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Tips on Mountain Hunting Montana Morel and Oyster Mushrooms

“This time last year on April 6th I was finding morels in the field by grandpa's house at my cousin's birthday party. I remember clearly, we fried them and they went awesome with the steaks we had bought for his birthday.” He forgot to mention… in Ohio…


Well, unfortunately, Montana doesn't work that way! Here it's colder, drier, windier, darker, higher, and less lush, basically, there is a small window of time when they pop, and every year has its own agenda.


Blooming lilacs are a good indication of morel season, though we usually base their activities on how soon the oysters appear, and that varies a lot. I've seen lilacs almost flower only to be refrozen in late May, and where does that leave the morels then?


It turns out mushrooms are quite resilient, and although they love some warm and wet conditions, you'd be surprised what the perfect sheltered sunny location can produce. Snow-capped morels and oysters aren't completely uncommon here, where the morning hours can leave you scraping your windshield, and the afternoon can be shorts weather. With mushrooms popping up and growing to maturity in what may seem the blink of an eye, that time frame is perfect!


Western Montana river bottom on a mushroom hunting trip.
Western Montana river bottom on a mushroom hunting trip. Oysters and morels are great springtime finds in this type of environment!


Elevation, Water, Weather


I like to check out mushroom forums to find out by who and where a stash was found. The elevation is a key point to post as we won't give away the location, duh! While this is super helpful, and a great indicator, know your area. Anything posted in Washington state at 4000ft. is going to be a vastly different environment than Montana at 4000ft. Sometimes they won't pop here for weeks at what should be the same place. Flathead area almost always has mushrooms first due to the water, even if they are at a higher elevation than you. Simply put, start low, if you find them there, at some point they'll go higher!


A water source is the most important, finding a wetter than the normal area is helpful, though not always necessary. Creek banks and bottoms are good places to scavenge but remember, if there are snowy mountain peaks nearby, that melting runoff can provide the ground environment with the same consistency as any temporary pond.


Weather can be your water source too, rain or snow, but keep in mind the ground has to heat for proper incubation. You'll know it if you go on regular walks or watch the critter movement through your backyard. You'll notice some baby deer tracks in the mud, the calves playing and the birds singing. Right about when you feel you could go without that extra winter coat layer, that's when you know the mushrooms are coming!


Oyster mushrooms in Montana
Terrible lighting on a freshly picked oyster mushroom. In Montana, look for them directly on the ground or off a deciduous tree trunk, shown in photo. Pick the good ones without holes, they grow more within days. These are fresh, ready to be pulled and eaten for dinner!


Oysters


Also, if you find one cluster, look for more, they are most likely close by. Oysters, or stumpies as some refer to them as, are quite easy to grow (as far as mushrooms go) because they seed themselves quite readily. Spores simply need to find the perfect host and they will grow under the right conditions. This means that if you find one “stump” of shrooms, look high, look low, look left, look right, there is almost guaranteed to be another cluster close by. Keep in mind too that these can essentially “reseed” themselves every year, meaning that you'll have a decent chance of finding more in the same spot the following spring. (Note* Mushrooms don’t “reseed,” however if you are unfamiliar with how fungi recreate themselves, this is the term we are currently going to use!)


If you are interested in learning how oysters grow, here's a great article on how to sprout them right at home: https://grocycle.com/how-to-grow-oyster-mushrooms/


Keep in mind too that these luscious babies grow in flushes and go buggy pretty quick. (If you notice any tiny holes, assume they are worms before cutting the beauties in half!) If you find wormy oysters, leave them and stick to the fresh guys. Come back in a bit and most likely you'll find some perfectly white pearly ones ready to go within the next few days!




Burn morels


Each year is different and people have a lot of theories and science here to explain the phenomenon, but burns are proven morel grounds! The best part is this changes every year, so it's something of a treasure hunt.


The good news is it is pretty easy to do your own due diligence though in finding burn spots. Look online for burn maps from previous years, or articles on significant fires in your area. You can also go the easy route and call the local forest service and ask about accessible burn areas, whether they are open, and possibly even if there is still snow up there. This isn't really their job besides letting you know where you can and can't go safely, so don't expect them to give you a handout, but usually, they are happy to assist people on info related to their patrol area.


These are usually the first to pop too, by the loads. They do go quickly due to public foraging knowledge, so be ready to get in fast when you can!


Here is a great article on burn morels that will hopefully provide a little more insight and knowledge: https://www.modern-forager.com/all-about-burn-morels/


Bottom Morels


Not sure how you refer to anything other than burn morels, but we like to call these out as bottom of the creek bed dwellers, where the moisture is just enough and the cover is just right for them to pop up under your nose. These guys tend to be lighter in color and we generally find them after the burns start to pop BUT always keep in mind mushrooms have their own agenda, every year circumstances can change. Garden beds and lush wooded areas (deciduous woods) are perfect places to start.


The secret is that, once you get your mushroom eyes on, you’ll notice they pop up just about anywhere that is opportune at the time. Good luck foragers!



Montana morel mushroom in a creek bed
Montana Morel mushrooms in their prime foraging grounds.