Morchella. Morels. Sponge. Dryland fish? Whatever you want to call them, nothing beckons more folks to the woods than the morel mushroom.
This season has been particularly late. Usually I begin finding black morels about the third week in April, but this year has been an exception. Perhaps it was the brutally cold winter or the lack of early spring rain…no one could tell you for certain. And there in lies the draw of the morel. Its the woods’ greatest mystery, one of Mother Nature’s finest enigmas, an ephemeral delicacy that is as delicious as it is beautiful.
Heck, even modern science knows very little about morels. There are 19 confirmed species but that number is ever changing. Mycologist speculate there are as many as 60 distinct species, but hunters usually lump them into “three and a half” categories: yellow, gray, black, and “half-frees” (other wise known as “peckerheads” amongst familiar company). I’ve heard it said that the better you are at identifying trees, the better you’ll be at finding mushrooms. Ash, apple, and especially elm trees seem to hold a symbiotic relationship with morels. I once found twenty-something large yellows growing in my yard around an apple tree!
My mushroom patches give up mostly blacks. They are the first to pop, along with smaller grays and half frees. They tend to prefer hillsides in mature wooded areas, and average around 2 to 3 inches. Their gray and yellow cousins sometimes grow in similar spots, but are most often found in more open areas, like field edges and creek bottoms. Yellows also grow much, much larger. Mushrooms in the 8 to 12 inch range are fairly common.
I’ve found a couple of pounds so far this year. I usually don some camo, grab a shotgun and a turkey call and head out to the mushroom/turkey woods. After reaffirming my lack of turkey hunting prowess, I usually set down the gun, break out the sack and start looking. I like to hunch my back slightly, unfocus my eyes a bit and look 5 to 10 feet ahead. I look for the mushroom shape rather than the pattern or the color.
Black morels are notoriously hard to spot. When I can, I prefer to hunt early in the morning or on cloudy, rainy days. They don’t blend as well with the shapes, colors and shadows of the woods. With some luck and a little help from Mother Nature, it might prove to be a great year for the mystical morel. Happy hunting.