For the past 50 years, one of the fringe benefits of the spring turkey hunting season in Missouri has been finding morel mushrooms.

For the past 50 years, one of the fringe benefits of the spring turkey hunting season in Missouri has been finding morel mushrooms.

Ever since the first modern turkey season opened back in 1960, turkeys and morels have gone together. The golden morels start to pop up in the turkey woods when the ground is moist and the weather is warm. Morels provide excellent table fare and have attracted quite a following that is growing.

Each spring, Missourians take to the woods in search of the tasty fungi. The trick is to find them before others do. Veteran morel hunters will tell you that there is nothing worse than finding a bunch of stems where some other hunter has beaten you to them.

Last year, turkey hunters got a jump on others in their search for morels. While scouting for turkeys, some hunters found morels. Ben Harper of Jefferson City is an example. Harper found his first morels of the season while scouting for turkeys in Henry County.

Donna White found turkeys and morels in the same spot several years ago while hunting in Cedar County. She was hunting turkeys when she stumbled into a large patch of morels along a small creek. She didn’t have a sack to put the mushrooms in, so she took off her face mask and filled it with morels.

As she was picking the mushrooms, she heard a turkey gobble not too far away. Emptying the mask with the morels, she made a hen call while sitting at the base of a big oak tree. She watched as a big tom walked within gun range and then dropped the big bird.

Donna wasn’t ready to leave the woods, there were still morels to pick. The morels had popped up throughout the woods the previous day when the sun was out after a warm rain. Later she came walking up the path with a face mask full of morels, a tom turkey over her shoulder and a big smile on her face. It can’t get much better than that.

One of my better days of turkey hunting is still hard to believe. Early opening morning, right at legal shooting time, a pair of hens sailed out of a nearby roost and began feeding. A few minutes later, a big tom dropped out of its roost, heading in the direction of the hens.

I raised up and fired, and the tom dropped about 30 yards out. When I went over to pick him up, I was pleasantly surprised to see he had landed in a patch of morels. In less than an hour into the season, I had my tom and a nice bunch of morels. I decided it was time to spend the rest of the day crappie fishing. With that kind of opening day luck, I was sure to catch a limit of crappie.

Each year is different. Recently, we found our first big bunch of morels and have been catching limits of crappie for several weeks. On opening day, a tom was talking and, moving within 80 yards of him, I thought it would be a great start of the 2011 spring season.

However, as turkey hunters will tell you, the best made plans often go awry, which it did Monday morning. When the big bird flew down from its roost, I thought, “Here he comes.” But he headed in the wrong direction, and in a few minutes a shot rang out and another hunter had his bird.

However, on the next day, my son, Kevin, who lives in Independence, hit the woods. After about an hour after legal shooting time, a 23-pound tom answered my call and made a fatal mistake by coming within 30 yards of my decoy. When I picked the big bird up, I spotted a pair of morels and proceeded to fill my mesh bag with those tasty fungi.

That afternoon we hit the lake and caught lots of crappie, bass, walleye and even a 5-pound channel catfish. Days like that remind me why April is my favorite month of the year.

Finding a bunch of morels and bagging my bird softened the blow of not getting my turkey on opening day.