A Hunter’s Guide To Morels

Morel hunting haul.

Photo courtesy Amy Lynch.

Indiana State Parks are a free for all for morel hunting.

Each spring in Indiana, Hoosier hunters start to get “the fever.” They’re not sick. They’re just craving a taste of the elusive morel mushrooms that spring up for a few scant weeks in April.

Morels sweep across the state in a quick south-to-north progression. A number of dedicated Facebook pages make it easy to track where they’re popping as enthusiasts post photos to get their counties on the map. Prized for their meaty texture and rich flavor, the wild fungi are notoriously tricky to find. That’s exactly what makes them so coveted.

I grew up hunting mushrooms with my dad and brother around Richmond and Wayne County, and was delighted to participate in a guided outing last week in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest between Martinsville and Bloomington led by long-time local hunters (and cousins) Gary Boggs and Tom York. (The quest was organized and hosted by Visit Bloomington and Communications Redefined).

Boggs, a retired mail carrier who’s used to long walks, learned how to hunt mushrooms from his uncle. “And I’ve done more than 30 years of reading and researching on my own,” he says. “You just get a feel for it and learn to recognize what looks like good territory.”

Indiana State Parks are a free for all for morel hunting, although restrictions may vary at state forests and fishing/wildlife areas (check in with the property office before you set out). Hunting on private land requires permission from the property owner, of course, unless you want to risk a trespassing fine or a visit from the local authorities. Boggs advises hunting during the week, if possible, to both avoid the bigger weekend crowds and improve your chances of success.

Look for morels along creek beds; and around elm, ash, and poplar trees.

Advice on where, when, and how to hunt is endless and often inconsistent, but many hunters watch for the appearance of dandelions and mayapples before they start hitting the woods. Like Goldilocks, conditions have to be just right to please the finicky morel. “They can pop up very quickly after rain and heat,” Boggs says. “If the weather’s too dry, they’ll shrivel. If it’s too wet, then they’ll rot. Under ideal conditions, they may last up to a week or 10 days.”

Other helpful hints include searching east- and south-facing wooded slopes; along creek beds; and around elm, ash, and poplar trees. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources offers a brochure to help identify common mushrooms here. Newbies should brush up on some morel-hunting etiquette beforehand. For example, when picking a morel in the wind, pinch it off at the base of the stem so that the root stays intact to (hopefully) grow again next year. Bring along a mesh bag to carry your haul. The holes encourage air flow to keep the mushrooms fresh and allow any loose spores to escape and scatter back down to the ground. Of course, if there’s any question about a mushroom being safe to eat, don’t take the risk. 

After an hour of scouring Tom’s preferred patch of terrain, we came up with a handful of medium-sized to smallish blacks; the more recognizable spongy yellows tend to follow a week or two behind. Not a huge haul, but enough for a small “mess.”

The best way to prepare morels is another matter of heated debate. After cutting the mushrooms in half and soaking them in salt water for a few hours, my people have always relied on a dip in an egg-and-milk mixture, then seasoned flour, before frying them in vegetable oil and a little butter. The end result is an earthy bite of golden-brown deliciousness with the perfect balance of crunch and chew. “I don’t even like to use eggs—just milk, flour, salt, and pepper,” Boggs says. “Then, fry them until they’re semi-crispy. That’s the way my wife and I love them.”

Morel appetizer at Uptown Cafe.

If you come up empty (also known as getting skunked), all hope is not lost. You may be able to find fresh or dried morels at local gourmet shops, farmers markets, and restaurants, but they’ll cost you. Expect to pay $80 to $100 per pound. Hot tip: The Uptown Cafe in Bloomington sometimes puts a fried morel appetizer on the menu this time of year. It sells out in a flash, so get ’em while they’re hot.