April brings all sorts of things to North Idaho; Easter, melted snow, April Fools’ Day, flowers, and Spring run-off. It always feels like a new beginning. It’s as if the world is waking up from a long, cold hibernation and shaking off the final remnants of winter.
April also brings morel mushrooms and the adventure that finding this fungi offers. Buckle up! Once you’re hooked on morel’s, it’s all over with.
Generally speaking, North Idaho morel hunting can begin as early as late March. More commonly, you will start seeing them pop up in mid-April. Much of it will depend on how early spring weather arrives. By mid-May, it’s all over with until next spring.
It is important to knock out a few safety tips in regards to mushrooms and the environment they live in. First, know how to identify them. If you’re not 100% sure, leave it alone. The wrong mushroom can make you very sick. There are several in-depth guides on how to identify a morel with a quick Google search. Basically, the main body looks like a honeycomb or brain. If you cut the bottom of the stem and peep into it, you should be able to see all the way into the cap.
Secondly, you can find morel’s in town but the best place to look is in the forested mountains outside of town. It’s spring, both black bears and grizzlies are coming out of a long hibernation, often with cubs. Go with a group, take bear spray or a firearm, and make a lot of noise. Don’t let this deter you, however. The wildlife wants nothing to do with you. Just don’t catch each other off guard. This is Idaho, if you are opposed to bear spray or firearms, I highly recommend staying home and purchasing mushrooms online.
When it comes to locating these gems, here is where my advice will differ from other related articles. You will hear and read a lot about South and North facing slopes, certain trees like aspens or elms, and mushroom hunting right after a rain storm. Here is my advice; leave no stone unturned and cover ground. I have found morel’s in places that are the exact opposite of where they should be, according to a lot of the research.
Look in the forest. Look under the brush, in open areas, near dead trees, near live trees, near fallen trees, and especially in the hole a fallen tree leaves when it is uprooted. Also, you know all the smoke we experience what seems like every August? Go find those burn areas and look there. Walk and search, crouch down, crawl. Different angles will surprisingly reveal mushrooms that you didn’t see while standing. Lastly, look intensely around the area in which you find one. They tend to be grouped together.
Hunting for morel mushrooms is a great way to spend time together as a family. We look forward to it every year and go to great lengths to find them. Gather everyone up and pack a lunch. I always have a crisp dollar bill that goes to whoever finds the first mushroom out of my daughters.
There is no need to travel far. Successful morel hunting does not require a two hour drive and a five mile hike into the backcountry. Getting out there, however, does get you connected. No, I don’t mean with Wi-Fi.
Once you have found a mushroom, I generally take a sharp pocket knife and cut it off just above ground level. The rumor is that you should not pull it out because it will not return the following year. By cutting it, you leave a piece of the stem in the ground and it comes back and possibly multiplies. The only scientific evidence I have to this is at our own house. I have noticed that they tend to return each year in about the exact same spot. I cut them at the stem and leave the rest in the ground.
It is also recommended to use a basket or net to transport the mushrooms, as they apparently drop spores while walking which could lead to future mushrooms. I cannot confirm this, but a butterfly net makes an easy morel mushroom carrier so hopefully it is beneficial too!
Morel mushroom hunting is another way to get out there and truly experience the North Idaho lifestyle. Double up on your efforts and keep your eyes open to sheds as well. Deer, elk, and moose have all recently shed their head gear and finding a shed antler is not only rewarding, but also a teaching moment while spending time with your kids. Since morels begin showing themselves at about the same time that the wild game has made it through the critical early-spring survival timeframe, make a day of it!
You will not regret spending time in the North Idaho woods. They are as pure, natural, and as beautiful is it gets in the Western United States. Living here offers an enhanced life in the outdoors filled with adventure and solitude.
Oh and by the way… Morel mushrooms taste amazing. I’ve heard them compared to to all sorts of delicacies such as steak or caviar but for me, sautéed with some butter and garlic go nicely with an ice cold beer. I don’t even know what caviar tastes like!
Happy hunting everyone! Don’t miss out on this very short season and opportunity. I hope to see you on the mountain!