I learned to mushroom hunt in the mountains of New Mexico. I was taught by my Search & Rescue friends, on trainings high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where Porcini (Boletus Edulis) is plentiful at altitudes above 10,500 feet. Chanterelles are rare and their flavor concentrated, a reflection of the moisture available in the fall in the Southwest. To find a handful of Cantharellus cibarius, each one no bigger than your thumb is a true gift. Not so in the Cascade range of the Pacific Northwest, where you can stumble upon a carpet of chanterelles so thick you can’t help but step on them. And some are as big as your outstretched hand.
If you arent’ going hunting with me or Phil, go with someone who knows, at least for your first couple of outings. After that, you’ll catch the bug, and you will never walk the same way in the woods again, always scanning the ground for some kind of fungus, edible or otherwise. Get a book, take it along with you on your hikes, and take time to identify each and every feature of any mushroom you may pick up. This is the way to learn. Don’t ever put a mushroom in your bag or basket if you’re not 100 percent sure that you have identified it as edible. Many species can kill you, and often they look incredibly similar to choice edible mushrooms. We’re talking neuro-toxin – not simply a case of gastorintestinal distress.
Here in the Northwest, when going out foraging, don’t forget, it’s hunting season, so you all need to wear orange! Rainproof gear is essential, but it should be bright colored, and it will get dirty. I went to Goodwill and bought a jacket specifically for shrooming – it’s Red. You could also wear a brightly colored orange vest over your rain gear. Wear a red or orange hat. Seriously, you will be get over looking so ridiculous when you hear your first shotgun blast just over the hill from where you are mushrooming. Waterproof pants are key as well – In the Northwest it’s almost always really wet out there, even when it isn’t raining. They don’t need to be orange. We don’t walk far, but it is mildly strenuous stepping over downed trees and branches. Sorels or Wellies work fine for footwear.
Important – do not wear cotton! As we say in Search & Rescue, “Cotton kills.” Silk, Capilene, polyester pile and wool are your alternatives. Pile keeps 90% of its insulation ability when soaking wet. Wool keeps 40%. Wet Cotton instead saps heat from your body. When it’s 50 degrees out or colder, you would be better off naked than wearing a wet cotton T-shirt.
You should each bring a little back pack or fannie pack into which you can put extra warm clothes, a pint of water, and a flashlight (friends/couples can share a pack). Bring a pocket knife and a short brush, like a 1-inch pastry brush or short bristled paintbrush for brushing off the dirt and pine needles from your chanterelles. It helps if your brush has a lanyard, which you can attach to your belt or zipper or backpack strap. Of course, bring a basket or cloth bag for your mushrooms – in fact, several bags for putting different mushrooms in, should you get lucky and find something other than a chanterelle, like a chicken-of-the-woods or cauliflower mushroom. Good mushroom hunting practice says keep different mushrooms in different bags. If you prefer a basket (as I do), you should bring a dishcloth which you can place over the opening so your basket doesn’t get full of pine needles.
Phil and I always keep a mental note of which way the car is parked, and actually carry compasses and refer to them often, just to keep our bearings. If you have a compass or GPS, bring it. You could carry a whistle if your voice doesn’t carry far. Phil and I generally stay within voice range of one another, and call out often to keep track of where each of us are. It also helps to drive would-be hunters out of your area! If they hear a bunch of people calling out, they will move quickly to another area where there aren’t scads of people scaring their deer away.
And then there is the end to the hunt, where you gather at the car, marvel at the bounty that you have all collected, and drink wine and eat cheese and charcuterie. Always bring simple appetizers and a bottle of wine along for after the hunt!