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Mushroom rustlers getting the drop on hungry hunters

n my daily routine, I see enough people to keep up on current events, such as the status of this year's mushroom crop. I would hate to go out in search of the tender delicacy before they are up, but I certainly would not want to wait until it is too late. I know, during any given day, I will hear the latest news about the progress of the morels.

Last week, there were scattered reports of little grays coming up, even though the weather was unusually cold. I would give it a few days.

Before long, I had several sources tell me mushrooms were coming up in abundance. That was my cue. It is not that I am lazy, but if I am going to tromp through the woods getting bit by mosquitoes, scratched by thorn bushes, and bring home a few wood ticks, I want to make it worth my while. Perhaps I am just a little lazy, but like hunting deer or turkey, if I am going to make the effort, I expect a return. It is no fun hunting something that is not there.

My wife and I took the dogs to the farm and started searching our favorite mushroom patch. The dogs could not have been happier. We were hunting again. They were not sure what we were hunting, but that was a minor detail to them.

The afternoon air was cool but calm. Grass has turned green at the edge of the timber and wildflowers are blooming. The moist smell of musty leaves and old logs permeated the woods. To me, it smelled like growing mushrooms.

Much to my surprise, I found the first mushroom of the season. For the first time in our married life, my wife did not find the first one of the year. This had to be a good sign. If there were so many mushrooms around that I could find one first, we would probably have to back the truck up to haul them all away.

Progress was slow. The dogs found several interesting things to hunt including mice, squirrels and rabbits. They were absolutely no good at finding mushrooms no matter how many times I let them smell the first one and told them to fetch.

The sun was beginning to set when my wife informed me she had all the fun she could stand. An hour of hunting the elusive fungi had yielded a total of five mushrooms (one of which was fairly soggy from my encouraging the dogs to smell it). I did see several places where a mushroom stem appeared to be snapped off just above ground level. There were deer tracks nearby. I also saw what appeared to be where a turkey had been scratching and part of a morel remained in the freshly turned soil.

I am convinced we are plagued with mushroom rustlers. They may have feathers or fur, but I do not think we are the only ones hunting for tender new morel mushrooms as soon as they emerge from the ground. There are probably more animals helping themselves than we know. Five mushrooms, one soggy, do not make a meal. It only gives a person a taste of what is to come. The season for hunting mushrooms will continue for a few more weeks but we have to be aware, there may be rustlers out there trying to beat us to the tasty treat.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.