By Spencer Neuharth
Venison isn’t the only treat when it comes to chasing whitetails, and some years I put more food on the table while scouting than actually hunting. In the spring, I’ll pick asparagus while walking for sheds. In the summer, I’ll fill my backpack with mulberries while hanging stands. And in the fall, I’ll snag a handful of wild plums while checking cameras. The best foraging isn’t fruits or vegetables though, it’s fungus.
Mushroom hunting has become one of my favorite hobbies and mushrooms have become one of my favorite foods. The hunts are challenging, but the reward is an exotic looking, earthy tasting specimen that can’t be replicated by any grocery store.
I got my start mushroom hunting while doing deer chores in the offseason. I’d constantly encounter different mushrooms in the woods and gave in to my curiosity by purchasing A Field Guide to Mushrooms. This detailed book gave me the start I needed to double my whitetail outings as mushroom outings.
And if you’re a hardcore whitetail hunter, you should try to do the same. Even if you don’t appreciate the taste of fresh fungus, your landowner or bank account likely will.
The king of spring mushrooms is the morel. This brainy looking creature is the most sought after mushroom in North America, and their hefty bounty shows it. Depending on the market, a seller can expect to get anywhere from $15-50/lb. for fresh morels.
If you elect to keep them for yourself, you won’t be disappointed. Their taste is indescribable, but I’d say it lies somewhere between nutty and meaty, with a texture that can only be labeled as mushroomy.
Morels start to grow in early spring and will continue to pop up until June if the conditions are right. Early season morel hunting is best focused on sandier soil in river bottoms, and as the season progresses it’s best to move to higher ground and more shaded areas.
Other common springtime mushrooms are the pheasant’s back, mica cap and turkey tail.
While finding choice edibles in the summer months is harder, there is one mushroom that can take the heat: the shaggy mane. Shaggy manes are notorious for the obnoxious places they grow. They do well in disturbed areas, like ditches, parks, bike trails and game trails. They’re also easy to identify due to the giant cream colored clusters that they grow in.
If you find a patch, then you’ll need to act quickly. These mushrooms only stick around for a very short period of time before “inking” and turning to black mush. Don’t worry though, they can be found almost all summer long after a good shot of rain.
While these mushrooms taste great, they can be tough to work with in the kitchen. They’re very delicate and have a short shelf life. That said, shaggy manes should always be handled with care and eaten within 24 hours. Because of this culinary challenge, they don’t have much of a seller’s market.
Other common summertime mushrooms are the chantrelle and oyster.
One of the most flamboyant sights in fall is a chicken of the woods mushroom. These bright orange and yellow fungi are named after their rooster-like colors and chicken-like taste. Joining them is the hen of the woods mushroom, which is similar in size and taste, but lacks the bright coloration of their cousins.
Chicken of the woods and hen of the woods grow on trees, but I have my best luck on ones that have already fallen. Both species will grab your attention: chicken of the woods because of their colors and hen of the woods because of their huge clusters.
Both of these mushrooms are considered choice edibles because of their great texture and taste. I like to prepare them the same way I would with any piece of poultry, whether it’s hidden in a stir-fry or stands out in a pasta. If you don’t enjoy them, then find a market that sells to deer hunting’s number one fans: the vegans. Vegans love these mushrooms because they’re the closest thing that they can get to eating real chicken. Online sellers regularly get $15-30/lb. for these treats.
Other common falltime mushrooms are the giant puffball and lobster mushroom.
Notes for All Mushroom Hunters
- Never eat something if you’re unsure of its identity. A lot of mushrooms have imposters that are considered toxic with a wide range of side effects, from an upset stomach to liver failure.
- If trying a new type of mushroom, consume with moderation. Different people react differently to different mushrooms.
- If trying a new type of mushroom, don’t eat with alcohol. Some people report certain mushrooms don’t agree with them when eaten with beer.
- Check your state’s laws before picking or selling mushrooms. Some areas don’t allow mushroom hunting, while others don’t allow mushroom sales.
- Never pick a whole mushroom. It’s best to carry a pocket knife or scissors with you to cut around the stem of a mushroom so that it can grow again next year.
– Spencer Neuharth