Soon after the spring rains andwarming sun melts the last pockets of snow and the winter frost leaves the ground, morel mushrooms start their never-ending life cycle…
First the tasty and aromatic blacks, followed by the gray, tan, and much larger white morels sprout from the fertile leaf-strewn forest floor offering themselves to both animal and human foragers.
During their brief life cycle each elusive morel produces millions of spores ensuring continued propagation of this tasty delicacy! Fortunately, even in heavily harvested areas of our great state, there are inaccessible areas like private lands, remote areas, protected areas on state and federal lands, and other sanctuaries that allow unrestricted morel spore dispersion to occur. The ever-changing winds do the rest by naturally transporting these hardy spores far and wide. Only those few spores that eventually land in just the right spot ever produce. Morel spores can lay dormant for years waiting for soil conditions, ground temperatures, and the immediate environment to trigger accelerated growth…often overnight! Periodically rechecking promising areas throughout the too short mushroom season often pays off. Focus on south-sloping areas during the early part of the season and north-sloping areas later in the season.
A morel mushroom hunting trip can and should be multi-facetted. Past game signs like deer scrapes, antler rub lines, and fall deer travel runs are still clearly visible prior to full emergence of summer foliage. Fresh spring wild turkey signs like favored roost trees over droppings and shed feathers, active “dusting” areas similarly embellished, visual sightings of birds, and audible clucks, purrs, and gobbles at dawn and dusk provide concrete valuable information for pre-season hunters. Now is the time to identify and roughly prepare promising specific hunt and stand locations! The knowledgeable outdoors-person can also locate preferred fall and winter feeding and bedding areas for future use. Specific known game magnets like stands of oak, beechnut, ash, elm (they do still exist!), and poplar, in addition to old apple orchards and berry patches begin to add critical overall knowledge that leads to greater familiarization of the hunt areas. These are also known haunts of the elusive morel mushroom! Note this data in your field log and on area topographic maps with GPS coordinates and photographs. Pleasurably gathering this information constitutes up to 90 percent of any successful hunting experience!
Are you fortunate enough gather an over-abundance of morels? Have you priced morel mushrooms in the grocery store lately?
A pitifully small sealed plastic bag containing six to eight small dried specimens goes for $12 and up! Fresh morels sold at roadside and festival stands bring the sellers anywhere from $20 to $60 per pound, depending on how good the gathering season has been. To put this in perspective; a common paper lunch sack about three-quarters full is about a pound of fresh morels.
In popular morel hunting areas, licensed mushroom buyers are eager to buy morels from visiting and local pickers. They offer somewhat lower than market value for morels to cover their time, expenses, and to retain a profit margin when they resell them. Some mushroomers elect to “take the money and run” rather than to retain their hard-earned morels for personal use.
A reasonably successful mushroom hunting excursion will yield from 2 to 20 and up pounds of tasty morel mushrooms for free! This bounty of Mother Nature is often supplemented with wild oyster mushrooms, other edible mushrooms, and wild leeks. A good mushroom field guide is an asset to any gatherer’s day pack! I suggest mushroom and tree books in the Peterson Field Guide Series. These excellent compact guides are filled with color photos, range and seasonal distribution, and edibility information.
The internet abounds with gathering, processing, drying, and storage tips, as well as meal preparation instructions. Although outstanding by themselves sautéed in butter, morels can be an almost heavenly compliment to any meat, soup, salad, or stir fry… like is offered in many high-end restaurants world-wide. Never freeze morels! Properly dried and sealed in glass containers in the pantry, morels last almost indefinitely to be eventually reconstituted at room temperature in twenty minutes with ordinary clean water and properly prepared and pleasurably consumed.
In addition to the obvious physical activity benefits derived from mushroom hunting, the experience itself is a great family activity and a sure cure for a bad case of “cabin fever” that most Michiganders experience during the long, cold winter season. The wonders of our great wild outdoors beckon young and old as it has for millennia. You will often realize the advantage of including children in your group. Their ultra-keen eyesight, boundless energy, and lower stature put them at a distinct advantage when attempting to locate the elusive morel! Dress them and yourself properly with loose-fitting, comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and footwear.
Always provide each party member with a signal whistle and compass and make sure they all know when and how to use them! Mother Nature, virtually free of charge, is about to reveal to you some of her hidden secrets. Everything from previously unknown to you small trout streams and game concentrations to visible evidence of past ancient human activity and stone artifacts may be revealed to you. Enjoy your experiences in my great wild outdoors!
2016 mushrooming forecast for NW Lower Michigan: Based on the relatively mild winter we are experiencing and the fact that significant soil disruption, due to timber harvesting, was experienced in 2014 and 2015, coupled with a predicted not too wet and not too dry spring, 2016 should be a banner year for morel production. Focusing on these disrupted areas and recent burn areas should prove productive…especially the year after the soil disruption or burn!
Suggested further reading: Fifty Years of Lessons Learned of a Michigan Outdoorsman Book Trilogy; book 2 “Fifty Years of Gathering, Fishing, and Unusual Animal Encounters.” Google Joe Lunkas and go to my Author Website for access information.