By Tom Nauman
I hunted mushrooms in five different states this spring (1999). I was also in contact with literally hundreds of morel hunters from at least 20 states and a few foreign countries via the internet. I've come to the conclusion that the best hunting was right here in Central Illinois. I couldn't publish that information during the season because my neighbors wouldn't have appreciated the influx of tourists. They probably already think Vicky and I are crazy for hosting the state morel hunting championship.
On at least four occasions I was among a group of family or friends that found at least seven pounds. And for those of you that give up early, our best day was Mother's Day, May 9 -- 17 pounds! The Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Champion, Darrell Cox found 120 morels in the two hour time limit. This was by far the best "catch" of any of the timed competitions.
Southern Illinois' season started out strong, but 36 hours of downpour followed by a cold snap seriously slowed morel production. The "Morel Heaven" Weekends at the Trail of Tears Lodge and Sports Resort hosted by author Larry Lonik did make the CBS Sunday Morning News on May 9. I can't recall morel mushrooms being the topic of a major network newscast before, but I found it very entertaining. Several of the competitors at the Mid-America Festival found more than one hundred with the top being 155 for the 7 hour competition.
I didn't get official results from the Mansfield, Indiana Festival. I think the consensus was a less than good year. However, we saw thousands of mushrooms surface for the auctions, so maybe it was a better season than I was being led to believe.
The State of Minnesota held its first Mushroom Championship in Elba this year. And, although it got off to a slow start this year, it promises to be a major event in years to come. The winner found 18 mushrooms due to a cold spell that kept the mushrooms underground. My highlight of the event was my son, Josh, winning Non-Resident Champion.
A day near Janesville, Wisconsin netted us more exercise than mushrooms. But then, I need exercise more than anything.
The National Championship held at Boyne City, Michigan was a victim of the weather for the second straight year. Last year we found ourselves hunting mushrooms in 95 degrees. This year the temperature was okay but there was a serious lack of rainfall combined with no snow cover over winter. Mushrooms were few and far between. Charles Richmond of Ohio managed to find 18 to become The 1999 National Grand Champion Morel Mushroom Hunter. Yours truly got skunked for the very first time at the National, but I had a lot of company. One bad year is rare for them and they've had two bad years in a row. I may seem like a Cub fan but, "Wait 'til next year"!
Back in Central Illinois, congratulations go to the annual Schooner's Pub big mushroom contest winner Donald Ball of Cuba, IL who found his 21.4 oz. trophy on May 17 while mowing. At the Nauman household Vicky does the mowing because I'm to busy mushroom hunting in the spring. Maybe Vicky is tending the yard because she knows that three of the past six winners have found their big mushrooms while mowing.
For those of you that are interested, Schooner's has some special rules. I'll publish those for you before next spring.
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.