One of the most difficult things to do is attempt to find something that is trying not to be found. For years naturalists and enthusiasts alike have been gathering these wild mushrooms. They typically have a short growing season that lasts from 6 to almost 25 days, depending on their environment and the weather conditions. Their season will depend on the amount of precipitation in a particular area, as well as favorable temperatures.
Typically morels will spring up about six weeks after the ground has thawed, and sometimes later depending on the amount of rainfall. The length of the morel season will directly depend on the conditions for that particular area. In higher altitudes, the season is delayed by the melt off and the lack of precipitation. These harsher environments typically have a wider daily temperature range that is not as favorable for the morel, causing smaller morel populations, and fewer areas that are suitable for growing morels.
The morel is highly adapted to its environment. Conditions have to be nearly perfect for the morel to spring from the ground, and sometimes it may take five years for a particular spore to grow into a treasured morel. This is why we need to respect the morel and harvest these mushrooms in an environmentally friendly manner, so as to encourage and grow the morel population from year to year.
It is said that the pattern on the head of the morel mushroom is like a snowflake, there are no two that are exactly alike. This pattern and the contrast of color on the morel make them perfectly camouflaged in their environment. They typically can blend into any forest setting in just about any season, and they are usually mistaken for tree bark, pine cones, and leaves.
Generally the morel will grow in the shadows of trees, plants, and other foliage, and the shaded sides of ridges, hills, and valleys but there are always exceptions, and the morel has even been known to grow out in the open and directly under open skies as long as the conditions are favorable.
Spend several weekends in early spring to hike into your favorite areas and get an idea of what is happening in the forest. Make note of where any snow may still be lingering to help you identify potentially moist and shaded areas. Spend time watching the birds, squirrels, and deer. Pay close attention to where deer might be feeding and bedding in the early spring, watch for large mounds of broken acorns and nuts under trees, and observe areas where birds are very populated and active. These are all good areas to begin watching for morels in the days to come. Also pay attention to low valleys with heavy tree cover, areas around drainage or soggy meadows, the edges of fields and tree lines, any place you see moss growing in abundance, these will be good areas to keep in mind when the morel season begins.
The most obvious area to look for morel mushrooms is in areas where you have seen or know others have seen morels previously. In humid areas around the country, morels will spring up anywhere and everywhere, from deep in the forests to the sidewalks of Chicago. Success depends on patience and keeping a keen eye on a leaf that doesn’t quite look right, or the piece of bark that appears out of place. The best advice is to take your time, walk slow, and keep scanning the landscape.
Where to go looking for morels might not be as easy for those of us that don’t have them growing in our backyard. The first place to begin your hunt could be in your local park, state park, national park, wildlife area, national forest, or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. These are great places to begin. These areas typically have easy access and accommodations such as paved trails and walks for the handicapped or special needs individuals wanting to enjoy this growing activity. In addition, access to these areas is typically free or a nominal access fee may apply.
For those wanting to get away from the beaten path and seek the areas that don’t get frequented as often by the public, you might want to try private land.
When hunting morels on private land, always be sure to get the permission of the land owner before entering private property. It is typically a good idea to get a permission slip signed from the land owner stating that you have their permission to collect or gather morels on their property, simply put to avoid any confusion or forgetfulness on behalf of the landowner or yourself.
This would be trespassing and, depending on the land owner’s mood that day, could cost you some trouble with the local law enforcement, not to mention ruin any future opportunities for yourself or others to tap this potentially prosperous morel hunting ground. Why would they let me hunt morels on their property? Well, if you put something in it for them, such as offering to pick up any trash that you come across, or offer to share some of your findings with them, they will be more inclined to allow you access to their land.
Another way is to travel around the areas you want to hunt and, if you find the owner out in the fields or mending fences, simply pull over to the side of the road, pull out some leather work gloves and offer to help them out, meanwhile strike up some casual conversation about morel mushrooms. Ask them if they have seen any, if they have ever tried them, if they would allow you to hunt morels on their property.
Most landowners will remember that you took the time to help them so they will more than gladly repay you with access to their land during the morel season. This is a great tactic that needs to be exercised all year long. Utilizing this method, you will quickly be surprised by the amount of land you suddenly have access to when the morel season begins, and remember to always get your permission slip signed by the landowner.
The morel season is upon you and you spend the evening preparing for the next day’s hunt. You have all the notes that you have been taking on your hikes, permission slips are signed by landowners, and all your gear is ready (Preparing For The Hunt), and one last check on the internet to see if any of your online friends have had any success.
That’s right we didn’t mention this before. The internet is a great place to find other morel hunters from all over the country. If you discover any local groups in your area, you owe it to yourself to become a member and speak with other members to try and learn everything you can about the elusive morel. You will have an opportunity to hear some intriguing stories, similar to those at the bait shop, and will suddenly have access to a wealth of knowledgeable people that you can consult with at your convenience.
Your local group might also host an annual foray in the spring that you could participate in. This would be a great opportunity for you to meet some interesting people who enjoy doing what you do; hunting morels. Additionally these are usually hosted in areas that are overflowing with morels, giving you the best opportunity to hone your skills.
Morel hunting also serves as a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids, while enjoying the beautiful outdoors and getting some exercise. With any luck, hunting morels will leave you and your kids with memories they will cherish for years to come.