Rusty Gates of Alexandria, Missouri, and Jimmy Johnson, of rural Keokuk, Iowa, hunt morels together every spring. On Saturday, May 7, the two friends found and harvested an incredible 131 pounds of the highly-sought mushrooms while walking the woods of Lee County in southeastern Iowa. Johnson has hunted morels since he was a boy and has never found more than 75 pounds in an entire season, which usually lasts about a month.
He told the The Burlington Hawk Eye that the hunt began without any indication that they were in for a once-in-a-lifetime day. Gates and Johnson found just three morels between the two of them in the first hour of the hunt. They kept going—and found a virtual carpet of mushrooms in the woods. “It was just non-stop as we were walking,” Johnson told The Hawk Eye, “We just see four or five here, then take a few steps and see more. It was continuous.” Experienced hunters like Johnson usually key on dead elm trees. An elm with the bark still slipping off the trunk often means morels nearby, and while Johnson and Gates found mushrooms near elms, they found them near maples and white oaks as well, which Johnson noted for future hunts. As they picked and picked and their burden grew, they called Johnson’s son, Trenton, and told him to bring a vehicle to the woods to haul some of the bags of morels home. Johnson and Gates picked for six hours, then went out the next day and found another 44 pounds.
Johnson said they just got lucky, that soil temperatures and moisture conditions just happened to be right for a bumper crop of morels in southeastern Iowa this year. Morels usually come up when daytime temperatures reach the 60s and low 70s, and night time lows get above 40. Conditions on May 7 were ideal with highs around 70, following several days when nighttime lows had been in the mid-40s.
Johnson and Gates divided their huge haul of mushrooms evenly, as they always do. Johnson kept 20 pounds for himself, gave many to family and friends, and sold the last 16 pounds at the going rate of $25 per pound. He plans to spend the $400 on some kind of mushroom hunting gear, but he doesn’t know what it will be yet. If he keeps making finds like this one, he might want to think about saving up for a dump truck.