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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Few morel mushrooms go undetected with Melissa Nichols (left) and her son, D.J., 13, prowl the hollows in search of the springtime treat. D.J. shows one of about 50 morels the pair found last week in a single hollow near Pineville, Mo.

Four eyes are better than two when the search is on for that elusive spring delicacy, the morel mushroom.

Nary a morel goes undetected when Melissa Nichols and her son, D.J., step quietly along the hillsides of Ozark hollows on the hunt. In short order, their mesh shoulder bags are bulging with morel mushrooms.

Tips for the hunt

Melissa Nichols, lifelong mushroom hunter from Jane. Mo., offers some tips for the hunt.

• Always get permission before mushroom hunting on private land.

• Check regulations on public land to be sure picking mushrooms is allowed.

• Watch out for poison ivy and venomous snakes. Nichols wears snake gaiters when mushroom hunting.

Cook up a feast

To cook a batch of morel mushrooms, Nichols soaks them in cold salt water for 10 minutes, pats them dry and cuts them in half lengthwise. She rolls the mushrooms in a flour and bread crumb mixture, then fries them in butter or oil.

Source: Staff report

"When the dogwoods are out in full bloom, that's the time to be out hunting," said Melissa Nichols, who lives along Little Sugar Creek near Jane, Mo.

She starts looking for the first morels to pop at the end of March. The picking gets hotter and hotter as temperatures warm through April. From now until the first of May is prime mushroom time, she said.

Nichols hits the woods nearly every day in April, and D.J. is along when he's not at school. Nichols has lived in McDonald County, Mo., all her life and knows just about everybody. So she has permission to hunt on friends' land across the rural countryside.

She and D.J. picked a warm, sunny morning last week to hunt in the cleft of a rugged hollow close to downtown Pineville. This day, just shy of D.J.'s 13th birthday, offered perfect conditions for hunting morels.

A good rain fell two days earlier. Warm, sun-splashed days that follow a shower are ideal to go on safari for morels, Nichols coached. The springtime treats are gnome-like in shape. They sport stems the color of coffee with cream and are crowned with a wrinkled cone-shaped top.

The hillsides of hollows where sycamore trees grow are favorite haunts of the mom and son team.

Any novice mushroom hunter will testify that morel mushrooms can be hard to see on the leafy floor of the spring forest. D.J. and his mom have been hunting mushroom all their lives. They're bona fide experts. Finding morels takes practice, D.J. said.

"After you hunt for a long time, you start to see their holey pattern," D.J. noted. "Then you get used to seeing them out of your peripheral vision, and I see one right now actually."

Sure enough, 10 yards away was a big morel the size of a fried chicken drumstick. How he spotted that mushroom far away hidden by leaf litter boggles the mind of a novice hunter.

"After you find one you can find more. If you see one that's like blown its cap, that spreads its spores all around," he said. The tiny spores are the seeds that grow more mushrooms.

When Nichols picks a mushroom, she pinches it off at the base, then shakes the mushroom to release spores, like shaking a pepper shaker. Or she'll tap the mushroom on a tree trunk or blow on it. Carrying their mushrooms in mesh bags lets spores fall as they hunt.

"If you see one that's old and dried up, there's probably going to be more mushrooms around," D.J. added.

In an hour of combing the medium-sized hollow, mom and son sacked up about 50 morel mushrooms. That's a fine haul, and an indicator that mushroom season is going strong across the Ozarks.

Richard Bowen of Rogers, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer, said some of his co-workers are having a banner morel season and are sharing the bounty around the office, passing out bags of morel mushrooms.

It's the same tune at the Arkansas Forestry Commission office in Fayetteville. Kevin Hickie, county forester, said his co-workers have enjoyed good mushroom hunting. "They've found them," he said, "I don't know how long it will last."

Mushrooms are one kind of hunting where there's no license needed and there's no limit.

Sports on 04/23/2019

Print Headline: Seeking morel ground

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