Safety Tips for Going Mushroom Hunting

The morel looks like a brain on a clean stem.
The morel looks like a brain on a clean stem. | Source

Mushroom Hunting for Morels

Hunting morels is a thrilling hobby, and if you follow these safety tips for going mushroom hunting, it will be a safe one as well. It may seem like just a simple walk in the woods, and it almost always is, but there are a few things that might take you by surprise while you are out on the land.

The first thing that you need to know, before you even attempt to go morel mushroom hunting, is what a morel really looks like. Many people describe this mushroom as something that looks like a brain on a clean, white stem. That's not a bad description, especially if that brain belongs to a cone head.

In fact, morel mushrooms are very clean looking, and do not have black or dark spots on them. There are two primary kinds - grays and yellows. The yellow morels are sort of a tan color and the grays are actually gray. Yellows are bigger than grays, in some cases much bigger, so don't be surprised to harvest a one-inch tall gray and a 5-inch tall yellow in the same trip.

The picture shown here is that of a morel. Notice how it is very clean and almost looks washed. Before long, it will start to have some darker yellow spots as it begins to break down. A slight discoloration is acceptable and can happen in just a few days. Once the mushroom begins to break down and start rotting it is obvious, and it is best left alone since eating quality has been compromised.

Leaves of three, let it be. This poison ivy is a good reason why that saying is true.
Leaves of three, let it be. This poison ivy is a good reason why that saying is true. | Source

Poisonous Weeds Near Mushrooms

One thing that you need to watch out for is weeds that can cause skin reactions like poison ivy or poison oak. Nettles are another concern, thought the effect tends to be for a much shorter duration, and mushrooms generally do not share space with them.

There is an old wise saying that outdoors men and woman have been using for ages - "Leaves of three, let it be". That is, most plants that you don't want to have contact with have 3 leaves. The problem with this saying is that so many plants have 3 leaves, and poison ivy can show up in several forms, from a single stem plant to a vine.

The best way to avoid unwanted contact is to avoid contact with plants on bare skin. Not only do you need to know how to pick mushrooms, you should protect yourself for when you are picking them. You can do this by taking care to follow these steps:

  • wear a long-sleeved shirt
  • bring gloves along in case you want to reach into a weedy area
  • don't touch your face until you wash your hands
  • change clothes when you get home and wash everything, including you

Be careful of the plants that surround mushrooms. Before you reach in to pick it, make sure the neighboring plants are not poisonous.
Be careful of the plants that surround mushrooms. Before you reach in to pick it, make sure the neighboring plants are not poisonous. | Source

Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

Since it is common to hunt mushrooms on public land or with permission of landowners of a place you have not been to before, you need to make sure you know where your car is. The good news is that, today, this is very easy.

If you have a handheld GPS or smartphone it's very simple to mark the coordinates of your car so that you can quickly get back to it at the end of the hunt. While you're at it, you may just want to mark the spot of your mushroom finds along the way so you can check them out again next year. Some spots produce mushrooms over several years, and a pinpoint location will make quick work of the return.

Beyond marking where you entered the woods, a quick study of the area is also a good idea. Check out Google Earth or another mapping program to get a good aerial view of the land so you can predict things like a stream or river. Also, make sure you know where property lines are so that you can respect private property. Most people don't like others on their land without permission, but if those landowners are mushroom hunters, I can guarantee they won't appreciate you harvesting on their land unless they know about it.

Be prepared for animals - both the cute fuzzy ones and the ones that might not be happy to see you.
Be prepared for animals - both the cute fuzzy ones and the ones that might not be happy to see you. | Source

Dangerous Animals in the Woods

Be sure to prepare for wildlife while you are out. One year I was lucky enough to find the two newborn deer pictured above on a hunt. We were near the car but decided to check just one more spot, the exact location of these two babies. They were so young that it was quite a struggle for them to stand, as if it was for the first time. Luckily, I always bring a camera when hunting for morels, and got this shot.

However, there are some other bugs and animals in the woods that might not be so cute and cuddly. Animals like bear or snakes may surprise you. The good news is that any of these will run away by instinct. The bad news is that if they don't you can't do much about it.

There is something you can be very prepared for, however, and that is insects. It's going to be buggy in the forest and it is important to protect yourself from ticks, particularly the deer tick - the primary carrier of lyme disease. The most effective method still seems to be bug spray on long pants. Much is made of ticks dropping from trees onto people, but I wouldn't sweat it. By wearing long pants with spray on them and checking yourself for ticks once you get out of the woods, you should be fine. You should know that ticks love grassy areas, and if you happen to come across a boggy grassland patch, I would avoid it. Not only is it likely to be filled with ticks, a snake is almost certainly around.

Bug bites are one more thing that you can be ready for. A bee sting is the most likely, albeit rare. If anyone in your party has an allergy to bees, make sure you bring along whatever they need just in case. By being prepared, a bite can be treated and the hunt goes on.

Have a Safe Morel Hunting Trip

If you prepare just a bit, you can have a safe and fun morel mushroom hunting trip every time. Remember, to stay safe, follow these tips:

  • know what a morel mushroom looks like
  • cover your arms and legs with clothing
  • be careful of touching unknown plants
  • wash clothes and skin when you are done
  • mark where you parked your car
  • spray your pants to ward off ticks
  • be prepared for a bug bite

Happy hunting!

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