Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Once they’ve been at it for a few seasons, most mushroom hunters will have amassed a collection of stories recounting their grandest moments in the spring woodlands. Most tales are accounts of big hauls and mother lodes. We’ve struck it big a time or two ourselves, and the ‘big finds’ never fail to provide cherished memories — like the times we’ve stumbled into patches containing more than a hundred jumbo yellows or the day we found more than $450 worth of prime Northeast Iowa morels in a single spot. But one of my favorite recollections is nothing like that. Instead, the story involved a much smaller, though equally memorable, find.
This mushrooming tale actually began as a Clayton County turkey hunt. It was early May and a gentle, all night rain had ended just before daybreak. Ample moisture made for fast and silent travel; perfect conditions that allowed me to get reasonably close to a roosted turkey that had begun gobbling at the first hint of light.
Moving as close as I dared, I took a seat against the trunk of an ancient hardwood, and emitted a series of soft tree yelps. Thinking that he’d been all by himself, the surprised tom immediately responded with a thundering triple gobble. I waited until the light improved a bit, and then yelped again. This time, the turkey answered back with a minute long gobbling tantrum which culminated with the bird coming out of the tree and landing about 40 or 50 yards distant.
When I called again, the tom immediately roared back and headed my way. He soon came into view, snaking his way through the dark maze of hardwoods and across foot high beds of glistening May apples. When the gobbler reached the short side of 25 yards, he paused to light up the timber with another series of leaf shaking gobbles.
For most turkey enthusiasts, this hunt would have been over. But on this particular occasion I was armed with an original Navy Arms muzzle loading shotgun. Equipped with straight tube cylinder bore barrels, and stuffed with # 7 ½ shot and cardboard wadding, the weapon was most effective at ranges of twenty yards or less.
Resisting the urge to call again, I slowly framed the tom between the muzzleloader’s cocked hammers and enjoyed the show. At this distance, the sound of the in-your-face gobbling was nothing short of incredible. Failing to spot the phantom hen, the tom grew increasingly frustrated. After what seemed like hours [probably less than two minutes] the old Long Beard finally began to move forward again. At a distance of twelve paces, I decided that I’d pushed the envelope far enough. I pulled the front trigger and felt the hammer drop. Roaring to life, the double barrel belched fire and shot — instantly filling the woods with an odorous cloud of white smoke. The swarm of pellets found their mark and the gobbler never heard the shot that put him in the bag. Falling forward, the tom thrashed his wings twice, an action that propelled the turkey headlong across the moist forest floor. After that, the bird lay motionless.
Rushing to the kill, I was admired the bird’s perfect fan and iridescent plumage. Sharp dagger-like spurs suggested the gobbler was at least three years old and a true woodland trophy. But what I remember most about that scene was not the dead turkey but something else — an odd grouping of three fresh and beautiful morel mushrooms neatly piled against the top of the gobbler’s head. Inches away from these mushrooms were two more morels, still on their feet.
Exactly what had happened became instantly clear. As the slain tom had plunged forward onto the moist loamy soil, his head had literally bull dozed the trio of mushrooms out of the ground and then pushed the trophies into their current location. The morels were the very first of the season. That morning was the first and last time I’ve ever bagged a mature gobbler and morel mushrooms with the same shot. It remains one of my favorite woodland memories.