Spring is fast approaching. With the warmer weather, rainfall, and snowmelt comes a treasure from the underground fungal network–morel mushrooms. Each spring, countless mushroom foragers head out into the forest hunting for the fungal delicacy.
Mushroom hunters face stark competition from other foragers, but there might be other competition roaming about the forest.
Many foragers assume deer are to blame but do deer eat morel mushrooms?
In this article, we will consider whether deer or other critters pose a threat to your morel haul, and give some tips for getting to the mushrooms first.
Table of Contents
- Do Deer Eat Morel Mushrooms?
- How to Beat Animals to the Morels: Tips for Morel Hunting
- Final Thoughts
Do Deer Eat Morel Mushrooms?
Deer do eat morel mushrooms, but it’s not their preferred food source. Deer are opportunists when it comes to their diet.
They will eat pretty much any food they stumble upon, sometimes even eating meat. Mushrooms are no exception.
Not all deer eat morels, though. Perhaps more accurately, some deer are much more likely to eat morel mushrooms than others. For example, it seems mule deer are more likely to eat morels than their white-tail cousins.
Deer who live in colder parts of the country are also more likely to eat morels and other mushrooms. In areas where winters are long and snowy, food can be scarce for deer, pushing them to eat whatever food they can.
Even though morels aren’t their favorite food, after a long winter, morels might pop up before other, more favorable browse and forbs.
If you want to learn more about natural fungus food webs, BioWeb has a great resource on all the animals that naturally eat morel mushrooms in the wild.
Why Do Deer Eat Morel Mushrooms?
Deer enjoy morel mushrooms for much the same reason humans enjoy morels. First and foremost, morels are rich in nutrients.
After a long winter relying on fat stores to survive, deer need to consume a varied and nutritious diet to prepare themselves for the fawning season.
Morels are also a great water source for deer. Morels might not seem particularly juicy, but they are actually made of roughly 90% water. Wild animals need water just like we do, and can consume a substantial portion through the foods they eat.
Raw morels are mildly toxic to humans, so you are better off enjoying your morels fried in some butter. Deer don’t seem to have any issues with the fungus’ toxicity and enjoy morels as a tasty snack.
What Other Animals Eat Morel Mushrooms?
Deer will eat morel mushrooms when given the opportunity, but they are not your only competition.
Plenty of other animals also munch on morels, and some enjoy them much more than a doe does. Hogs, bears, raccoons, squirrels, elk, moose, rodents, armadillos, and various insects have all been known to eat morels from time to time.
As well, because many insects eat morel mushrooms, there is also the issue of animals damaging the mushroom while searching for a slug to slurp.
How to Beat Animals to the Morels: Tips for Morel Hunting
The good news is that most animals don’t go searching for morel mushrooms. Usually, animals that enjoy eating morels are more opportunistic and only eat them when they find them.
The bad news is that other humans go hunting for morels, so adding forest critters to the competition can make your search that much more challenging.
Although these rules may not apply to every foraging situation, you may want to look into some methods to avoid other hunters and try those out! By avoiding the riff-raff, you may be able to find a great morel patch.
You can’t really prevent animals from foraging morels, at least not on public land. Perhaps if you have private land, you could build some infrastructure to keep critters out to protect your mushrooms.
Instead, the best way to beat animals to morels is much the same as beating other humans to morels. Here are a few tips to help you with your morel hunt.
Know When To Look For Morels
When foraging for anything, you have to know what you’re looking for, where to find it, and when to go searching. This last point is particularly poignant for mushroom foraging.
Morels have a narrow window of conditions where they can pop and grow. The best time of year to find morels will depend heavily on your location and the recent weather conditions.
Morel season can range from March to September, however in most of the US prime morel season is in April and May.
Morels require very specific soil temperatures and moisture levels to grow. Soil temperatures in the 50s are the sweet spot.
As a rule of thumb, you can use the 40/50/60 rule. Morels grow best when nighttime temperatures are around 40°F with daytime temperatures around 60°F because soil temperatures will be around 50°F.
Morels also grow best when the ground is moist but not flooded. If you have a few days where daytime temps are above 50°F with some fresh rainfall, that usually signals an excellent time to start hunting for morels.
In snowy areas, keep track of snowmelt, since this will cool the soil and may delay the arrival of morels.
As well, if you have a streak of good conditions but see a particularly cold or hot day in the forecast, you’ll want to get out before the temperature flips because the mushroom will die out on hot or cold days.
Know Where To Find Morels
Ask a seasoned morel hunter for the best foraging spots and you’re likely to be met with silence. Finding good morel spots comes with experience, persistence, a keen eye, and knowledge of your local ecosystem.
Typically, morels grow around deciduous trees like elms, ash, oaks, sycamores, or fruit trees. Often they are found growing on dead trees or underwood scraps.
Morels also tend to thrive in areas recently cleared of their tree symbiotes. Areas that have recently been burned or clear-cut can be morel havens.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungal network below. Fungi sprout mushrooms to spread spores for reproduction, so when morels’ symbiotic partners (the trees) have been removed they reach out to search for new homes. Great news for foragers.
Morels often appear first on southern slopes–the warmest side–however, as things warm up, they will pop up anywhere the conditions are right.
If you find one morel, look closely at the surrounding area. Where there is one there will likely be many more.
Go Morel Hunting as Often as Possible
The more time you spend foraging, the better your likelihood of success. This is obvious, but it might just be the factor that makes or breaks your morel search.
Morels can pop up overnight and can grow substantially in just a few days. They can also rot away just as fast.
Persistence is key, especially if you are foraging on public land. In popular areas, weekends see the most traffic for mushroom foragers. If you can get out during the week or while it’s raining, you might be rewarded for your efforts.
This is also one of the best pieces of advice for beating animals to the morels. Deer, squirrels, and raccoons are going to be eating morels all the time. If you want to get to the mushroom before a deer does, you have to be out there when they pop.
Do deer eat morel mushrooms? Yes, if a deer finds a morel, it might eat it.
Are deer the biggest competition for your morel foraging? Probably not. Deer don’t usually seek out morels, and often you can still find morels along deer paths.
Humans pose a much greater threat to your morel haul. To stay ahead of the pack, get out often, do your research, and stay persistent!