The Basics of Colorado Morels - Part 2
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
This post is a continuation from The Basics - Part 1, if you haven't read that one yet, I would recommend that you go back and start there. Without Part 1 you'll be missing half the information that you need to become a skilled morel hunter!
In this post we'll be getting into the 'morel mindset' you'll want to develop, and some of the basic equipment you'll want to have with you!
Morels aren’t like many of the other mushroom species that people like to hunt for, they aren’t bright colors and they can blend in surprisingly well! They like to grow under, around, and sometimes inside of plants, tufts of grass, logs, holes, stumps, etc. There are also a lot of things that look vaguely like a morel from a distance: pine cones, burnt nubs, dried up leaves, sticks, and occasionally even rocks. These mushrooms can take some mental fortitude to find!
The absolute number one tip I would give any morel hunter would be, go slow. If you take nothing else away from this series, take those two words. Ingrain them into your thoughts when you’re in the morel woods. Go. Slow.
Here are a few examples of how morels can hide using their surroundings or just merely in plain sight. Without going slow and really watching my surroundings I likely would have walked right by these. Use the arrows (click the sides of the pictures) to navigate through the gallery. The first six pictures are the "before and after" of two different situations presented in pairs. The first picture of the pair being how I found them and the second being the "reveal". See if you can find the morels before going to the reveal! The example shown in pictures number 3 and 4 is a tough one! In the last picture I didn't take a distance shot, but you can image how tough these snow covered morels could be to spot.
The second most important mindset tip I would give is to stop and scan as often as you feel necessary. I can’t count how many times I’ve stopped to chat with my mushroom hunting buddies, grab a snack or some water, or to relieve myself only to spot some morels. In fact, I found my very first morels in Colorado because I nearly “watered” them during a bathroom break.
The next tip would be to take time to build a good ‘search image’ for morels. This is a concept that I’ve known about for years but didn’t have a name for until reading Samuel Thayer’s books (check the reference section at the end of this post for links to these, I highly recommend them). Essentially, developing a search image is getting your mind and eyes used to picking something out from its surroundings. A search image is typically best built while actually looking for and finding your targeted species, but that can sometimes be difficult for morels. My suggestion would be to start online, look at lots and lots of pictures of morels in situ, in their natural setting. Not picked and laying in someone’s mushroom basket. Here is a gallery of pictures of morels taken at a distance, again use the arrows on the sides of the pictures to navigate through them. See if you can find them all, next the picture will be a marked version of the previous one so take your time before clicking through! The first two 'sets' are Colorado, the third and fourth are Oregon. These are probably best viewed from on a large screen, sorry.
While developing your search image notice the color of their stem, the general shape of the cap, how their pitted surface can sort of stand out once you get used to it, their slightly ‘velvety’ looking texture. All of these are clues that will eventually help you pick morels out of their surroundings. Initially they will be tough to notice, but as your mind and eyes get used to seeing them you’ll start to notice them faster and from further away. Be patient with this as it takes time to develop.
This next one is also pretty important and will almost always result in more morels. If you spot one stop immediately and scan. Don’t rush over and pick it right away, you may trample its friends on your way over! Very, very rarely do I find just single, lonely morel. Occasionally they’re just in pairs, but more often there will at least be a handful in one area, and sometimes there are a bunch! So, if you spot one, stop and scan, pick out as many as you can and remember where they are, so you don’t step on them. Once you’re ready to start picking go slow (remember that one?), you may notice more as you get closer or change your viewing angle. Also, the morels are fruiting in that spot for a reason, search the area for more! After picking the first ones I will often walk a 'spiral' around and out from that spot.
Remember the snowy pair from earlier? Check out the patch I found after picking those by using the 'spiraling technique'. They were tucked up under some tree roots on the river bank which is why they aren't covered in snow like their friends.
My final tip would be, don’t give up! Have confidence that if you put in the time and effort you’ll eventually find morels! There is definitely some luck involved, and because of this it can take a while for everything to come together... or it can happen on your first time out. Either way, if you consistently put yourself in the right situation and keep your mind in the right place you will greatly increase your success!
So, by now you’re probably starting to get a feel of what to look for and how to prepare mentally. You’re getting excited to head out the door and start hunting! But before you go you’ll need a few things - I would also suggest waiting for the next couple blog sections since I’ll go into a lot more details of the when, where, and how of morels, but I can’t stop you!
My ever-growing list of future blogs includes a full in-depth review of my ‘foraging kit’ so keep an eye out for that. Here I will just go over what I consider the essentials without getting into too much detail.
A Backpack with the usual day hiking goods: water, sun screen, bug spray, first aid, etc.
A good knife, I prefer fancy custom ones, anything will do.
Mushroom carrier, I like paper sacks and mesh produce bags, others use baskets.
Soil thermometer (we’ll go into why in the next section!).
Camera so you can share you finds, take pictures to reference later, etc.
GPS to mark spots, check land boundaries, etc. I use my phone as a GPS and camera.
Field journal and pen for taking notes.
Field guide(s) if you want to reference your finds (see the Resource section for these).
Whistle which should be in your usual hiking goods, so here's a reminder!
Permits if applicable (more on this in a future blog, check with your land managers if hunting on public land).
Some optional pieces of equipment that you may want to have as well...
Gloves for protecting your hands or picking nettles which share a habitat with yellows.
Small clippers for harvesting plants or mushrooms if you like!
A brush for gently removing debris from mushrooms.
That's it! Quick and easy! Like I said, I'll go into a lot more detail on equipment when I do the dedicated blog on my personal 'foraging kit'. This list should just serve as a starting place for anyone who has very little morel, mushroom, or other foraging experience. Everyone has different preferences and opinions about what is best or right, the above is just what I personally use or recommend. As always, if you have any questions you can comment directly on this blog below, or use the contact form or social media to get in touch. Next up is the yellow morel section! We're finally going to get into some of the specifics.
Continue learning Colorado morels with the next post in the series:
Note - In the interest of full disclosure, the Amazon links above are associate links. If you purchase any of these items using those links I will receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you, which helps fund future content for Forage Colorado! Thank you!