The hunt for morel mushrooms

May 26, 2008

by Chris Schultz

The well-seasoned morel mushroom hunters out there have always said the best time to hunt for morels is when the lilacs are blooming and guess what, the lilacs are blooming.

That’s right, now is the best and pretty much the only time of the year to get out there in search of morels.

Morels can typically be found in low, wet, heavily wooded areas.

Old cow pastures with a few dead trees, specifically elms, are the best places to find morels, and if you find one, you’re likely to find more.

In some cases, you may even find the mother load, which can add up to garbage bags full.

It’s also common for those areas to produce morels for several years in-a-row.

Ten to 15 years ago, I had several hot spots for morels. Then, over the course of about five years, all those good spots basically dried up, and I’ve blanked on morels ever since.

The only good year since was just a few years ago when Charlotte Ehrke of Lester Prairie was gracious enough to share some of her morels with me.

They were great and only fueled my passion to keep on hunting for the delicious little things.

In this week’s column, I’ve included a photo of a dried morel I harvested with my dad in a woods just south of Waverly when I was 15, way back in 1982. My dad passed away in 2003, so that mushroom carries quite a few memories for me.

Although the hundreds we harvested that year out in that woods tasted great, it’s the memories of the hunt that will last forever.

Get out there and take part in the hunt, even if you don’t find any. The memories made in the outdoors will be well worth the effort.

Watertown Lions BBQ; the sixth installment
From Gary Harding, Watertown Lions

The Watertown Lions invite you to make your way to Highland Park in Watertown July 18 and 19 for the Third Annual Crow River BBQ Challenge.

We have discussed cookers and meat and flavor in past issues, however BBQ just wouldn’t be BBQ without some real wood smoke.

Bottled smoke is for sissies! If you want to be the great pitmaster you told your brother-in-law you were, there are some things you better understand about smoke.

First, there is good smoke and bad smoke. If you cook with good smoke, your meat will taste good, and if you cook with bad smoke, your meat will taste bad.

Seems simple right? It is if you follow some simple rules.

Most important is that your smoke should come from hardwoods, not softwoods.

Examples of common hardwoods used in Minnesota are maple, oak, hickory, as well as some fruit woods such as apple, cherry and peach.

You should never use pine, cedar, elm, green leaves, or old building scraps.

How much wood you use depends entirely on what you’re cooking with and your understanding of how to use it.

Many of the traditional pipe offset cookers can be fired solely by wood logs although most cookers seem to prefer using charcoal as a fire base and adding chunks of wood.

If you’re cooking on a Weber kettle or a gas grill, a smoke pouch made of tinfoil perforated with a fork and filled with water-soaked chips works well.

A new kind of cooker is gaining wide acceptance on the market today and that is a pellet cooker.

Much like a pellet wood stove, the cooker is fueled with pelletized hardwood.

Whatever you choose to cook with, the flavor provided by the wood can be attained with some practice.

Here is a common chart of wood species and the foods they pair with.

• Hickory; the most widely used, is a strong flavor that works well with all pork and beef. If you’re going to use it on chicken or ribs, be gentle.

• Oak; the most common in Minnesota, has a deep flavor and can be mellow if you know your species.

White oak is mellower than red and some will tell you not to use red, but I have tasted some great food done with red oak. Use it on pork or beef and perhaps mix it with another wood.

• Pecan; not common to Minnesota, but you can purchase it and it works very well when a sweeter, milder smoke is called for. Use it with any kind of meat.

• Apple; my wood of choice for ribs and chicken because it imparts a nice golden color to the skin and a sweet taste that compliments them.

Mix it with other woods like maple or hickory for complex flavor.

• Cherry; similar to apple, but deeper in flavor and will add a dark color to your meat.

• Maple; a sweet mellow flavor that you can’t go wrong with on pork and chicken.

• Mesquite; has had a regional popularity in the southwestern US, but I have yet to find any great fans of the strong flavor that smokes at lower temps than most wood.

I recommend a little when grilling at high temps, and forget it for your low and slow.

MN conservation officer tales – May 2008
From the DNR

• I’m going for some fresh air, dear

While checking a group of four fishermen on Lake of the Woods, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer (CO) Robert Gorecki (Baudette) noticed a strong odor of marijuana coming from inside the fish house.

When questioned about this, two of the men produced marijuana and marijuana pipes.

Another man said he was fishing in a portable fish house nearby with his wife, and asked if he could go back there since he did not possess any marijuana, and was only “visiting.”

After issuing citations to the group, Gorecki checked the husband and wife’s fish.

When the discussion returned to the marijuana incident, the wife became quite upset with the husband.

Apparently the husband told his wife that he was “going for some fresh air.”

• A fowl story

CO Mike Shelden (Alexandria) interviewed a man who was observed swerving towards the shoulder of the roadway to run over a Canada goose with his pickup.

The driver said he swerved to run the goose over because, “It’s only a goose.”

He was charged with killing the goose and also must pay restitution.

• Must be a Texas thing

CO Mark Mathy (Cass Lake) followed up on a Turn-In-Poachers call about a person riding in the bed of a pickup truck hunting with an uncased bow.

The officer determined the man was hunting rabbits and squirrel from the pickup with his bow.

The hunter said he often hunts this way in his home state of Texas and was following in the footsteps of his grandfather who holds the record for the largest armadillo taken in Texas with a bow.

• Moral dilemma

An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) operator cited for intentionally riding on a trail in the closed Pillsbury State Forest told CO Jim Tischler (Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area), “You do what you can get away with.”

• Another DWI

CO Matt Frericks (Virginia) responded to the report of an ATV that was stuck in the ditch along Highway 53. People driving by reported the operator of the ATV appeared to have difficulty standing, was at times falling over and had his pants around his ankles.

Frericks arrested the subject for DWI. This was the person’s fourth DWI in 10 years and his driving license had been revoked.

He refused to submit to an alcohol test and was transported to jail.

Frericks was told that the subject was too intoxicated to be jailed so he was taken to a hospital where he is currently being treated for numerous psychiatric conditions.

• No valid reason for such a senseless act

CO Mark Fredin (Aurora) received a TIP call that a deer had been shot through an eye at a local golf course.

Two suspects were interviewed and admitted to shooting the deer with no valid reason other than it was there and they had a gun.

• Since when?

CO Mike Martin (St. Cloud) investigated a large plume of smoke rolling skyward in eastern Stearns County. He found several men standing around a large pile of burning debris.

The pile contained copper wire (plastic coated), empty five-gallon buckets, green treated wood, styrofoam, and other assorted wood and building products.

The owner was unhappy when told to put the fire out and wanted to know since when was he not able burn plastic and green treated products.

A summons was issued for burning prohibited material.

• A gambler of several sorts

While CO Gary Sommers (Walker) was on patrol, a vehicle approached him from behind and started to drive on the shoulder, which was clear of snow.

The car continued along the shoulder and soon overtook Sommers, accelerating as it went by. He activated his emergency lights, but the driver failed to stop.

The car finally started to slow, eventually pulling over.

When asked about his driving conduct the driver said, “I thought you were some dummy driving too slow, besides, the road was too bad to drive on and I could drive faster on the shoulder.”

He was also asked why he had failed to stop when he observed emergency lights, he said, “I thought you were a snow plow.”

Sommers advised the driver that it was illegal to pass on the right.

The driver questioned, “I thought if there was an emergency you could pass on the right.”

When the officer inquired as to what the emergency was, he stated, “I’m on my way to the casino.”

• Out of this work warning to trespassers

CO Don Bozovsky (Hibbing) chuckled after reading a huge “no trespassing” sign on an unoccupied lake home, which read: “Warning, trespassers will be atomized and beamed to Pluto.”

• Which ones do I keep?

CO Alan Peterson (Osage) watched an angler catch bluegills at a rate of nearly one per minute, placing the small ones on the ice and keeping the larger ones in a pail.

On two occasions, the angler left smaller fish on the ice for 20 minutes, the second time pushing them back in the water on the officer’s approach.

The angler said the little ones were interfering with his attempt to catch the bigger ones. He was cited for culling.

• They had dad’s permission

CO Mike Shelden (Alexandria) stopped an ATV being operated on a tar county road by a 10-year-old boy (no helmet and unregistered machine) with his young sister as a passenger.

Their father said they could take the ATV down the road to buy a can of pop.

Shelden called the father to advise him about the danger of having a 10-year-old operate an ATV on a highway without a helmet and the fact this was illegal.

The father said the children could get hit by a car walking down a sidewalk as well.

• Officer defers to Judge Mom

CO Pilot Al Buchert (Grand Rapids) was working ATVs when he saw a rider on and near the shoulder of a county blacktop highway when he should have been in the ditch.

When asked where he should be, the rider replied “At home.”

His mother, now stopped behind the officer’s squad, had been monitoring his progress en route back to their residence, which was a short distance away.

After making sure the laws were understood, the officer deferred the situation to the higher court, Judge Mom.

• Caught at their favorite watering hole

CO Greg Oldakowski (Wadena) received a call about two men illegally spearing rough fish in a river.

Upon arrival, the men and the vehicle were nowhere in sight.

However next door at a “watering hole,” the vehicle was found, with speared fish in a pail, and two spears in the back of the truck. Enforcement action was taken.

• Kayaker lays an egg

CO Marty Stage (Ely) issued a citation to a man with an unregistered kayak that had taken all the eggs from a Canada goose nest.

He was going to eat them for breakfast and that he felt it was okay since “they” were trying to reduce the geese numbers in other areas anyway.

• Smelters enjoy officer’s catch

CO Bret Grundmeier (Hinckley) checked several groups of anglers having luck catching smelt.

He also dealt with other groups nearby that preferred to drink and then toss their empty beer cans and booze bottles into the creek.

The smelters seemed to enjoy watching those people get citations and clean the garbage out of the creek with their smelting dip nets.

• You never know who might be fishing next to you

CO Todd Langevin (Center City) came across an angler without a license. He also did not have any identification and the first two names he gave to the officer were false.

Once the suspect’s real name was given, it turned out he had two felony warrants totaling $13,000 in bail. The suspect was arrested and charged accordingly.

• Officer reported as suspicious person

CO Aaron Kahre (Minnetonka) went to inspect a public waters violation when a lady came out of the house and threatened to call the police for trespassing.

Kahre gave the lady his card and told her she could call the police and to tell them that Kahre was out there.

When the police arrived, they told Kahre he was reported as a suspicious vehicle on the person’s property.

After a little ribbing by the local police, the Kahre was able to conduct his inspection without incident.

Public comments sought on Wright County, wildlife restoration project
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accepting public comments through June 18 on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for the proposed restoration of Pelican Lake, a 4,000-acre designated wildlife management lake in Wright County near Albertville and St. Michael.

Charlotte Cohn, DNR environmental planner, said the EAW describes the environmental effects associated with a proposal by the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife that would reduce high water levels on Pelican Lake, create an outlet weir, construct 23,800 feet of new stream channel, restore a 180-acre wetland, stabilize the lower reaches of Regal Creek and create a velocity fish-tube barrier.

The project is proposed to improve and enhance wildlife management surrounding Pelican Lake and nearby portions of the Regal Creek watershed, according to the EAW which is available to review at the following locations:

• DNR Library, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul
• DNR Central Region Office, 1200 Warner Road, St. Paul
• DNR Fish and Wildlife Area Office, 940 Industrial Drive South, #103, Sauk Rapids
• DNR Area Fisheries Office, 7372 Minnesota Highway 25 SW, Montrose
• Minneapolis Public Library, Government Documents, 2nd Floor, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
• Great River Regional Library, 405 St. Germain St. West, St. Cloud
• Buffalo Public Library, 18 NW Lake Boulevard, Buffalo
• Monticello Public Library, 200 West 6th St., Monticello
• Roy Simms Library at the St. Michael Public Library, Colonial Mall, 403 Central Ave. East, St. Michael

Project construction would occur in phases over six to eight years beginning in 2009 once easements are acquired, project funding obtained and detailed design and construction plans developed.

The EAW will be posted at www.mndnr.gove/input, select Pelican Lake Restoration Project from the Environmental Review list for additional information.

Copies of the EAW are available by calling (651) 259-5101.

Written comments on the EAW are due at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 18.

Comments submitted via regular mail must be sent to Charlotte Cohn, EAW Project Manager, Environmental Policy and Review Unit, Division of Ecological Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, Minn., 55155-4025.

Comments also may be submitted via e-mail to environmental.review@dnr.state.mn.us with the subject line of “Pelican Lake Restoration Project” or via fax at (651) 297-1500.

DNR advises folks to let wildlife remain wild
From the DNR

This is the time of year when young animals are scampering about lawns, roadsides and just about everywhere in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Birds are falling out of their nests and turtles are crossing roads to lay their eggs.

Fawns or wolf pups can be mistaken as abandoned or lost, but in reality the mother is nearby and will soon return.

People should always leave fawns and pups alone unless it can be verified that the mother is dead or the animal is seriously injured, said Carrol Henderson, Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor. The parent is almost always nearby or will return shortly.

Many small animals like rabbits attend to their young just a few minutes a day and intentionally stay away from their young to avoid drawing attention of predators.

If the young are really small and have been removed from the nesting site, return them to the nest as soon as possible, Henderson said.

Birds can be handled the same way. Sometimes nests get crowded as the birds grow, and young birds get crowded out before they are ready to leave.

These birds will usually do fine because they will be fed by their parents on the ground.

Only very young birds without feathers should be picked up and returned to the nest, Henderson said.

Henderson also said people should contain their dogs and keep cats indoors during this time of year.

Rehabilitation of wildlife is intended for the animals to be returned to the wild when they have fully recovered and are capable of surviving on their own.

“Many people do not know what to do when they find an injured or orphaned animal,” said Dan Stark, DNR’s wolf biologist.

“The process is very difficult and intense. Rehabbing wildlife becomes more difficult and complex with larger species. Many animals that become hand raised are not good candidates for release back into the wild,” he said.

Natural processes are often difficult to witness, especially when an animal appears to be suffering, Stark said.

Some wildlife species at a young age naturally have high rates of mortality even when cared for by their parents, but the populations continue to do well despite this mortality.

The best thing for people to do is to call the DNR Information Center or visit the DNR Web site at http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/rehabilitation/rehabers_list.pdf for the telephone number of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Henderson said.

Injured wild animals require skilled care that can only be provided by a DNR permitted wildlife rehabilitator.

For information or help concerning injured or orphaned wildlife, call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 in the Twin Cities area or call toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Minnesota derives great benefit from having healthy, productive forests. What role does logging play in maintaining or improving forest health?

A: Minnesota’s forests are a renewable resource. And the timber industry plays a key role in maintaining and improving forest health.

Generally, loggers harvest mature or over-mature trees, which become increasingly susceptible to a host of insect and disease problems.

Loggers also harvest areas that suffer catastrophic affects from wind, fire, or outbreaks of deadly diseases or insects.

By quickly removing these affected trees and forests, the impacts to adjacent forests are minimized or reduced.

Through well-timed harvests new, vigorous trees and forests are established.

Outdoor notes

• All-Seasons in Delano reports that the walleye fishing has been pretty decent over the past week, and is returning to normal after a pretty slow start.

The fishing has picked up on Buffalo Lake, Deer Lake, and the Crow River.