As a rookie turkey hunter hunting in the Hubbard Lake area a few decades ago, I stumbled onto my first morel ‘patch.’ It was the mother lode, not just a group of two or three I would normally find; there were dozens like someone planted them. And the secret to finding them, well, the tale goes like this:
My hunting partner and I made the three-hour drive up to the previously scouted turkey area after work. We slept in the car for a couple of hours before heading to the woods in the very early morning darkness. We had an idea where the turkeys roosted, so we did the, “I’ll try over that way, and why don’t you go the other way.” So, we did, and after the thrilling chorus of early morning gobbles and fly down cackles, the woods went very quiet. The sun was now fully above the horizon, and I’d made every turkey call I knew over and over and over. I leaned back against the big tree I sat under, trying to remember all those great turkey hunting tips I read. I noticed the ground around my legs was loaded with morels. Hmmm, I became a successful morel hunter by dumb luck. But in my mind, my great woodsmanship led me to that tree (in complete darkness?). Since that great day of turkey-morel hunting, I’ve never come close to duplicating that find, and it’s been back to finding two or three at a time.
We’ve seen an incredible growth of morel hunting in Michigan. Years ago, we began receiving trophy photos of morel hunters, complete with seasonal numbers demonstrating the popularity of mushroom hunting. The town of Mesick self proclaims their town as the Mushroom Capital of the U.S. and hosts a festival May 6-8 along with the National Morel Festival in Boyne City May 12-15 (check out their websites for more details). The MDNR mentions the number of morel hunters is similar to deer hunters in the state.
The popularity of morel hunting is easily understandable. It’s spring, and folks can’t wait to get outside despite the unpredictable weather. Anyone can hunt morels. No license is needed. You don’t need special equipment, a mesh bag (keeps the morels dry), a sharp knife (morels should always be cut or pitched off, never pulled out), a map, a compass, maybe a walking stick, and lots of patience. You must dress for the weather and woods, dress in layers, have a good sturdy pair of boots and be prepared for bugs, ticks, mosquitoes, etc.
There’s a downside to this popularity, it can be harder to find mushroom spots that haven’t been hit yet. You can bet that all the best areas near public-land parking lots will likely be picked over. So just like you might scout land for deer hunting, use the same tactics for mushroom hunting. The MDNR has developed a very complex map system, Mi-Morels map. It identifies large burn sites in forested areas ideal for morel mushroom hunting, especially in burned areas where jack, white or red pine once grew. Grassy and other non-forest areas are not as likely to produce morels. The map shows large burn areas that occurred within the past couple of years. You can zoom in close to see the type of ground cover in a particular area (conifer, wetlands, grass, etc.). Hunters familiar with onX Hunt mapping app also has a burn layer that will help you identify forest areas that have burned in the past. A little digital scouting can help make your time mushroom hunting in the field more productive. Plan routes that will get you away from crowds.
If you’re new to mushroom hunting, here’s our disclaimer. Seek guidance! Make sure you know how to identify any wild mushroom before eating it and do so at your own risk. There are poisonous mushrooms in Michigan. All wild mushrooms should be cleaned and well-cooked before consumption. According to the MDNR, “All true morels found in Michigan have one characteristic in common: their caps (heads, tops) are pitted with little hollows, as if holes had been punched partway through them. The pattern of the pits varies from species to species, but all have them. False morel species may be ridged, wrinkled, waved or even quite smooth, but they do not have hole-like pits. True morels are also hollow inside. The common morel is often called the white or gray morel. Its color varies from light cream to gray to yellowish-brown, depending on habitat and age. The hollow cap is attached to the stalk at the base. The common morel is perhaps the easiest of all edible spring mushrooms to recognize and is therefore widely collected.”
There are numerous books, videos, guides, online sites, and classes available to help with everything from probable morel locations to tree identification. Better yet, go with an experienced hunter, or you can usually find a local group or class to join.
There is all kinds of advice on finding morels, like looking for ash and elm trees, but then morels favor fruit trees, like an old apple orchard area. The problem is, people have found morels almost everywhere. I’ve found them under a deck, in the middle of a mowed yard, and my biggest single morel I’ve found was under a pine tree. But play the percentages and look for ash and elm trees, and you have to have soil temperatures in the 50s before you start seeing morels popping. A wet spring is often a precursor to a good mushroom year. But a string of nights when the temperature is at or above 50 degrees is the real trigger. Concentrate on well-drained areas that receive plenty of precipitation but don’t necessarily hold it. And when looking for that 50-degree soil, know that the south and westward slopes warm faster.
Spotting morels is challenging. You have to look past all the ground debris, leaves, branches, ferns, etc. Just keep visualizing the morel in your mind, slow down, pause often, but never use a rake. Some hunters utilize small binoculars and shooting glasses that help clarify. Or, you could wander in the woods in the dark and lean against a tree and wait for the sun to rise, but it’s not very good odds and only worked once.
If the mushrooms are cleaned as they are harvested, it will keep dirt out of the pits of those morels previously collected. Morels should be stored in paper bags or waxed paper and refrigerated soon after harvest. Do not store morels in airtight plastic bags or containers; they will last longer if kept from drying out but allowed to breathe.
Another tip for morel hunters is to be mindful of turkey hunters in the woods.
Our recipe page (page 59) features all morel mushroom recipes this month, so be sure to check them out. And don’t forget to email those trophy photos; email@example.com.