Morel hunting in Illinois
For those of you who have been saving up for your dream vacation to the fertile corn and soybean rich plains of the central Illinois River basin, I hate to confuse you even more, but there may be a factor you overlooked. No pilgrimage to Illinois is complete without a good, old-fashioned morel mushroom hunt.
Plan your trip sometime during April to maximize your odds of success. I recommend April because this is the only month when morels are actually present to find. Not that you can't go at other times of year, but your chances of finding anything are reduced to zero, or the equivalent of finding a stretch of beach between Panama City, Florida and Louisiana not polluted with beer cans, beer tents, and mounds and mounds of pasty, camo-bedecked, vocabulary-challenged flesh. I am also including a comparative morel identification glossary to aid in distinguishing edible mushrooms from some of their most frequently mistaken dopplegangers.
The mushroom hunting community will give you various tips and techniques for finding morels and they may all have merit. You will be advised to search for mushrooms in a multitude of terrains and locales from dry creek beds, west or east facing hills, pastures, to swamps. Under specific species of trees from hickory to poplar to elm, alive or dead. Assorted equipment necessary: mesh bags, cutting implements designed specifically for retrieval of morels, bug repellents, and even the skulls of animals who ate morels in their more living days to sniff out caches of mushrooms.
But I am here to inform you of the most foolproof means of obtaining a quantity of morels to be the envy of all the self declared experts. And all you need is a machete.
But before I let you in on my secret, let me tell you about my recent experience. Armed with walking stick, mesh bags, and the skull of a possum I discovered in near a pond, my cousin and I headed into the forest. Initially, I felt quite proud of myself. I was a fearless mountain man braving the hazards of nature to hunt down my own sustenance like some rugged, primitive brute from the earliest days of mankind. Gracefully leaping and jumping over felled poplars and creek chasms like an agile Thompson's gazelle I made my way deep into the forest. My only nutrition, whatever I could scavenge off the land. I climbed upon a rock and peered out over the wilderness, feeling at one with Dan Haggerty. I could sense his spirit looking proudly down upon me saying, "Well done, brave ridge runner, now go show those morels who's boss. Oh, and your beard still needs work."
After ten minutes of wandering through tick-infested woods and not having found a single morsel of food, I began to waver in my commitment. I was already coated with layers of grime the likes of which I had never been forced to endure in even the most unseemly coffee shops in Europe. I bled from multiple scratches and bites, and I was wearing tennis shoes.
Then I spotted it. The magnificent object of my quest it loomed up between the leaves of mighty oaks standing sentinel over this treasured object of country folk desire. Victoriously, but with the utmost respect, I bent down and untethered my precious from its Earthly confines. Then I hastened my way out of the forest like a politician confronted with facts, before it could spew any more filth on me. I admit, I received an amazing sense of satisfaction from the experience, but have no desire to repeat it.
So, here it is. The most efficient way to find morels. Armed with a machete, get in your car and drive until you see a vehicle parked along the woods in a remote area. Get out and hide behind the car until someone comes out of the forest with a bag of morels and jump out brandishing the machete. Simple as that. No more scratches, no more bites, and you need not even resort to the wearing of sub-par footwear. So get out there, friends, and make Mr Haggerty proud.