Monday, March 01, 2010

Morel Tales

With 50 degree highs predicted for this weekend, I know many people, myself included, will be just itching to get out in the woods. Why go out this early, you may ask? Well, for starters, it's time to get those legs back in shape so they can last all day stumbling through the brush up and down valleys and hills. Second, it is also a good time to scout spots and trees, since there is little foliage to block your view. Last, getting out now is also a good time to grab a tree identification book and hone up your skills.

For those of you, who might not be able to make it out in the woods quite yet, or have a whole lot more patience than the rest of us, you can partake in the age-old, pre-spring ritual of talking about morel hunts of the past. If you follow the message boards like I do, you see these stories being posted more frequently.

Now don't get me wrong, hunters are always willing to tell our stories so this happens all year. But there is nothing better to do before a season than to reminisce about season's past. Some hunters, and I am guilty of this as well, will look through all their photos to do what we call "train the eyesight" to that all too familiar pitted pattern.

One reason morel stories abound in late winter is that the fever is on everyone's mind. The slightest reference to anything mushroom or woods related will quickly turn to tales of morels. I have seen it happen in the line at the drug store, between complete strangers sitting three tables away from each other at a local diner, and while waiting in the doctors office. It doesn't matter where, in these parts morels are just on a lot of people's mind. And to many they are part of their heritage, so these stories represent local and family histories full of secret techniques and even more secretive places.

I do happen to have a degree in history and someday, if I am ever able to retire or win the lottery, I would like to travel the back roads of the Midwest and talk to all the old-timers I could find and write a book to share these rich histories and traditions about hunting wild mushrooms. I think we could learn a lot from these stories - not just about finding mushrooms, but about respect for the woods and the symbiotic ties between mushrooms, nature, and society.

But enough of that, let's talk morel tales. I will start us off, but I would like to hear from you as well. Please leave a comment about your greatest find or that one perfect day of hunting. I never get tired of hearing about hunting glory days, so feel free to post as many stories as you wish.

For myself, it seems that my most memorable finds happen when I am not even looking for morels. Let me give you an example. The last time I hit the motherlode in Rock Bridge State Park was back in the early 90's. It was late in the season, actually the first week of May and I had long given up on morels because I was in college and focused more on other things, but luckily they had not given up on me that year. It was a hot day and we were hiking the main trails when we came to a creek. This was back before they had installed a few bridges which now span the creek, so if you wanted to cross you had to wade. The only problem was that it had been a fairly wet spring and the creek at that spot was almost waste deep, so we hiked upstream to see if we could find a place to cross.

We eventually did and continued up stream on the other side looking for arrowheads along the edge of the creek. We didn't find any arrowheads, which is a good thing because it is illegal to take those types of artifacts from a state park. However, I was forced out of the creek bed by a deep pool of water and as I popped out and over the bank, I was taken completely aback. Staring me in the face were about 30 4-5 inch yellow just sitting there in a ten foot area.
I was with my brother who is not a mushroom hunter, but even he was amazed by the glorious site, so I took off my shirt (not having a bag) and we loaded it up. We picked probably 3 pounds between us in about 5 minutes, and holding our shirts closed as best we could, we forded back across the stream and headed to the car.

I came back the next morning with some other friends and we picked our fill. We did this for 3 days straight. Picking some huge late season morels with some weighing in well over 1/2 pound by themselves. To this day I have never seen anything like it. I wish I had been paying a lot more attention to mushrooms then because that must have been a glorious season. In fact, it was that fortunate find that rekindled my love for mushroom hunting that I had picked up around K.C. as a kid and I have been hunting in Mid-MO ever since.


Anonymous said...

Hi ahistory,

Here's my mushroom life and story...

I've followed your blog for two or three years now. I found it when I decided to use Google as a way to educate myself on how to find morels in Missouri.

When I was a kid I found one morel on my father's land by a tree. Through the years I went hunting a few times with others but never found another myself or within my hunting party. My wife's family was into it but if they took me, we never found any. I was cursed but the fever was growing just the same. I spent 20 years as a mushroom newb without finding another mushroom at all during that time.

Years later, my wife and I bought my father's land and we live there now. One Spring a few years back I went to that same spot where I found the only morel of my lifetime and ended up finding three. I was so excited and brought them back proudly to show my wife. I trampled my woods that spring to no avail. I wouldn't find another.

The next year I decided I would learn and begin to master the art of hunting morels and turned to the internet. Thanks to you and others out there sharing your knowledge and experiences, together with youtube videos etc, I was able to educate myself much more and gain confidence that I could one day find a mother lode and make my family proud. I started early that spring to finally break my losing cycle.

It started early in the first cold week of April that I found three greys next to an ash tree on a hill in Binder Park. I talked to another man who said he finds them on the Osage. I then moved to the river bottoms along the Katy Trail but still wasn't having any luck as it still might have been early yet I was seeing others hunting so I felt comfortable about the time and place. Then one day hunting on the side of a steep bank off the trail, I was startled by a huge black snake. I leaped away, fell down into some greenery and face first right into a patch of apple sized yellows. I ended up getting a couple dozen and due to their size it was quite a meal. In comparison to my history of complete failure, this was my firt personal motherlode.

The next weekend my wife and I walked that stretch of trail, she walked along with the baby and stroller while I stayed near that one spot finding a couple here and there. She ended up with quite a haul during her short walk just seeing them on the side of the trail. After that, I started working other large public tracts along the river and had a very productive year. I was able to share with many friends and family.

I now know of enough productive spots that I can't even hunt them all. I am comfortable with my level of experience and knowledge and know that I will find them each season. I also owe alot of thanks to you and others like you for sharing your knowledge, photos and adventures with random strangers such as me.

Thanks and I might see you in the woods this Spring. If I do, I will surely say hello.


Anthony said...

Great story,
I think I officially have the fever and I've never even seen a Morel in person! This being my first Spring in MO, maybe I'll get lucky.

Anonymous said...

Great story, MK. The season's almost here. Hit those woods hard, enjoy & good luck!

-STL etc.

ahistory said...

Hello MK, that is an awesome story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

There is no better thing than finding that first motherlode, which when you are starting out does not have to be much.

I'll tell my first morel hunting story in another post but I'll preview by saying some of the most memorable and meaningful days were when I found only a couple.

Anonymous said...

I went hunting for morels yesterday and today but found none. I ran into a 4 ft. blacknake on a log that startled me, I should have fallen down in hopes of landing face first in a patch of morels like you!!!