Thursday, March 18, 2010
Finding the elusive morel
I mentioned one not so commonly discussed way that some people sometimes find morels in my last post (using their noses). I figured that while everyone was waiting for those early reports to come rolling in from the south, that I would mention a few other potential methods that I have heard about over the last few decades. Some of them have been tried and true, while others are what I would call more "experimental" techniques.
You may encounter the first one if you hang out on some of the regional or national morel report and mushroom message boards, though I have yet to actually meet one in person. And that is a true morel hunting dog. Now I have heard talk of some hunters (and even met a few) trying to train their dogs to sniff them out and this does in fact seem very feasible, knowing that dogs, like pigs, have been trained to effectively find truffles growing under the ground. And it sure would be nice to get a full trained morel hound. But the fact that there isn't a training business offering training session for morel hunting speaks a little to the difficulty of this task.
Now I have heard stories from reputable sources (at least as reputable as morel hunters can be) of a few old timers who had proven on more than one occasion that there old dogs could really track them down. If anyone knows of similar tales or even first hand experience of dogs smelling them out please let me know.
In my own experience taking dogs I would say they were rather useful in spotting morels. Not that they pointed them out or anything like that. It was more due to my persistent fear that in their tromping along with us they would step on a good morel. And indeed this was the case as I quickly found a morel squashed by the paws of a hound. For the rest of the hunt that day I obsessively scanned the earth in front of each step and my intense obsessiveness saved at least 30 morels from a similar fate. Needless to say I did not go out with dogs since. It was far too stressful. I have enough worry just making sure I don't step on one.
Another tried and true method is what is often called "road hunting or trolling." This usually involves driving slowly down wooded dusty back roads, scanning under bushes, along fence rows and any general potential spot you may see them. This is best to do later in the season when the big yellows are easy to spot, but those with a keen eye can pull it off sooner. There are a few dangers to this technique.
The first of course is that you are driving without looking at the road or oncoming traffic etc. Thus, I do not recommend this approach unless you broke a leg and can't get out in the woods. Slow is the word to stress, drive very slow. The second danger is that this will often put you at odds, as when you do see morels, you most likely won't have an idea whose land that is and might be risking a trespassing ticket or worse in some parts of Missouri, as often many people will protect their personally owned family patches with shotguns. I would never condone this, but it is private property and like it or not you never know who may be just over the hill and you should respect their rights. Besides you can always go to closest house and see who owns that land then ask permission. You'd be surprised how many people don't mind. Also, you might bump into that old timer who can't get out and walk his patches. By offering to check them for him and split the bounty, you can gain access to some very private and prime spots. This is well worth the trouble in my opinion.
Now please do not confuse "road hunting" with what I call "drive by hunting." Drive by hunting is usually done when you are not actually out searching for morels. It's the time on your way to work, or driving back from the store, that you see that prime dead elm, or other known producing tree just sitting off the road. You slam on the brakes, pull over as safely as possible and hightail it to the tree, noting if there are any other skid marks on the road as you step off into the woods. Most times you come up empty, but there are always those few stops where it all pays off and you pick a bushel when you weren't even officially looking for them. Keep in mind this usually only happens when you are running extremely late for work or something equally important. For example, if your wife is pregnant and just called you to tell you to head to the hospital, do not even look at the trees or the motherlode tree is sure to appear.
The last method falls into that experimental category. Over the last four years or so, I almost always see someone asking if one can you hunt morels by black light at night? And if you have ever seen a ghostly white morel in mid-season, it is easy to believe that this could be the case. I can honestly say that I have not tested this theory. The first challenge would just be finding a true portable black light that you could take into the woods. I intend to test this theory out though this year, by finding some morels placing them in my backyard and then using a large black light I have a Halloween decoration to see if it really would light them up and make them stand out. So, the results pending on this one.
That's just a few methods and I'll try and post some more in the coming weeks. If anyone has any of their own out of the ordinary methods, please leave a comment and share them.