The quest for elusive morels

Hunting morels in the spring can be enjoyed by the entire family. Carrying a bag with you while in the woods and coming home with it full of edible mushrooms will quickly make you the most popular person among your family and friends.

When morels start popping up, a hunter will only have about 10 days before they are gone for another year. If you happen to catch the tail end of the season, go ahead and harvest those you find that have some dry spots on them. They can easily be cut off, saving the rest of it.

It takes plenty of rain and warm weather before morels are available. Do not expect to find a lot if experiencing a dry spring. Because it takes warm weather for them to grow, the southern regions of Illinois will have them before the north. This past season, I was finding mushrooms the first week of April on the Illinois/Kentucky border, middle of April in central Illinois and the first week of May in northern Illinois.

It was not long ago that hunters had to walk through the woods to see if morels were up yet. I still do it that way, but the internet can help too as hunters post findings on hunting blogs. It’s a good way to know if they are up in your area, just don’t expect to know where.

Morels can be difficult to find and seem to pop out of the ground overnight – one day they are absent and the next everywhere. The key is to keep looking. If you are new to the sport, expect to do a lot of walking to find them unless you are lucky enough to have someone show you.

Once you find a patch, remember where it is and keep it a secret. You will likely have the same patch for many years.

Just like any other hunting adventure, always ask permission before entering another person’s property. It is also a good idea to share some of your harvest with the landowner if you have enough.

Public land offers possibilities for the mushroom hunter, but everyone has access to this ground. If you are not one of the first hunters of the season, you may come up empty.

Do not forget to be mindful of spring turkey hunters on state ground. At times, morel hunting might coincide with turkey season. During turkey season, always wear bright colors so you are noticeable. Stay away from red, white and blue; they are too similar to the colors of a gobbler’s head.

Be sure you know what a morel looks like; use a field guide if needed. Eating the wrong one can make you ill. Never eat any mushroom until you know exactly what it is. A fellow mushroom hunter can be a good source to determine if the mushrooms are edible. If they try to talk you out of them, they are the real thing.

An edible morel has a hollow stem and the bottom edge of the sponge-like cap is attached directly to the stem. Colors vary from gray, yellow, tan or nearly black. Always cook morels before eating.

Just like any hunter, mushroom hunters need to be ethical in their hunting practices. Do not pull it up with its roots intact. Pinch the stem off one-half inch or more above the ground; this will help with re-growth the following year. Always use a mesh bag to carry your mushrooms; I use an old onion bag. This allows the spores to fall to the ground throughout the woods and will help with growth the following spring.

Hunting for morels is a lot of fun and a good excuse to get outside after a long winter. If you haven’t hunted morels before, do yourself a favor and learn what they are and go after them. After frying a batch up, you will quickly learn what all the fuss is about.