National Wildlife Refuge System

Join the Hunt for Morels At Several National Wildlife Refuges

Credit: USFWS


Timing is everything, enthusiasts say, when stalking the wild morel. When the first spring rains dampen the forest floor, that’s the signal to join other boot-clad, basket-carrying fungiphiles in search of the edible spring mushroom. Among the best places to find the elusive delicacy: some national wildlife refuges, particularly in the Midwest.

“You have to get the weather right,” says Charlie Marshall, park ranger at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, where mushroom-hunting season typically runs five to six weeks in April and May. “If you miss the window, the forest understory is too great and you can’t find them.”

Morels, the fruiting bodies of a below-ground fungus, are among the few fruits visitors can pick on selected refuges. No permit or registration is required.

Mushrooms, it turns out, are important indicators of a vibrant forest, says Greg Corace, a forester at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan, open to morel hunters in early spring.  

For many, the morel’s reputation as finicky and notoriously hard to spot just sweetens the chase.

Rod Hansen, a law enforcement officer at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, picked up morel-hunting fever from his grandparents. Now he scours the woods each spring for the hollow, cone-shaped, spongy-looking mushroom, which can range from an inch to four inches in diameter. “The problem around here is the deer will get them before they get too big,” he says. “I’ve had many times when I’ve come home with absolutely nothing. Then two years ago my two daughters and I brought home the equivalent of two five-gallon bucketsful.”  DeSoto typically welcomes morel hunters from mid April to the end of May.

Refuges ask visitors to pick in a conservation-conscious manner, gathering morels in a mesh or porous bag or basket, for example, so loose spores will re-seed refuge land. Some refuges, such as DeSoto in Iowa and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, also limit mushroom-hunting to designated areas to protect wildlife habitat or to ensure public safety. Squaw Creek Refuge limits morel hunting to hills and bluffs to protect eagles and other birds nesting in its bottomland and marshes.

Mingo Refuge usually allows mushroom hunting from early March to mid September. Visitors can collect up to one gallon per day for personal use from designated areas. 

Throughout the Refuge System, restricted areas are well marked. Morel hunters who disregard posted limits are subject to fines of up to $100,000 or 12 months in prison for trespassing and illegal take. All mushrooms picked are also forfeit. 

Refuges advise caution in collecting wild mushrooms because some are poisonous. To avoid mistakes in mushroom identification, here is some advice on basic mushrooming.

Here’s Hansen’s favorite morel recipe:
Clean morels; dip in beaten egg, then in flour and seasoning; deep fat fry or sauté battered morels.

─ FWS ─


Last updated: December 10, 2013