Mushroom Hunting: Dangers in the Woods

By Tom Nauman

It usually happens once every spring. I think it skipped the '98 season or maybe I was just too busy to notice. In '97 it occurred in East Galesburg (might have been '96) I'm not keeping track other than to note it with a mental "Hmmm" when I see the headline. And why it happens to mushroom hunters more than deer or turkey or whatever hunters is a mystery to me also. Maybe its because mushroom hunters move around more and cover more ground than hunters of other prey. Or, maybe the mushrooms themselves are found in remote places where this occurrence is likely to happen.

The headline will read something similar to "Mushroom Hunter Finds Body In Woods". Now I'm not sure about you, but finding a body in the woods would certainly ruin my day. And, I'd probably have to tell all kinds of people where that particular mushroom patch was. Although I don't think I would pick there anymore anyway.

If you discover a body in the woods, your reactions may hinder or help law enforcement in their investigation. Common sense would dictate that you disturb nothing at the scene. If you 'shroom with all the bells and whistles, use your cell phone to give the authorities your GPS coordinates and wait for them to arrive. If you don't use the more advanced scientific instruments available today, you're going to have to be able to lead the authorities back to the scene after you've left itto contact them. Try to remember landmarks, note the travel time etc. and anything else that may be useful. I wouldn't suggest leaving a mushroom crumb trail because that would just bring other mushroomers there before the authorities.

There will be other new dangers in the woods for 'shroomers and other hunters this coming spring that you may not be aware of. I didn't save the article from the Des Moines Register, but apparently amateur hour is here for illegal drug manufacture. "Meth" or "Crank" labs are a major concern across the nation. The problem for law enforcement personnel is that these labs are relatively small and can be located in garages, kitchens, rental storage units, cars, vans, and even out in the woods. And a lot of "cooks" (people that make the drugs) that don't create the drug in the woods use the woods as a dump to get rid of the toxic chemical by-products of drug manufacturing.

"It's Meth-matics" said Craig Peterson, special-agent-in-charge of the regional office of the Idaho Criminal Investigation Bureau. Home chemists, or "cooks," can follow any of several different "recipes" in their quest for a cheap high. All are dangerous and leave behind a toxic mix of residues. The chemical waste and ingredients can be flammable and emit airborne poisons. They can cause skin burns, cancer, respiratory failure or death, according to a training manual from the Clandestine Laboratory Investigators Association. And unfortunately, environmental regulations aside, "crankers" don't seem to care where they dump the stuff.

In related news, the state of Missouri has just lowered the amount of drug in one's possession necessary to constitute a felony. So, the home chemists are moving across the Mississippi and setting up labs in Illinois because of lesser penalties. My advice is to make note of (at a distance) and report anything that looks like more than just where someone dumped the garbage. For those of you that thought snakes and spiders were the only dangers in the woods, I'm sorry to burst your bubble.

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