Late April is a peak season for morel mushrooms in western Missouri, to the delight of people who like to cook them and find them in the freshly greening outdoors. Where they appear, though, is a challenge for those new to seeking the sponge-like fungi, or for those veterans who cannot find them. Morels appear and disappear suddenly and randomly. Mushroom hunting morale can suffer when the weather and woods seem perfect, but no morels are found.
The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends morel hunts as a fun outing for families. But keeping it fun for children (and restless grownups) increases the chances of finding morels, while it also helps connect them with other wonders nature offers. Here’s some morale booster tactics for families, but ones that can also be adapted to the solo mushroom hunter.
- Plan the trip as a spring walk to see what is growing outdoors. Don’t make finding morels a make-or-break success point of the outing. Make them a bonus. But take along a collection sack just in case.
- Pack snacks and drinking water. Take a break in scenic spots to enjoy snacks. Sometimes sitting still is when focus zeros in on morels, which have colors and shapes that let them seemingly hide in plain sight on a forest floor. A snack and time to explore nature can make the outing a success for children, regardless of morels.
- Make wildflowers part of the search. The early spring wildflowers are a visual treat. Looking for them adds to the adventure. Take a small notebook or make a mental count on how many different types are seen. Some morel stalkers may want to identify wildflowers and talk about the eco-niches where they are found. But simply seeing and enjoying wildflowers works, too.
- Use insect repellant, wear sturdy clothes and shoes or boots, know what poison ivy looks like and avoid when possible. A warm bath once home is a good way to celebrate the outing.
- When morels are scarce, let children pick the path and inspect what they find. A hollow oak blown down by winter winds is a worthy find. Note ferns, point out wildlife.
- During a rest break, take quiet time and listen for what sounds are in the woods, whisper what you hear among the birds or the wind in the trees. Maybe even a turkey will gobble.
- Missouri’s spring turkey hunting season runs from April 20 to May 10. Hunting ends each day at 1 p.m. Avoid hunting morels in popular public hunting areas until after 1 p.m.
- Where to look? Morels are found where you find them, a veteran conservation agent once said. They usually pop up on the ground in moist forest areas, open woodlands, along brushy stream ways, in wooded draws, or fence lines. But as the agent said, they also appear in odd places and don’t appear where they’re supposed to be, like around dead elms. Some people find morels in their backyard or in their neighborhood public park.
- The number one secret to finding morels is to make looking for them part of a good walk, and then keep looking from now into early May.
One more thing, pay scant heed to your text messages that mention friends who have found 300 morels so far and haven’t even checked their honey hole yet. Or, the person who harvested a turkey gobbler and found that the bird fell in a big patch of morels, near the lake where they limit out on crappie before lunch. Sure, morels are fun to find and a good excuse to enjoy a tasty mushroom flavored with skillet-browned flour topped with salt and pepper.
However, experienced morel hunters know enjoying all that nature offers in the spring woods is the best part, and finding a few mushrooms or none is as normal as spring arriving after winter.