In my last blog post, I addressed where to hunt, and the difference (here in Washington State) between national parks, national forests, state forests, and private land, and the requirements for hunting on each.
In this post I'd like to address the question of WHEN to hunt. Here in the Northwest, there are two times of the year most fruitful for hunting mushrooms: Spring, and Fall.
In the Spring, it's pretty much just about morels. Between April and July, the morels pop out. There are very few morels to be found here in the Western Washington / Puget Sound region. Occasionally they will pop up in "beauty bark" beds in the suburbs; I'm assuming because the ground bark and mulch being offered to homeowners may contain some morel spores. Two years ago I harvested a really nice handful of yellow morels (photo, above left) out of the landscaping of a friend who lives just a few miles from my home. I had heard of others who were doing the same thing, so that set me on miles of walking through nicely landscaped neighborhoods, hoping to spot my elusive prey.
But no such luck! So finally we decided that a better focus of our time and energy in the springtime would be to hunt morels in various burn areas in Eastern Washington. We've had a small bit of luck in the Blewitt Pass region, and also in burn areas near Leavenworth, Washington, as well as in the Wenatchee area and points north (Lake Chelan, Methow, Twisp and Winthrop areas. Fire morels, as they are known (starting with yellows then moving to greys and blacks) have a tendency to appear (no one knows exactly why) in forested areas that have been burned the summer before, or within a few summers before that.
Finding morels in the Northwest (considered by many to be the best-tasting mushrooms on the planet) is primarily a matter of good timing, looking in the right kind of places, and persistence. They can pop up quickly where there were none before. One professional hunter told me he had been hunting an area near Twisp for three days and didn't find any. Finally he got into a spot where he found a few. He returned there the next morning to find more, including a decent-sized fire morel that had popped up in his bootprint!
I have found other mushrooms out there in the spring whilst hunting morels (mostly boletes), but usually not in any kind of good quantities.
My favorite time of year to hunt is the fall (September and October primarily, though the season can start in August and extend into November, and some mushrooms prefer it cooler so they fruit later). In our traditional hunting grounds in the Gifford Pinchot, during the fall, on any given foray we will see dozens and dozens of different varieties of shroom. Most, of course, are simply pretty, and we reward ourselves with photogaphs. A few are also delicious. The primary shrooms we find are Golden (and other) Chanterelles, Lobster Mushrooms, Hen of the Woods and Chicken of the Woods, oysters, angel wings, edible boletes, and my personal favorite, hedgehogs. We've found varieties of edible coral mushrooms, though identifying these is a pain so I don't usually bother. I've also been on the lookout for Lion's Mane and matsutake, but need to branch out to different areas for these, I think.
One of the challenges of hunting in the rainforest is the lack of light, so I recommend starting early in the morning, when the light is best. Clearer days are better than cloudy days, from the standpoint that it is easier to not get lost in the forest when you can see the sun. And also more comfortable if you can stay dry, which is rare here in Washington!
Next in this series we'll cover how to hunt, in terms of how to prepare yourself. Later we'll get into specifics of how to identify the various types of edible mushrooms you'll want to collect rather than simply photograph.