A blog post on hunting morels in late May? I get it, I’m a bit late in writing this. This would have been more valuable a month or so ago when the season really started to kick off around the country. But here in Minnesota, we have had a very late spring, and I’ve had limited morel success so far, picking just enough to make a couple meals for me and my wife. This week though, we’ve seen some rain followed by high heat, a weather combo that should cause those little golden morsels of awesome to be popping very soon. Maybe like me, you are a hunter who just finished up turkey season and is now waiting patiently for Septembers. Hunting for morel mushrooms is a great way to fill some of that time, and with a bit of luck, add a tasty side dish to your turkey or venison meal.
Morels really are an amazing organism. It’s a widespread, yet perpetually elusive fungus that provides a tasty way to tack on the “gatherer” portion of the hunter-gatherer that most of us are. Not only are they delicious to eat, but they are easy to identify for the novice forager. About the only imposter to the morel is the Verpa, also known as the False Morel. Make sure you can tell the difference. Truthfully, I don’t find that the two look all that similar, but the Verpa must have got its nickname for a reason, so be confident that what your about to eat is the real deal.
Here are 5 tips to help you get your fill of morels this spring.
Location, location, location.
Some of the first advice you’ll get in hunting morels, is where to find them. Most will point you to south facing hill slopes, as that aspect gets the most exposure to sunlight. True words too, as so far this year I have found all my morel mushrooms on south facing hill sides. On the tail end of the season when the temps are starting to hit 70 degrees and higher, I focus on the other side of the hill; gently sloped northern faces and shaded benches. It was five years ago, almost to the day that I got my best haul of morels ever, located on the top of a river bluff covered in a blowdown of elm and walnut. Laid side-by-side, the harvested morels almost covered the tonneau cover of my short bed pick-up.
Let the trees be your guide.
If you spend enough time hunting morels, you’ll end up finding them in some of the strangest places. Point of fact, I know a keen eyed morel hunter who located one growing in the fine gravel walkway of a local park. There is was, by itself, just hanging out on the path. To put it simply if not somewhat vague, morel mushrooms will grow where they want to grow. I approach looking for morel hunting spots, much like how I look or public land whitetail hunting locations; find the best habitat, farthest away from other hunters and head there. I look for those locations that also feature elm, ash and oak trees, both living and dead. Once those high value areas are searched, I’ll move on to others.
Leave no stone unturned.
As soon as I spot one morel, I freeze, earmark that morels location and start scanning the ground around me. Very rarely will I ever find just a single mushroom. Where you find one, you are almost bound to find more in the immediate area, usually within a few yards. In the late season, morels will often be covered by returning forbes and grasses. I bring a walking stick along to move the growth out of the way to see the ground behind and underneath it. It’s a great way to find a morels others have missed.
Bring the right gear
None of us would go into the whitetail or turkey woods without bringing the right gear along. If we are being honest with ourselves, we probably bring to much equipment into the woods. It’s a good problem to have! You don’t need as much gear for a successful morel hunting excursion than you might bring to your deerstand, but a few key pieces of gear will make for a better experience. I wear my hunting boots, pants and long sleeve shirt to minimize the effects of bugs and irritable plants while beating the bush for morels. I pack a small field bag (think Indiana Jones). In it goes a bottle of water and snacks as well as a couple plastic bags, on the odd chance that I will hit the morel mother load and need more than the satchel to carry them out.
The coolest bit of kit is my Opinel Mushroom Knife. With its curved stainless steel blade and built in boars’ hair brush, it makes quick work picking mushrooms without pulling them out by the root system, which you want to leave in the ground to help promote future harvests. Use the brush to wipe away any dirt, leaf debris and ants, then toss the mushroom in your bag. If you’ve never owned an Opinel Knife, make sure to check them out. The Mushroom Knife is a really cool, foraging specific tool, but their standard folding knives have been made for over a century and are a heck of a value. They can often be had for $20.00 or less. I recommend the No. 8.
Cook them up!
If I end up scoring some morels, they usually get eaten within 24 hours, and are typically prepared very simply. If you manage to hit a real honey hole and bring home more than you need for a couple days worth of meals, you can either dry them on racks or freeze them for long-term storage.
Very rarely do I ever have a surplus from a weekend of morel hunting, so mine get eaten right away. Once home, I soak the morels in water to help remove any remaining dirt, and slice them down the middle lengthwise. Small morels, I’ll often just leave whole. My preferred method of cooking is to saute them in butter and garlic for about 10 minutes under medium-high heat. While you don’t want to burn them, it’s important to cook the morels thoroughly to remove enzymes that might cause negative effects in your gut. Once done, we eat them as a side dish to wild game meat, or incorporate them directly into any recipe that utilizes mushrooms. In the dish below, my wife and I “deconstructed” the classic chipped beef on toast (aka S.O.S) for the Camp Chef sponsored Wild Game Cook-Off at this year’s BHA Rendezvous. Homemade corned venison was topped with a whiskey and morel white sauce and served on a slice of Minnesota wild rice bread. It didn’t bring home a trophy, but there wasn’t any left over, so it must have been tasty.