“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!
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!
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!
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/
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!
Essential Gear for Mushroom Hunting in Montana: Don't Forget Your Boots!
Foraging for mushrooms in Montana can be a fun and rewarding activity, but it's important to have the right gear to stay safe and comfortable while out in the wilderness.
Boots are perhaps the most important piece of gear for mushroom hunting. You'll want a pair that is sturdy, waterproof, and comfortable for long hikes in the woods. Look for boots with a thick, non-slip sole that will provide good traction on uneven terrain. Gaiters can also be helpful to keep debris out of your boots and protect your ankles from scratches and bites.
In addition to boots, you'll also want to consider the following gear:
A basket or mesh bag for collecting mushrooms: Avoid using plastic bags, which can cause the mushrooms to sweat and spoil.
A mushroom knife: This specialized knife has a curved blade for easy cutting and a brush on the handle for cleaning off dirt and debris.
A field guide or app for mushroom identification: It's important to be able to properly identify mushrooms before eating them. Look for a guide or app specific to the mushrooms you'll be hunting, as there are many lookalike species that can be dangerous.
Clothing appropriate for the weather: Dress in layers and bring rain gear if there's a chance of precipitation. Avoid cotton clothing, which can hold moisture and make you cold and uncomfortable.
Navigation tools: Bring a map and compass, or use a GPS device or smartphone app to navigate through the woods.
Snacks and water: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to keep you fueled on long hikes.
First aid kit: Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and insect bites with a basic first aid kit.
It's important to remember that mushroom hunting can be dangerous if proper precautions aren't taken. Never eat a mushroom unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. Avoid areas where pesticides have been used, and be mindful of wildlife and other potential hazards in the woods.