The Passion For Morel Mushroom Hunting
How Hunting For Wild Edible Mushrooms Changed My Life
My name is Alex Babich and I am in love with morel mushroom hunting.
Morels are wild, edible mushrooms that look like sponge but tastes like a rich, nutty filet mignon.
Their undeniable flavor is why every good chef in the world would love to get their hands on a steady supply of freshly harvested morel mushrooms, but yet, very few restaurants can afford it.
What started as a hobby, has turned into a passion and now the word “Passion” is too small to describe this. Could it be obsession? My wife will tell you DEFINITELY YES!! Morel Madness is known to sweep the nation every Spring, where folks of all ages grab a mesh sack, walking stick, compass and a knife and head to the woods to check their favorite ‘honey hole’. Some people just enjoy a walk in the woods to brush off their cabin fever and only have a few spots to check. While others, like myself, take it to the next level and travel with the morel season from the Southern states where they appear first, to the Northern states.
I started mushroom hunting in the forests of Kiev, Ukraine, where I was born and raised. My grandpa taught me the different types of mushrooms and would always remind me that “every mushroom is edible, sometimes only once!” Those words of wisdom have stuck with me to this day and I continue to pass them down to my kids.
After the 1986 devastating nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, my parents started to file paperwork to move to the United States. It took five, long years but we were finally granted permission to leave the USSR. So in 1991, after my parents sold everything they had and invested all their life savings, we came to Fort Wayne, Indiana. We settled nicely into this pleasant, laid back, cozy town, which is quite the opposite of the hectic life style we were used to living in the USSR.
Even though I had hunted many types of mushrooms growing up, I didn’t hear about morel mushrooms until 2001 from a buddy at work. He willingly took me to one of his spots and taught me a few tips about how to find them. That experience quickly reminded me how much I missed mushroom hunting the Russian forests, where it all started.
My first season I only found sixteen morels. Some days I would drive all over the county, hunt in every woods I could locate and only find one or two little morels. I would carefully take those few morels home treating them like gold nuggets. I would slice, rinse and sauté them in butter, sit down in my most comfortable chair and slowly savor every ounce of natures’ wonder. After I tasted my first morel and the flavor exploded onto my taste buds, I knew I was hooked for life. For me, the thrill of hunting for them has always been as enjoyable as their amazing flavor.
I bought a mushroom hiking stick at a festival and wood-burned into the top of the stick… 2001 – 16 morels. The following year I got a little bit better at recognizing where to hunt and my eyes were better trained on how to spot them. I found 78 morels in 2002. In 2003 it was 235. Mother nature really is the best teacher, so I ventured into the woods every chance I got in Spring, eager to learn more.
In 2005, I decided that the two or three week-long season was not good enough as it was much too short for my craving to be filled! That’s when I decided to start hunting in North Carolina, going up through Tennessee, Kentucky and Southern Indiana. It was that year that I found out about the biggest Morel Mushroom Tournament in Illinois. It drew 527 competitors from all over the U.S. I entered and won the Grand Championship by picking 110 morels in two hours’ time in the same woods with 526 other morel maniacs just like me! lol. Two weeks later I entered another Morel Hunting Tournament in Boyne City, Michigan. Out of 250 competitors I respectfully took 3rd place.
I gathered 89 pounds of morels that year by covering seven states. Now I average 100-200 pounds and have secret mushroom hunting spots in sixteen states.
I still use the same stick to hunt with and I still burn the number of my bounty onto my stick at the end of each season.
Thanks to morels I have appeared in a number of different outlets; radio, newspapers, magazines and documentaries; including the Fort Wayne and Chicago news, the Travel Channel and the Midwest Outdoor Radio Talk Show.
Over the course of four years, my wife and I filmed a Morel Mushroom Hunting Documentary. We made it an educational piece, as well as a fun film that every mushroom hunter will want to watch before, during and after the mushroom season!
We also do Morel Mushroom Hunting Seminars at Gander Mountain, Home & Garden Shows and Lake & Cabin Expos. We’ve seen some awfully large crowds for these seminars, which tells us that folks are always willing and excited to learn about any morel mushroom hunting tips they can get.
I also have to say that one of the best things about mushroom hunting, is the people. I meet a great deal of awesome people that share the same passion as I do. In the mushroom community I am known as the Mad Russian. Not because I am “mad” but because I am passionate.
With Spring right around the corner, I am very excited to have my kids out in the woods with me. My six year old daughter already considers herself an expert morel hunter, so my two year son will be learning from the best!
I am a huge advocate of taking kids mushroom hunting to pass on the tradition.. teach them something they will remember you by forever!
Best of luck to you this Spring, just remember- respect the nature, and it will reward you!