Turkeys and Morel Mushrooms
Spring is finally here and you know what that means. You’re spending a pleasant spring morning in the woods chasing gobblers. You find yourself setting up next to a dying elm tree. You look down to find you are surrounded by morel mushrooms. Next thing you know, you’re filling your bag with that delicious fungus and have shifted gears from turkey hunting to mushroom hunting.
This a common situation with turkey hunters who are also foragers, and who can blame them? Morel mushrooms are one of the most sought after wild edibles due to their distinct nutty flavor and very short growing period. They are mysterious to most foragers and researchers and are famous for being rather difficult to find. Many chefs enjoy featuring them in their dishes this time of year and they can sell for a pretty penny.
The timing of morel growth coincides perfectly with turkey season. Just like morels, gobbler activity will slow down when the temperatures cool and cold rain falls. But when the temperatures rebound, the wind lessens and a fresh warm shower brings nutrients to the soil, turkeys and morels alike will begin to pop up. So if you’re wanting to add some mushrooms to your wild turkey recipes, there’s really no fungus more perfect. When sauteed with a little butter and onions and paired with a fresh, wild turkey breast, it will create a meal you’ll be wanting to make every season.
Now that we’ve got you daydreaming of a nice dinner, adding morel hunting to your turkey hunts couldn’t be more convenient as you’re already dressed for both activities. You’re dressed in long pants, a long sleeve shirt, an aggressive amount of insect repellant and a good pair of boots. The only thing you will need to add to your turkey hunting gear is a lightweight and easy to transport bag for your morels. You will want it to be easily stored in the back pocket of your pants or in your bag if you carry one. The type of bag you will want is one that allows spores to fall which help propagate mushrooms. An onion mesh bag is the perfect this. Paper and plastic bags tend to hold on to critters and other unwanted bugs which you don’t want.
Now that you’re dressed and packed, you’re ready to chase down these mysterious but oh so delicious mushrooms. But you’re probably wondering how you’re going to be able to focus on that gobbler instead of constantly scanning the ground for morels (this happens more often than turkey and morel hunters would like to admit). A good strategy is to set up before daylight for your turkey hunt and spend the rest of the morning focusing on the gobblers. Once the hunt has ended in the early afternoon, then it will be time to switch gears to foraging.
The biggest challenge when it comes to hunting morels is locating them. Morels, unlike other mushrooms, will only grow on the ground and while you can potentially find them anywhere, they do prefer certain areas over others. One common area to look is around elm, ash, hickory and oak trees. Areas with alkaline soil, such as apple orchards and recent burn sites, are also areas to look as they are morel heavens.
Now you that you know where to look, it’s time to know what you’re looking for. Morels are easy mushrooms to identify; they have a distinctive cone shape and range in size from as small as a fingertip to as large as a soda can. Their most identifiable characteristic is a honeycomb cap that ranges in color from a light yellow to a greyish black. A quick way to know if you’re looking at a morel is to cut it in half and make sure the inside is completely hollow. Be on the lookout for a lookalike that is mildly toxic. These are commonly known as false morels. They will appear in different shades of red and when cut open won’t be hollow but instead filled with a white substance. Always remember that foraging for wild mushrooms comes with risks. You should never consume a mushroom that you aren’t 100 percent sure of.
As you probably know, turkey hunting may not always go as planned. There will be days that you head into the woods full of hope and excitement and when all is said and done, you're heading home empty-handed. Adding morel mushrooms into the mix is a great way to help you forget about the morning and any frustration you may have. I mean, there’s nothing a walk through the budding spring forest can’t fix. If you really have a good day and get a gobbler and a few morels, you will have one delicious dinner to make when you get back to the house.