Monday, April 14, 2008

Reporters, Reputations, and Urban Hunting

As I mentioned earlier, I am in St. Louis for work attending a two-day training course. Normally I would welcome such a diversion, but in the middle of the season it takes me far away from my honey holes. However, I had been here before in winter and saw a very promising section of woods that I wanted to check in spring. I have never hunted for morels in St. Louis before but I figured what the heck.

Normally this would just have been a scouting trip in a new area, hoping that my general rules that work at home send me looking in the right spots here. However, this hunt had a little more added pressure.

Every year, I get a few requests to do interviews about mushroom, especially morel, hunting. Sometimes I turn them down, but I often I accept and take the reporter out to areas I don't usually hunt but know to produce to see if we can scare up a few so they can eat some and truly understand why we hunt these little devils. This year, a journalist from St. Louis contacted me and asked for an interview. Since I was already planning to be up here for work and even planning to go out and hunt a little while in town, I invited her to come along. It wasn't until the next day, that I realized my potential mistake. It is one thing to take someone to a known area and find a morel, it is an entirely different thing to do so in a brand new area. It was added pressure for sure, but, I had done it to myself.

With the pressure mounting, I did a drive by in the morning before my business engagement just to see if, one, the land was public (thankfully it was as I was so happy when I saw the yellow MDC signs) and second I had to find access to it. The trail I had scoped out in winter was blocked by a flooded creek (there's a bit of flooding in St. Louis right now). But using some ingenuity I found a way to access it and went to work.

After work I met with the journalist and headed to park. I will not divulge the location, but I will say it was the first time I have covered parking when morel hunting. Chalk up one advantage to urban hunting.

So here I am with reporter in tow, heading into uncharted waters. Sorry for the metaphor, I have been watching too much Deadliest Catch recently. Has anyone else noticed how much crab fishing is similar to morel hunting. But I digress, and that sounds like a topic for a future blog entry.

Anyway as we were walking in I told her, there are three things to consider when hunting a new area: Is the habitat right? Is the timing right? and has anyone beat you to them? I knew we were looking good on the first two; but, this being the city, I was very wary of the third. As we got into the woods I began to see tell-tale signs of other hunters. The one thing I did notice is that the circles of footprints where in the places I expected them to be, so it seemed that my rules might works here.

As we found a habitat that looked similar to where I had found mine over the weekend in Columbia, the footprints and signs of previous hunters became more evident. And yet there was hope as ti didn't take long before I was able to spot one lone fellow sitting there near a tree.

Whew, at least we didn't get skunked I thought to myself as I breathed a sigh of relief. We continued to hunt while she quizzed me about all kinds of mushroom hunting fact and lore. The finding was slow at first. I think we had only found two after the first 30 minutes, but soon we found an area that had been overlooked and the story hound became a mushroom hunter and found her first. She found a few more along the way and held her own. On the way back to the car she impressed me by spotting one that I was walking right past. I also have to give her credit for staying out the two or so hours it took. Most reporters just go out for 20-30 minutes and then run off to write their stories, so I have to respect her for that.

In the end, we came out with 21 one to two-and-a-half inch grays/yellows. So, even in the middle of the urban jungle, after lord knows how many hunters had been doing the morel waltz the previous weekend, you can still scrounge enough for a meal. And best of all, my reputation is safe, at least for today.


Caleb McCandless said...

Good Work! I'm excited to try and find my first this weekend.

ahistory said...

Good luck Caleb, with the warmer temps and rain the next few days, it should be a good weekend to be out looking.