Local hunters of the wild morel

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Ian Gronau | June 1, 2014

DELAVAN -- There is a humble fungus, both delicious and elusive, that goes by many names -- dryland fish, hickory chickens, molly moochers, sponge mushrooms or honeycomb mushrooms -- but here in Wisconsin we just call them morels.

Hunting the ephemeral, brainlike mushroom has been a regular practice among humans throughout history, and every year hundreds of foragers head out to partake in the time-honored tradition.

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Jim Cheadle of Beloit, who writes the Scales and Tails column for the Walworth County Sunday, has been on the hunt for the better part of 50 years.

For him, the reason for the hunt is simple.

"After being locked in most of the winter, finally getting to go outside is great," Cheadle said. "You get to see all the wildflowers pop up. You come across a lot of young animals, and it's just nice to take a hike. How can you be an outdoorsy person here in Wisconsin and not be a morel hunter?"

Catching the season

Local morel hunters agree that although this season started late because of lingering cool temperatures, it is on its way out quickly. This year it began in early May. Even though it's different every year, a lot of hunters use their own rules of thumb to know when to start.

"There are a lot of old wives' tales about what to look for to gauge when the season starts," Cheadle said. "Some say, when the leaves on the trees are as big as a cat's ears... Or some say start on Mother's Day. One that is actually kind of true in my experience is to start when the lilacs start to bloom. If you wait too long, the ground vegetation starts to overgrow the morels, and they become hard to find."

Another hunter, Leroy Moyer of Delavan, also has a few pointers gleaned from more than 40 years on the hunt.

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