It is amazing where you find morel mushrooms, in yards, along ditch banks, in flower gardens and more. I have to admit that the last few years I find more mushrooms when I’m chasing gobblers in May. It seems just when I get on a big bird and I’m preoccupied with gobbler hunting that’s when morel mushrooms suddenly pop up in my face. Ooops! I quickly shift gears, rest the gun or crossbow against a tree and I go on the hunt for fresh morels.
It happened again last year after an overnight warm spring rain. I rushed to my trophy turkey spot and set up decoys in the predawn darkness. Wild turkeys go nuts after rain and rush to fields and open areas in search of earthworms brought to the surface by the fresh rain. I made a couple wake up calls and got a loud gobble in response from a big bird on roost. I readied my crossbow for action as the eastern sky turned pink and suddenly I could see into the forest. But much to my surprise I noticed a large white morel sticking straight up on a nearby deer runway. I set down the crossbow, removed my facemask and began gathering morels. Some were tall, thick and perfect for the frypan covered with real butter. On a hillside I found a dozen or more but the valley leading to the open field was cluttered with morels.
I was picking like crazy, filling an onion bag I carry in my pack and my eyes were glued to the forest floor when all of a sudden I heard a loud alarm putt from a turkey nearby. I looked up in time to see a large gobbler next to my decoy turn away and sprint out of sight. It seems he responded to my wake up call, approached my decoy and noticed a camouflaged man making tight circles with his eyes scouring the forest floor. I was embarrassed to think a dandy wild turkey got the drop on me because I suddenly shifted gears from turk hunter to ‘shroomer.
Then again I look forward to yearly phone calls from my buddy Erik Furseth who owns property smack in the middle of morel heaven. “The morels are up. Come over and let’s go pick a bag full,” he offered last spring. I grabbed onion bag, camera with macro lens and my favorite walking stick and drove to Erik’s house less than five miles away.
It was a beautiful, sunny spring day with robins singing in the background as we headed to the morel patch. “There they are,” he exclaimed as he pointed to a decaying ash tree surrounded by umbrella-shaped morels. I laid on my belly and snapped close up macro photographs and when I got up there was a crushed morel attached to the buttons on my shirt. We circled the tree picking fresh morels, giggling with joy at the sight of so many in a small area.
Erik is a mushroom hunting pro and he begins searching in earnest come late April. “Warm weather and rain can cause morels to pop up overnight in spring and I like to take mushroom walks in the woods on a daily basis from the last week in April through May” Furseth explains. “The key to success hinges on two important variables: dead or decaying trees and ground temperatures ranging around 61-70 degrees during the day and 50s after the sun goes down. Ideal hunting conditions are highlighted by warm nights with temperatures above 50 degrees, warm humid weather with light warm rain and rising air temperatures into the 70s. Some years they begin growing and attain full height almost overnight but more often they start growing and cool night temperatures and cold fronts cause the ground temperature to fall and the morels stay almost dormant until ideal conditions reenergize their growth,” says Furseth. “Last year I picked about 400 morels, shared the abundant resource with family and friends and the peak season was the second week in May.”
Gee, the timing of morel growth just happens to coincide with prime wild turkey activity. Gobblers too will slow breeding activity in response to cool air temperatures, cold rain, overcast weather and high winds. But when the weather becomes warmer, winds subside and a fresh shower brings oxygen and nutrients to the soil that’s exactly when both turkey and morels go bonkers.
I grew up picking morels in Benzie County along the banks of the Betsie and Platte Rivers while trout fishing. Morels are wonderful fried in real butter with stream browns or brookies. At a young age I developed a taste for crispy morels and fresh fried crunchy trout tails. Because of their rich flavor morels compliment the full body richness of stream trout. My second favorite morel dish is mushrooms with fried venison back straps. I cover both with whole grain flour, use a cast iron fry pan, melt the butter and add the morels and venison when the pan is spitting hot. Don’t overcook the steaks, take them off the heat when they are crispy coated on the outside and slightly pink in the middle. Just add sliced sweet onions sautéed in butter and you have a camp fire meal fit for a king.
In recent years I’ve learned how to make a delicious meal with morels and wild turkey. After I harvest a bird I remove the breast. Along the breast bone there is a small strip of tender meat that is absolutely delicious. I pretty much follow the same recipe used with trout or venison, start the morels first in butter then add the turkey breast tenderloin. There is something about morel mushrooms that adds flavor to any meat and gobbler tenderloin becomes exceptionally tasty when combined with mushrooms.
These days more and more turkey outings get switched to morel hunting treks and my decoys stay in the truck, gun or bow is over my shoulder as I traverse the countryside in search of mushrooms. Heck you can only harvest one gobbler in Michigan but I can pick mushrooms all day, every day.
One productive strategy is to set up before daylight for turkeys. Once the hunt has ended begin looking for morels. One of the deadliest turkey hunting tricks is to meander hills and valleys searching for mushrooms while making occasional turkey calls. Sometimes a mushroom hunt is interrupted when a boss gobbler comes calling.
The great thing about combining turkey hunting and morel hunting is you are properly dressed for both occasions. You need long pants, long sleeve shirt, tons of insect repellent and occasionally a face mask when you walk through bushes with thorns or briars and poison ivy. My turkey outfit is completely sprayed with insect repellent to ward off mites, fleas, ticks and a host of other biting insects. My face mask and hat get an extra coat of insect spray because mosquitos tend to attack the exposed skin around neck, eyes and face. Don’t forget to wear gloves covered with repellent. I wear Bog 16-inch rubber boots turkey hunting because they keep me dry and warm when walking through early morning dew, crossing ditches or creeks and sloshing through low mucky swamps. The same boots are ideal for mushroom hunting.
In the back pocket of my turkey camouflage pants I always carry an onion bag used when collecting morels. The bag is lightweight and easy to transport but more importantly when I place morels in it I can broadcast spores as I move through the woods. The mesh onion bag helps to cast spores and propagate mushrooms. Paper sacks and plastic bags tend to hold bugs and don’t allow spores to freely disperse across the landscape.
Savvy ‘shroomers have learned the value of a walking stick. Not only do they support weight and help you go up hills, through swamps and rough ground but they are a valuable tool to find more mushrooms. A walking stick is also used as a probe to move leaves, branches, grass and other obstacles to expose hiding morels.
Perhaps the biggest problem with morel hunting is locating mushrooms. Lord knows I have a sweet spot on Michigan’s west shore where morels grow in abundance in an apple orchard pruned the previous year. Don’t overlook the ability of morels to emerge by the zillions where upper Michigan woodlands have been disturbed by fires, burn sites, logging locations and more. However, it is my opinion most ‘shroomers fall flat on their face because they spend too much time scouring the forest floor when they need to be looking up, checking trees in an effort to find dead and decaying trees. My number one hottest strategy for finding bushels of morels hinges on finding dead and decaying elm trees. Not just any elm but the trees that are starting to drop bark that enriches the soil and catapults the area into a morel farm. Elms that have been dead too long have little bark and the trunk is nothing but bleached white dried wood. The trick to instantaneous morel success is to locate freshly decaying elms.
One strategy is to scout for elms while driving two track trails up north or country roads throughout Michigan. Again, you can be looking for morels the same time you are scouting turkeys. At times ideal elm trees will be growing in county ditches, along roadways or fence lines and with a little road hunting you can discover a morel jackpot.
I have fond memories of a turkey hunt in Isabella County when a boss gobbler responded to my calls and decoy and charged the set up shortly after sunrise. Boom! I quickly filled my tag and on the way out of the farmer’s pasture I noted a bunch of decaying elms next to an old ditch. I drove my truck right up to the trees and before I opened the door I spotted several morels growing from the rich soil enhanced with bark from decaying elms. At lightning speed I picked a back pack full of big whites. That night I enjoyed fresh morels, sautéed onions and wild turkey tenderloin.