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By Ben Scofield
Heartland Hunters Pro Staff

There is a hunting season that most of us don't know about. Some of us do, but still feel that the risk is just too great and the prey too dangerous. OK, OK... with the big picture of a mushroom next to these words- there's no point in belaboring the intro. Yes, we're talking about mushroom hunting!  If you're like 99% of the people who avoid mushroom hunting then it's because you're worried about potentially killing your friends and family. And if you're worried about killing your friends and family, I've got good news for you: Not only are you not a psychopath but you're also in a good position to start  mushroom hunting! Why? Because it's the cocky and unworried folks that get sick (or worse) when it comes to mushroom hunting. There's also another kind of person that should be interested in this article: Those of you that think you don't like mushrooms (more on this later). I'm not about to sit here and tell you that mushroom hunting is perfectly safe. Nobody should do that and if they do, run the other way- fast! What I can tell you is that it is probably safer than you think and that, with just a little learning, you can enjoy at least 3 or 4 wild mushrooms that bloom when many outdoorsmen are out in the woods anyway. I am NO expert in mushroom hunting or mushrooms, not by any stretch of the imagination. But that's good because now you won't take what I say and go do something you shouldn't do.

On not liking mushrooms: It was about 3 years ago that I was sitting at my in-laws house when my father-in-law walked in with a large grocery-store style paper bag. It was about half full with Chanterelle mushrooms- I'd make a 3-year-later-guess at about 6 lbs worth. It was a good year for Chanterelles but I couldn't care less. Why? Were wild mushrooms too dangerous? Nope! I didn't like mushrooms. I had made my mind up about mushrooms based on what came on pizzas, in canned cream of mushroom soups and the occasional bite of portabella that I was forced to try by over-zealous foodies. That seemed like a large enough sampling of something I knew I didn't like and I was satisfied with my conclusion. As I sat around the house disinterested, they gently (and quite simply, I might add) stir fried the mushrooms in butter with some garlic and onions. They brought the first plate out and set it on the table in front of me. They looked oh, so... mushroom-y. While the family around me began snacking on the slimy looking edible, I looked it up on my phone and saw the prices ranging from $25 to $30 per pound. After several of the people around me ooh'd and ahh'd at the taste, I figured: "Why not? It's not like I absolutely HATED mushrooms. I just didn't like them. And at that price tag, I ought to at least see what the fuss is about." The end. That was the end of my not being a big fan of mushrooms. I still never have them on pizza or eat a portabella or buy them at the store. But the wild variety, the kinds that are impossible or too difficult for most to intentionally cultivate- those are a different story! Now, 3 years later, I still dedicate most of my hobby time to hunting and fishing. But I've found there are other hunting seasons that coincide with the time I spend out there in the woods prepping for, and even during, my fall hunting seasons!

So now, as a hunter, I have a very similar routine as the one I had before I started mushroom hunting. I turkey hunt in the spring. I have game cameras that I start to run in the summer along with mineral licks. I do some stand hanging and some lane cutting for my deer stands at different times. I do scouting and maybe some food plot work. And I fish all year round. These are all things that most of you do, but now, I'm walking with my eyes aimed at the ground. If I pass a large distressed oak tree in the fall, I make sure I walk up to it and walk around it. If I see something popping out above the forrest floor made up of dead leaves, I go out of my way to check it out because these routine investigations have netted me some delicious results!

So here is how I'm going to try and tempt you to get into this without giving enough information to get you into trouble. I'm going to tell you about 4 different mushrooms, none of which have deadly "look-alikes" (although a few people would argue this- their definition of 'look-alike' is a little offi if you ask me- they're definitely considered safe by the majority) and only 1 of which has an imposter that could make you sick to your stomach and even that one not all the time. 3 of these are named among a group called the "foolproof four": 4 mushrooms that are so unique that they are considered "foolproof" because they can't be mistaken for other more dangerous mushrooms. I'm going to break these up for you based on the seasons.

Before you read ANY more of this you have to internet-promise one thing: Don't take my word for it. Go to the websites of people much more knowledgeable than I and see what they say. And if it all possible find an experienced mushroom hunter to tag along with. HINT: You'll have an easier time finding someone to go with if you can promise never to harvest from their secret spots. Yes, they are as closely guarded as your favorite fishing honey-hole!

NOTICE- While showing pictures of each mushroom, you'll notice I'm not describing any of them to you and that's not enough information to go off of. Do your homework and you'll be rewarded. You shouldn't get enough information in this article to get the job done. But for the mushrooms mentioned, you won't need much more- honest! It's just better covered in more detail and room than I have.

You're out fishing, preparing for turkey season or you are already turkey hunting. Keep your eye out for the darling of the wild mushroom world... The most famous of all wild mushrooms (at least in the US)... coming in at a price of around $34/lb online and frequently MUCH more than that if bought locally: The Morel! You can typically find Morels in moist woods, river bottoms, or South facing slopes early in the season and then North facing slopes later on. They like elm trees, especially dead ones, and the more 'fresh' the death of the tree, the better. They also like ash and cherry trees. Morels will often regrow in the same spots as years past. Typically appearing in early to late April, but with irregular weather that could span a couple of months in either direction! More here http://goo.gl/pXZxLj

You're fishing, camping, hiking, and doing prep work for deer season. While you're out there, keep your eyes open for some bright colored mushrooms poking through the leaves because it might just be my personal favorite: The Chanterelle (as mentioned above, sold at $25-$30 per pound). Chanterelles grow... well, wherever they want. They associate with trees (so you can leave the fields alone) and they can reocurr in patches in the same area, so go and check last year's spots again. I have heard it said, as well as witnessed myself, that edges are good spots. Think treelines where they meet the gravel or dirt roads or clearings. Mid to late June is a good time to start keeping your eyes on the ground. More Here http://goo.gl/AO7Lz4

It's time to bow hunt! You'll be walking through the woods to and from your stand and hopefully tracking a deer or two. Or maybe you'll be scouting in preparation for rifle season. During this time you'll be looking for a duo of mushrooms: The Maitake (also known as the Hen of the Woods. Around $20/lb.) and the Sulphur Shelf (also known as the Chicken of the woods. Around $15/lb.). The Maitake is known as the Hen of the Woods because it can resemble a hen up against a tree with its feathers ruffled. The pattern for searching these out is the easiest one: Trees! Distressed oak tree stumps, distressed upright oaks, fallen oaks and more frequently distressed oaks of a decent size (but not strictly). I have heard conflicting reports about whether they are found strictly on oaks or not, but that's the only place I've ever found them. In real nature (as opposed to our backyards) there's fewer perfectly healthy oaks than there are distressed oaks so it's not like there's any lack of places to look. The Maitake will grow right at the base of a tree if not just barely removed in my experience, while the Sulphur Shelf can be higher up on the bark itself. These can be found from September to October depending on the climate you're at and how the weather is that particular year. In my neck of the woods (around St. Louis, Missouri) they are typically found in mid to late October. However the person that taught me to find these (and all the other mushrooms mentioned here) has found them as late as the end of November. Some Maitake will also regrow on the same tree as the year before. (The picture above left is of Maitake. To see Sulphur Shelf Click Here) You can find out more here http://goo.gl/IxrtHT and here http://goo.gl/7rxXMz

Well there you have it! I hope I've at least piqued your interest enough to keep your eyes open. Do some reading and study up on these. The next time you're out and think you see one. Carefully harvest it, take it home and search the internet to see if you can positively identify it. Because of the popularity of the above-mentioned mushrooms, information abounds. And since they don't really have what are widely considered as valid "look-alikes" you'll find lots of sites providing you with good information on them. By the way, I've harvested up to around 15-20 lbs of Maitake in 1 year (the image of the mushrooms on the tailgate above is mine, and that was just 1 trip). This mushroom in particular is perfect for dehydrating and rehydrating later with no ill effects on taste (I ate that year's harvest for over a year). You'll also find no shortage of information on how to preserve and cook your bounty!

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