Hunting morel mushrooms with high-tech tools

Ross Bielema

As we grow older, we learn to work smarter and play slower. Relaxation becomes an activity on its own.

Spring means turkey hunting, and that can be hard work. Getting up at 4 a.m. for a few days is a major chore, and by noon (or much sooner), I’m ready for a nap. Lugging calls, decoys and a heavy magnum shotgun to my favorite permanent blind on a neighbor’s farm is hard work to a guy with a desk job.

My two turkey seasons are over, with nary a feather to show for it. I somehow got a first-season tag (even though I applied for a second-season license), and the birds were doing nothing in my slice of Waupaca County then. I bought a surplus fourth-season tag, and the birds seemed to gobble a bit, but were in very short supply. I only saw hens.

That’s OK. I’d rather eat morel mushrooms over a wild turkey any day.

I haven’t found any morels yet, either, but that’s OK. I’m discovering new ways to find them online. I’m not too proud to buy them, either.

When my wife and I moved from Iowa to Wisconsin back in 2000, I left many friends, family and hunting spots behind. We also had our favorite morel haunts in Illinois, where I grew up. Now and then we’d hit the mother lode, coming home with a few dozen or more big, yellow morels. Mom would let out a scream as she cut them in half and watched a few bugs crawl out as she soaked them in salt water, then rolled them in flour and fried them in butter.

Nothing on earth has ever matched the flavor of Mom’s morels, served crispy and piping hot. Simply seasoned with salt and pepper, they are the ultimate taste treat from the woods and bottomland (sorry, that’s all the clue I can give you).

Over the decades, I’ve never stopped loving morels, but never got as serious about hunting them as some of my friends and co-workers. As a newspaper reporter and eventually full-time outdoors writer at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, I found a great patch of morels while turkey hunting on a public area in Scott County. Our editor would take two weeks off and hunt them from the Missouri border to the Minnesota border, bringing home up to 100 pounds of the morchella delicacy. (I never saw a single one from him, but I could only assume he was telling the truth).

I was content with enough for one or two meals.

This editor, like most serious morel hunters, looked for trees, not morels. Specifically dead elm trees. Although there are about a dozen species of trees associated with these fabulous fungi, dead elms are the tree species most often mentioned by the pros.

I’ve never been great at identifying trees, and especially dead trees. Fortunately, others are, and they are willing to share their knowledge online. Try this link to find trees that will help you find morels:

One of the great joys of being a newspaper reporter is meeting and talking with experts in dozens of subjects. As an outdoors writer, I was lucky enough to interview Lois Tiffany, a professor at Iowa State University, who was nicknamed “Iowa’s mushroom lady” for her knowledge of fungi.

She told me the amazing story of how underground filaments called mycelium that can stretch for miles are one of the ways morels grow and reproduce. Two species of Iowa truffles have been named in her honor. In researching this story, I learned that she passed in 2009 at the age of 85. Read more about her at

Spores from the adult fruiting bodies are the other way they spread and grow. Some seasoned morel hunters carry their finds in mesh bags, which can help spread the spores as they walk. It typically takes five years for these spores to eventually grow, and only when the perfect combination of soil nutrients and moisture is present.

One of the best natural indicators that it’s morel season is when the lilacs bloom. At that point, you only have a few days or at most a week or two to find several species of morels, including the early and smaller grays, and later the big yellows. Both taste about the same.

Proper identification of morels and other edible mushrooms is crucial. Some mushrooms can make you sick or even kill you, so don’t take chances.

Iowa State University offers a “Safe Mushroom Foraging” guide for $4 plus shipping and handling, which features 50 full-color photos of mushrooms. If you go to, you can also get a free download of the book.

Facebook has many mushroom identification groups with experts who can help. When I found an odd mushroom in my pine trees and sent photos to one of these, an expert asked if there was an ash tree nearby. There was! He knew that species grew near ash trees, which are now dying off because of emerald ash borers.

Last, go to YouTube for a huge variety of morel and other mushroom hunting tips and educational videos. Remember, there are many more edible mushrooms in the fall than in spring, so with a bit of online training, you can enjoy nature’s fungi bounty twice a year.

I’m also not above buying them if I can’t find them. Check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and local farmers markets or small grocery stores for morels, but expect to pay $30 a pound or more.

To me, that’s well worth the price.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at