“Wait, you’re the mushroom guy?”
“Well, I’m no expert, but I know just enough to get me into trouble.”
“Would you mind taking a look at a few specimens I found?”
This how my conversation went when I talked to a particularly unique hiker. When he found out I know something about mushrooms, he wanted to learn as much as possible. I don’t blame him, either (especially because I was the same way when I first started learning about mushrooms!). In fact, I can’t help but get a bit of satisfaction knowing that I am teaching others about one of my passions and getting them interested too.
During our discussion, the man went out to his car and brought in a few specimens. As the conversation went on, he told me a bit of his history. He and his parents went hunting for morels like most other hunters in my area, which really inspired his love for the fungi kingdom. He told me he used to be an “outdoors-y” person and would go hunting often, but can’t do that much anymore. Instead, he told me, he now forages for mushrooms.
“I prefer mushroom hunting over actual hunting,” he said. “It’s much more fun.”
I pondered that statement for a long while after we finished our conversation. Here was a man who saw two ways to hunt in the woods and preferred one over the other. Why? The more I thought, the more the answer became apparent…
First of all, hunting has a complicated set of rules/procedures and is expensive (obtaining tags, weapon upkeep, ammunition, etc.) while mushroom foraging is relatively simple and inexpensive. Once a person knows which mushrooms are safe to consume and where/when they grow, it is only a matter of finding a place to harvest them.
Next, hunting requires a lot of patience, which is a rare commodity in our era of instant gratification. A hunter may trudge miles while schlepping their gear, just to find the “perfect” spot, and will sit there for hours on end waiting for his/her prey to walk unwittingly into range. That’s not to mention that hunting usually occurs in fall or winter, so those hours are probably going to be brisk. On the other hand, mushroom hunting is the exact opposite. It is an active past time because, last time I checked, mushrooms were not considered mobile. So people who want to forage for mushrooms have to hike and be on the lookout for specimens. In addition, most edible mushrooms grow in the spring, summer, or fall and not in winter. That means mushroom foraging is usually warmer than hunting.
Last, certain groups, like animal rights activists, see hunting as a violent past time. Personally, I find it interesting that people protest the killing of an animal but are perfectly fine when a plant is killed for consumption. Is that due to the fact that a plant won’t audibly cry out when it is destroyed? Do plants have emotions? Can plants feel? Is hunting a violent activity or does it connect us to our ancestors? These questions might be better asked in a laboratory or philosophy class. In any case, nobody cries foul when a plant or fungus is picked for consumption.
Is mushroom foraging better than hunting? Although there are pros and cons to each past time, I don’t think one is better than the other. I think it’s more important that people are finding different ways to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. And for that, I am glad. Until next time, happy hunting or foraging (whichever you prefer)!