the way and seem to have consistent luck hunting mushrooms. I don’t know what I enjoy more, spending time in nature while mushroom foraging with my family and friends or eating the delicious morels after a long day of looking.
Regardless, here are some steadfast rules that I stick to when hunting mushrooms.
7 tips for mushroom foraging
1. Peg prospective locations
First and foremost, to hunt mushrooms, you need a place to go. In my home state of Michigan, we’re blessed with all sorts of public lands. In fact, mushroom hunting on public lands is such a big deal here that the state has released in-depth information to help people find areas to hunt.
Mushrooms thrive on decaying root material and love post-bum areas. Recently, Michigan 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. These locations are busy, so I tend to look elsewhere.
I try to find areas others overlook, like that tiny patch behind the cemetery or the clump of old elms out behind the new strip mall. Many landowners will allow mushroom hunting if you simply ask. In some cases, they appreciate it if I share what I find. In others, the landowners want nothing 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 enjoy searching for them.
I make sure I have plenty of places lined up in advance because I always end up losing one from time to time. Also, certain places don’t do well during some years, while others are phenomenal. My goal is to find at least two new, productive spots each spring. I even find myself scouting mushroom spots throughout the year, much like I treat my obsession with deer and turkey hunting.
2. Pack the right gear
Certain gear is essential for mushroom hunting, and other things are just nice to have. As far as essentials, I never leave home without long pants and knee boots. You’d be amazed by some of the rugged places I’ve gone to find mushrooms.
It’s a guarantee that I’ll come in contact with 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.
Bug spray is also important. Inevitably, I always pick up a few ticks 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 outing. Long sleeves are useful, too, but not always essential.
A mushroom hunter also needs a good knife and a bag to hold their collection. I like my tiny, spring-assist knife because I can hold a bag in one hand and cut a mushroom with the other. As for bags, we just use mesh onion or orange sacks.
I often take a GPS reading when I’m hunting, marking the good locations for future reference. This is handy when hunting giant chunks of unfamiliar public land. That way, I can walk right to each spot the following year. It’s also wise to carry a fake mushroom, like a carved replica or mushroom keychain, for instance. It can help your eyes acclimate to what you’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 glasses to help them see better. I bring snacks and water, too, just in case.
3. Watch the forecast
To be successful, you must understand how dependent mushrooms are on good weather. In fact, the first mushrooms to show each spring are the black morels. I live in southern Michigan, and in my region of the country, we begin looking for black morels in late April or early May.
The mushrooms need several straight days of above-freezing temperatures. Ideally, a couple of days with some rain and 50°F nighttime temperatures will get things going. Mushrooms will pop only when the soil temperature is right.
Good indicators of proper soil temperature are dandelions. As pesky as they are, they can be a mushroom forager’s best friend. Check the areas and when the dandelions are blooming, get ready for mushroom foraging. When they start going to seed, that’s the proper time to start looking for mushrooms.
4. Look near dying trees
I always begin hunting for mushrooms near dying trees, such as ash, elm, apple, and generally any soft-wood varieties, generally any soft-wood varieties. Ash is considered a hardwood, but there isn’t much of it left around the Great Lakes region, thanks to our enemy, the emerald ash borer.
If a tree is too dead—bark falling off while it’s still standing—it might be past its mushroom-hunting prime, but it doesn’t hurt to look nearby anyway. My best advice is to find dying trees that haven’t quite shed their bark.
Begin by looking on the southern edge of these trees because that’s where the soil is the warmest from the most direct sunlight. If there’s too much heat, it isn’t good for mushrooms, so later in the season, always make a complete circle around the tree, and don’t neglect the little nooks and crannies.
For example, areas under logs might grow some giant mushrooms where they can remain moist yet maintain a proper soil temperature.
Generally, black morels show up first, followed by the half frees, then the grays, followed by yellows or whites, and lastly, the jumbos. Black morels tend to grow rather sporadically, whereas the others frequently grow in clumps. Many people don’t even find black morels because they start looking too late in the season.
5. If you find one, you will find them all
When the first mushroom is found, everyone gathers around to thoroughly examine it. The first one is often the most difficult to find, but once it’s seen, our eyes acclimate, and the rest seem to pop up out of nowhere.
6. Harvest them carefully
We cut or pinch the mushrooms, careful not to bring any more dirt into our collection sacks than we must. I’ve heard if the mushroom is cut delicately enough, the organism below the soil may produce another mushroom. Each person gets their own mesh onion sack to collect their mushrooms, which allows any leftover spores to fall out onto the ground. The mesh bag also lets the mushrooms breathe.
7. Keep a low profile
It’s one thing to mushroom hunt with friends and family. It’s another to hunt the same property as others. In a competitive situation, be smart. Don’t let others see where you park. Carry your haul out secretly, 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’ve literally had people follow behind my vehicle during mushroom season. I’ll show them, though, since this year I’m driving my son’s truck.
Keep in mind that just because someone has already hunted a spot or other people are there at the same time, it doesn’t mean they’ve found everything. At that same, now-crowded, public place I just mentioned, I backtracked a trail that two guys had just finished hunting and found 35 mushrooms in half an hour. I know those two guys found some, too, because I watched them leave with a bagful. But, from my new angle, many more were visible that they missed.
Cooking and preserving
When we return home with fresh mushrooms, my wife immediately washes them and plans a dinner around the tasty treats. If we have too many and can’t eat them all In one meal, we keep them dry in the refrigerator to eat the following day, or we share them with friends and neighbors.
We found so many mushrooms last spring that we experimented with how best to preserve them for the winter. Our favorite way is to slice the mushrooms lengthwise, wash them, and then dry them in a food dehydrator. They shrivel up to pretty much nothing and are easily stored in a Mason Jar with a screw-on plastic lid.
I’ve also vacuumed-sealed them fresh as well as dried, and I have yet to meet a morel I don’t like. As I said, It’s not often that we have too many, but when we’re blessed with a bountiful harvest, I like to save some for winter.
Reap a Heap
That’s my plan: I wait until 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 on their childhood, they don’t remember playing video games or watching TV.
They remember vacations and being outdoors. When you do find some mushrooms, be sure to keep it on the down-low.
Good luck mushroom hunting!
Andrew Movinsky submitted this article for Prepper’s Will.
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