What Mel Kiper is to the NFL draft, Andy Miller is to mushroom hunting. A mycologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey at the UI, he knows morels like nobody's business:
1. What are the ideal conditions to hunt mushrooms?
This time of year folks are hunting morels, which seem to grow best if the temperatures are around 75F during the day and 50F at night and there is ample rainfall. Also, these conditions frequently coincide with the flowering of May apples and oak leaves being 1/2 to 3/4" long. We've had anything but steady temperatures this Spring, but with the recent rainfall, if the temperatures would increase slightly, hopefully the morels would start appearing. This season has definitely been delayed by at least a month compared to previous years.
2. I've heard mushroom hunters are superstitious. True?
They can be, but most are just suspicious and wary of others trying to find their favorite hunting spots.
3. I've also heard they're a bit secretive about their locations.
As the saying goes "if you are dumb enough to ask a mushroom hunter where they found their mushrooms, you are probably dumb enough to believe the answer." Mushroom hunters won't tell anyone their best spots, but I have heard of a few that left directions to their prime locations in their will. Misinformation is a common ploy used by mushroom hunters when asked where they found their morels.
4. So where's the best place to hunt in our area?
The best place is the grocery store! You are guaranteed to find mushrooms there and have very little chance of getting sick from a misidentification. Morels can be found anywhere and everywhere, but mature hardwood forests seem to be good places to look. According to the Illinois DNR website, mushroom hunting is allowed in many IDNR state parks, fish and wildlife, and other recreation areas, but is prohibited in any area designated as a dedicated nature preserve. No license is required, but be aware that during turkey season, mushroom hunting is not permitted until 1p.m.
5. Does it help to dress in camouflage?
It may help get you shot by a turkey hunter with an itchy trigger finger, but won't help you find morels. However, it might keep other hunters from seeing and following you to your next hot spot.
6. Can mushroom-hunting lead to personal wealth?
Only if you stumble upon buried treasure, but the government will probably take half of that in taxes.
7. Three things every mushroom hunter needs before heading out?
Tick spray, cell phone, and a sack to carry your shrooms in. A compass to find your way back to the car is also a must.
8. Is it best to hunt solo or with a group?
I've always found the more eyes on the ground, the better the chances of finding morels, but this means sharing the wealth. Most mushroom hunters that I know hunt by themselves.
9. Are there certain mushrooms you want to steer clear of?
Yes, false morels. They are bigger than morels, are usually reddish-brown, and have solid stems as opposed to the hollow stems found in morels. Some species of false morels contain mono-methal hydrazine, which is an ingredient in rocket fuel, and can cause nausea and vomiting, but usually not death. This chemical is heat liable, which means it vaporizes upon cooking. Some will tell you they have eaten false morels for years without getting sick, but I don't like taking the chance.
10. There's a trophy mushroom beyond the "Private Property" sign in your neighbor's yard - what should you do?
You should ask your neighbor for permission before trespassing, but unless they are mushroom hunters themselves, they will never miss it ;o)