Morel mushroom hunting is upon us once again in the great state of Michigan. And let’s be clear, you want those tasty morsels, and you want them all. We all do. In this article, I am determined to help you do one thing this spring: Find more morels than you did last year.
How vs. Where
This article is all about how you can find more morels, not where to find them. “Where” is only part of the puzzle. “How” is the other part – a part too often ignored.
For clarity, let’s separate the “where” right now. There are a million free videos and articles available on where to find morels. With a million different opinions. And some tend to be more accurate than others. Hands down, my favorite naturalist is Adam Haritan. You can find all his extremely high-quality videos on YouTube. Search “Learn Your Land” and subscribe.
But I suggest you study up on those another time. Today, what I am trying to communicate to you is “how” to find more morels, a crucial distinction. How is fundamental. Where is not. How is science. Where is conjecture.
I’m not trying to confuse you. Instead, I am trying to focus your attention less today on all the trees, the locations, the ground temps, and all the speculation that frequently accompanies mushroom hunting. Again, all that is available ad nauseum online. But “the how” focuses us on two vitally important factors:
1) How our human bodies work; mainly our eyes
2) How mushrooms live in nature
If we can grasp these two simple facts, we can set the odds back in our favor to get more of that fantastic table fare.
Tough Love Time
I’m going to say something many will take issue with, but it doesn’t make it untrue. When morels are in-season and up, you just aren’t seeing them. I’m saying to you, they are there, but you are missing them. And so am I. Consequently, I chant one statement over and over when hunting: “Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” Tattoo that on your inner eyelids! It’s that important.
That is one fundamental mistake I made when starting out and almost lead to me giving up entirely. Maybe I would have given up and become an oil painter? Okay, I am an oil painter. But still.
Luckily, I had a mentor who took the time to show me what I was doing wrong. It’s worth repeating. “They are there, but you aren’t seeing them.”
Why don’t you see morels? Because the human mind just moves too fast. It’s not your fault either. See, humans evolved to scan their field of view to look for variations in the terrain – mainly from predators – to keep us alive. Those who survived are expert at scanning and perceiving danger. That’s you. That’s me. We’re scanners by nature.
But scanning is antithetical to effective morel mushroom hunting. It’s the exact opposite. And that’s why you’re not finding more morels. You must slow way down.
Mushrooms don’t move. Not in the animal sense of the word. They are still. And that makes it tough on us. Furthermore, a morel mushroom is 100 times harder to see than other fungi because it is camouflaged. It doesn’t move, and it is camouflaged. Dealing with these two fundamental facts are a brutal combination for the human eyeball.
Your Game Plan
The only strategy, then, is to train our eyes not to scan, but rather, to observe. But doing this is harder than it seems. We scan all day long and we’ve done it all our lives. It’s how we survive! And that is not a bad thing.
But, how do we observe more and scan less when mushroom hunting?
Fanatics like me come up with all kinds of techniques to tilt the odds back in our favor, given the natural deficits we have versus these delectable treats.
One technique is trying to stand still and observe the area we’re in six times as much as we walk. That’s a 6:1 ratio.
Yes, impossible, but here’s what I mean: Walk into any area you think will have morels. Then, once in that area – say around dying elm trees – stand and observe six times as much as you walk in that area. Set a timer if you have to. Commit to being there for an hour or two. Just in that small area. This is hard to do but extremely necessary. And it takes practice. By far, stand and look more than you walk.
Grass is Greener Fallacy
We all seem to have this innate sense to check “over yonder” and not where we are. This is a mistake. Anglers know what I mean because if we don’t get bites soon, we’re always longing for the next best spot, just over there. You know it’s true.
Instead, commit to the spot, and you will see more morels. They are there. They have always been there. Only now, you are observing them, on their terms.
One thing I do when I arrive on my hunting grounds is stick my walking stick in the ground, drop my backpack, have a Coke and a smile, and relax. I am already where I want to be. And so are you. So mellow off and let your brain settle in. It takes me 45-60 minutes before I sink into “the way of the forest.” That means my mind isn’t right for almost an hour before warming up. It takes that long to slow down my brain that has been flying around all day at supersonic speeds. You need to camp out there. Stay awhile. Plan on spending more time in fewer spots. That’s how you find more morels.
Hunters will know what I mean by sitting still in a treestand for a few hours. It’s the very moment that descends upon you where you and the woods meld into one organism. It’s psychedelic. Every rustle of the leaves, every bounce of a squirrel, every plop of an acorn, becomes one within you. As they occur. In harmony. That’s where you need to be mentally to find more morels.
For now, you are in the world of the 600-million-year-old mushrooms. Motionless. Still. Quiet. Just observing.
The Best Observer
I love Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes’ key to success against crime was not seeing clues. Instead, it was observing the crime scene. He would argue today the only reason he had succeeded where others failed was that key point. He said it to Watson, “where you only see, I observe.” And it is the very same point I am making to you today. You must observe morels, not see them. Mainly because Sherlock Holmes isn’t going mushroom hunting with us!
More Tips for You
I’ve borrowed some techniques over the years, standing on the shoulders of giants, and I actively pioneer my techniques too. This makes for a truly well-rounded approach to mushroom hunting. I want to share a few with you today to put the odds in your favor further.
Use the Buddy System
The buddy system is always a smart play. Have you or your partner scan for areas first, then observe each location intensely once the areas are found. A solid 1-2 combination. Having a buddy also keeps up morale. But more importantly, having four eyes are better than two. Just make sure your partner can keep a secret once you find the mother lode!
Get Low and Go!
Another technique is to crawl. Yes, I crawl around and get low while morel hunting. You observe better detail lower to the ground. I’m like a snake out there in the middle of morel season in May. It’s astonishing what is there to be observed at close range. Morels included. Get low and go!
Ground Zero Morels
This tip is critical. When you find one morel, don’t pick it. Instead, insert your highly visible walking stick in the ground right by it as an anchor point. Use this as “ground zero” for your hunt. Then commit to anchoring yourself to that spot for some time. Because you already have proof that they’re there. And that is good news for you because when there is one, there are more.
Next, slowly walk around and always look back at that morel from different angles. It will disappear and reappear right before your eyes. It’s incredible how these little buggers bend light and play games.
But your stick will serve as your main anchor to relocate your first morel and start observing again. By doing this, we are training our eyes to observe the morel pattern better. And thus, you will see others hiding in plain sight as well.
Perhaps my favorite tip is to simply begin observing other forms of life until one shows up as a morel. I observe the ground, and I say to myself what I see. “An oak leaf, a fallen log, a puffball mushroom, deer scat, on and on.” This trains you to look individually at nature – to observe nature – right before you. And since there are thousands of things to observe, you slow down to ID each one. Again, we’re training our eyes to stop scanning. And to observe intently. You will be rewarded with morels this way.
Okay, one more tip that is a little more technical but no less important. Our eyes only see High Definition (HD) in a very small center-point of our vision. It’s tiny. It’s called the “foveal view.” Maybe five-degrees right in the middle of our field of vision. It’s almost impossible to see morels outside this purview. So again, scanning only hurts your efforts. This is why observing is key to success. You need to locate them in the HD area of your eyes, and that can only be done by slowly observing the ground at the center-most-point of your eyeballs.
Bring It Home
In summary, how to find morels is just as critical as where to find them. If you begin to understand how we see and how morels behave, you will tip the odds back in your favor. I promise you this; you will find more than you ever have before. I hope this begins to help you in your quest for the most elusive mushroom on earth. There is nothing that beats finding a morel. Except for finding more morels! And now I believe you will. Happy hunting this season.
You can contact the author, Garrett Blahunka, at firstname.lastname@example.org.