Morel mushroom season is fleeting in Montana. We usually get a narrow window of time (5 - 6 weeks) to pick the delicious little gems beginning in May and then that's it for the year. For most people, mushrooms are love 'em or hate 'em. I fall into the love 'em category and I'll hopefully be hitting my top-secret location this weekend, weather permitting.
Finding morels can be hit-or-miss, as the fickle fungi can sometimes show up in the same spot every year... or not. This 2004 article from Montana State University offers a short read on morels and their habitats. They can be found in mountainous locations, sometimes in areas that experienced wildfire burns last summer and along river valleys in lower elevations. The most common morels found in Montana are the Yellow (Morchella esculenta) and the Black (M. elata) varieties.
Rain (or lack-thereof) along with temperature and other conditions can impact your luck when hunting morels. Some years I've found a big bag full of them at my spot, other years I've been completely skunked. Locations are closely guarded among mushroom hunters. You're more likely to have someone share their secret fishing hole than divulge where they found their 'shrooms.
Montana State University mycologist Cathy Cripps offered some tips:
- Go with an experienced mushroom hunter
- Bring a full color mushroom handbook. This one, authored by Cripps is Rocky Mountain specific.
- Don't pick or eat old or funky smelling mushrooms.
- Don't be fooled by imposters. There are a couple varieties that look quite similar to morels, but are not and those should never be consumed.
She adds a reminder that mushroom picking is not allowed in any national park and regulations may vary on Forest Service land. Always get permission to hunt on private property.