Mushroom Hunting: Basic Survival Skills

By Tom Nauman

I'm getting some help for this month's posting from outdoor writer Len McDougall from Michigan. Len has written several books on outdoor survival. He is also credited with discovering the first breeding population of timber wolves to live in Michigan's Lower Peninsula in a century. It was on one of the internet's mushroom bulletin boards that someone had posted a negative comment about whether survival skills are necessary in Michigan. Len's reply was, "I hope he never finds himself stuck in the woods in light clothing during a not uncommon forty-degree drop in temperature after sunset. Or caught in a cold mid-summer rain that makes a seventy-degree day feel like fifty to saturated hikers."

The area you mushroom hunt in may not be as rough or as vast as the wilds of Northern Michigan, but Len's advice is good for anyone who ventures off the beaten path. He says there are three must-have items for anyone heading into the woods. They are: a compass (with map), fire starter, and a knife.

Compass: Len says, "No need to be extravagant here. All you really need is to know which direction north lies; the rest is based on that."

One friend never thought of carrying a compass until a dense fog rolled into the Illinois River area near Sparland while he and several others were sitting in their duck blind. Since visibility was too poor to see ducks, it was also impossible to see the shore. Imagine being in a boat blindfolded, now try to find the marina or even the shore!

Once you have a compass, you need to know how to use it. We've had two people, that we know of, get lost on the Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship, both had compasses. You need to use a compass as you head into the woods so you'll know which direction to travel to get out. In other words, if you don't check the compass on a regular basis and then realize that you are lost, it's too late. A compass will tell you which direction north is, but you need to know which direction home is. And then there's the Scout Troop lost in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico with compass and map because the person reading the compass kept holding it too close to his belt buckle. A compass is a magnet and reacts to metal.

Map: According to Len, "Any map is better than none, but a good grid or topographical map from the local Department of Natural Resources Field Station or the USGS will give a more accurate pictorial representation of the surrounding terrain." I must admit that when I hunt mushrooms in Illinois, I usually don't have a map. Well actually I do. But the map is of Northern Michigan. I keep it in the pocket of my mushroom hunting pants.

Fire Starter: Len says, "Begin with an inexpensive butane lighter, backed up by a no-fail fire starter like the Strike Force or Blast Match."

Knife: according to Len, "I wouldn't consider even a day hike without my survival knife. Every animal has cutting, digging, tearing, and stabbing instruments in the form of teeth and claws because those functions are necessary to life in the wild."

Another outdoor survival expert and mushroom hunter I'm going to quote is "Mountain Mel" Deweese. Mel runs a survival school in Colorado. He says, "Whether you're "out there," lost in the wilderness - or in your every-day life, you face enemies and they may not be what you think. Rattle snakes? Bears? Your boss? No! The seven enemies of survival are: fear/anxiety, cold/heat, thirst, boredom/loneliness, fatigue, hunger, and pain/injury."

In the modern world, too many of us are too secure with our space age gadgets such as cell phones, GPS systems, walkie-talkies, etc. You might give some thought to what happens when the batteries run down. Knowledge is a wonderful thing.

You can find Len McDougall on the internet at

He has several books on survival available.

Mountain Mel and information about his survival classes are on the internet at

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. All past articles are available 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,