For­est Del­i­ca­cies

Reap a heap of mush­rooms with th­ese 7 tips

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Ja­son Her­bert

Reap a heap of mush­rooms with th­ese 7 tips

I’ll never for­get the mo­ment when all of the stars aligned: good weather, a dead ap­ple tree, a south-fac­ing slope, the day be­fore Mother’s Day—and there it was. Peek­ing up through the dead leaves be­low me was the first morel mush­room I’d found on pur­pose, and I beamed with pride. Since that sig­nif­i­cant day, I’ve be­come a hope­less, morel-mush­roomhunt­ing ad­dict.

I’m by no means a my­col­o­gist, but I’ve learned a few things along the way and seem to have con­sis­tent luck hunt­ing mush­rooms. I don’t know what I en­joy more, eat­ing the delicious morels af­ter a long day of look­ing, or spend­ing time in the woods with my fam­ily and friends. Re­gard­less, here are some stead­fast rules that I stick to when hunt­ing mush­rooms.


First and fore­most, to hunt mush­rooms, you need a place to go. In my home state of Michi­gan, we’re blessed with all sorts of pub­lic lands. In fact, mush­room hunt­ing on pub­lic lands is such a big deal here that the state has re­leased in-depth in­for­ma­tion to help peo­ple find ar­eas to hunt.

Mush­rooms thrive on de­cay­ing root ma­te­rial and love post-burn ar­eas. Re­cently, Michi­gan even re­leased an in­ter­ac­tive map guide show­ing all of the con­trolled-burn ar­eas on our pub­lic lands, com­plete with driv­ing di­rec­tions and sug­gested park­ing spots. Th­ese lo­ca­tions are busy, so I tend to look else­where.

I try to find ar­eas oth­ers over­look, like that tiny patch be­hind the ceme­tery, or the clump of old elms out be­hind the new strip­mall. Many landown­ers will al­low mush­room hunt­ing if you sim­ply ask. In some cases, they ap­pre­ci­ate it if I share what I find. In oth­ers, the landown­ers want noth­ing to do with them. In fact, on my best mush­room-hunt­ing farm, the own­ers can’t stand mush­rooms and love that my fam­ily and I en­joy search­ing for them.

I make sure I have plenty of places lined up in ad­vance, be­cause I al­ways end up los­ing one from time to time. Also, cer­tain places don’t do well dur­ing some years, while oth­ers are phe­nom­e­nal. My goal is to find at least two new, pro­duc­tive spots each spring. I even find my­self scout­ing mush­room spots through­out the year, much like I treat my ob­ses­sion with deer and turkey hunt­ing.


Cer­tain gear is es­sen­tial for mush­room hunt­ing, and other things are just nice to have. As far as es­sen­tials, I never leave home with­out long pants and knee boots. You’d be amazed by the some of the rugged places I’ve gone to find mush­rooms. It’s a guar­an­tee that I’ll come in con­tact with poi­son ivy at least once each spring, with my per­sonal record be­ing three cases from April through June. Part of that was from turkey sea­son, too, but still, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.

Bug spray is also im­por­tant. In­evitably, I al­ways pick up a few ticks while mush­room hunt­ing, and depend­ing on the time of year, mos­qui­toes can be pesky, too. I now tick-treat my clothes and boots and sat­u­rate my­self in mos­quito spray be­fore each out­ing.

Long sleeves are use­ful, too, but not al­ways es­sen­tial. A mush­room hunter also needs a good knife and a bag to hold their col­lec­tion. I

like my tiny, spring-as­sist knife be­cause I can hold a bag in one hand and cut a mush­room with the other. As for bags, we just use mesh onion or orange sacks.

I of­ten take a GPS read­ing when I’m hunt­ing, mark­ing the good lo­ca­tions for fu­ture ref­er­ence. This is handy when hunt­ing gi­ant chunks of un­fa­mil­iar pub­lic land. That way, I can walk right to each spot the fol­low­ing year. It’s also wise to carry a fake mush­room, like a carved replica or mush­room key­chain, for in­stance. It can help your eyes ac­cli­mate to what you’re look­ing for. I don’t know how many times I’ve had my lucky wooden mush­room in my pocket, glanced at it, and found a real mush­room soon af­ter. Some peo­ple may want to en­hance their ex­pe­ri­ence by bring­ing along read­ing glasses to help them see bet­ter. I bring snacks and wa­ter, too, just in case.

“Peek­ing up through the dead leaves be­low me was the first morel mush­room I’d found on pur­pose, and I beamed with pride.”


To be suc­cess­ful, you must un­der­stand how de­pen­dent mush­rooms are on good weather. The first mush­rooms to show each spring are the black morels. I live in south­ern Michi­gan, and in my re­gion of the coun­try, we be­gin look­ing for black morels in late April or early May. The mush­rooms need sev­eral straight days of above-freez­ing tem­per­a­tures. Ide­ally, a cou­ple of days with some rain and 50°F night­time tem­per­a­tures will get things go­ing. Mush­rooms will pop only when the soil tem­per­a­ture is right. Good in­di­ca­tors of proper soil tem­per­a­ture are dan­de­lions. As pesky as they are, they can be a mush­room hunter’s best friend. When the dan­de­lions are blooming, get ready. When they start go­ing to seed, start look­ing for mush­rooms.


I al­ways be­gin look­ing for mush­rooms near dy­ing trees such as ash, elm, ap­ple and

gen­er­ally any soft-wood va­ri­eties. Ash is con­sid­ered a hard­wood, but there isn’t much of it left around the Great Lakes re­gion, thanks to our en­emy, the emer­ald ash borer. If a tree is too dead—bark fall­ing off while it’s still stand­ing—it might be past its mush­roomhunt­ing prime, but it doesn’t hurt to look nearby any­way.

My best ad­vice is to find dy­ing trees that haven’t quite shed their bark. Start by look­ing on the south­ern edge of th­ese trees be­cause that’s where the soil will be the warm­est from the most di­rect sun­light. Too much heat isn’t good for mush­rooms, ei­ther, so later in the sea­son, al­ways make a com­plete cir­cle around the tree, and don’t ne­glect the lit­tle nooks and cran­nies.

For in­stance, ar­eas un­der logs might grow some gi­ant mush­rooms where they can re­main moist, yet main­tain a proper soil tem­per­a­ture. Gen­er­ally, black morels show up first, fol­lowed by the half frees, then the grays, fol­lowed by yel­lows or whites, and lastly the jum­bos. Black morels tend to grow rather spo­rad­i­cally, whereas the oth­ers fre­quently grow in clumps. (Note: Many peo­ple don’t even find black morels be­cause they start look­ing too late in the sea­son.)

“I of­ten take a GPS read­ing … mark­ing the good lo­ca­tions for fu­ture ref­er­ence.”


When the first mush­room is lo­cated, every­one gath­ers around to thor­oughly ex­am­ine it. The first one is of­ten the most

dif­fi­cult to find, but once it’s seen, our eyes ac­cli­mate, and the rest seem to pop up out of nowhere.


We cut or pinch the mush­rooms, care­ful not to bring any more dirt into our col­lec­tion sacks than we must. I’ve heard if the mush­room is cut del­i­cately enough, the or­gan­ism be­low the soil may pro­duce an­other mush­room.

Each per­son gets their own mesh onion sack to col­lect their mush­rooms, which al­lows any leftover spores to fall out onto the ground. The mesh bag also lets the mush­rooms breathe.


It’s one thing to mush­room hunt with friends and fam­ily. It’s an­other to hunt the same prop­erty as oth­ers. In a com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tion, be smart. Don’t let oth­ers see where you park. Carry your haul out se­cretly, un­der your shirt or in a back­pack. Don’t share on so­cial me­dia. I learned this the hard way a few years back. I found a sweet spot on some pu­bic land, and bragged about my find on Face­book. Not long af­ter, and in the years since, this spot is no longer a se­cret. I’ve lit­er­ally had peo­ple fol­low be­hind my ve­hi­cle dur­ing mush­room sea­son. I’ll show them, though, since this year I’m driv­ing my son’s truck.

Keep in mind that just be­cause some­one has al­ready hunted a spot, or other peo­ple are there at the same time, it doesn’t mean they’ve found ev­ery­thing. At that same, now-crowded, pub­lic place I just men­tioned, I back­tracked a trail that two guys had just fin­ished hunt­ing and found 35 mush­rooms in half an hour. I know those two guys found some, too, be­cause I watched them leave with a bag­ful. But, from my new an­gle, many more were vis­i­ble that they missed.

Reap a Heap

That’s my plan: I wait un­til the con­di­tions are per­fect and hit the woods. Get out with your fam­ily and friends this spring, find some mush­rooms and cre­ate mem­o­ries. Re­search shows that when adults re­flect on their child­hood, they don’t re­mem­ber play­ing video games or watch­ing TV. They re­mem­ber va­ca­tions and be­ing out­doors. When you do find some mush­rooms, be sure to keep it on the down low. Good luck mush­room hunt­ing.

Black morels are some of the most ex­pen­sive mush­rooms to pur­chase, but if you for­age your own, you can en­joy their del­i­cate fla­vor with­out break­ing the bank and spend a day out in the woods to boot.

(above) Here’s a tiny white push­ing as hard as it can against a dead leaf. If a spot looks good, but no mush­rooms are found, don’t be afraid to rake the leaves back to re­veal what’s be­neath.

(op­po­site, top) This is a mix of gray, white and half free morels. Be care­ful when eat­ing wild mush­rooms. In this case, the half frees re­sem­ble a poi­sonous va­ri­ety.

(op­po­site, be­low) This is a per­fect ex­am­ple of an early spring black morel. Al­though smaller than the oth­ers, black morels have a very dis­tinct and delicious fla­vor.

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