Puffballs – a Bonus to a Ruffed Grouse Outing

A Woodland Prize – a softball-sized puffball

I thought it would be a deal she couldn’t refuse.

On a September weekend of camping, fishing and grouse hunting, I suggested to my wife, “Why don’t you come along with your mushroom field guide and pick mushrooms while Flicka and I look for grouse?”

After the soaking rains of early September followed by relatively mild and sunny weather there has been an explosion of mushrooms in the mountain woodlands. They’re growing on stumps or emerging from decomposing leaf litter in the aspen thickets. I’m pretty sure a lot of them are edible, though a guideline you ignore at your own risk is to never eat a wild mushroom unless you’re certain about its identity.

My wife has the advantage here. She studied mycology (the study of fungi) as part of her college biology major and understands the scientific lingo when a guidebook discusses the identifying characteristics of mushrooms.

While I though it was a great offer, she still passed it up. Go figure.

So I wander the forest, looking at thousands of mushrooms and wonder about them.

On the other hand there are some mushrooms that are not only edible; they’re easy to identify. In spring and early summer morel mushrooms are treasures when you can find them.

Puffballs are edible mushroom that are easy to find and identify. In fact I often have puffballs growing in my yard, though they’re usually too small—marble-sized—to make picking worth the effort. Usually when I pick them they’re golf ball sized.

On an early October hunt I could hardly believe it when I looked down and spotted a softball-sized puffball. “It’s going to be all mushy,” I told myself, not wanting to get too excited about my find. I gave it a squeeze and it was nice and firm, just the way a good mushroom should be. I added it to my game bag and continued on my way.

While that softball-sized puffball was a prize it’s far from a trophy. I’ve seen them as large as a basketball and they get bigger than that. The trick is getting a large puffball that’s still fit to eat. According to a couple internet sources, when the puffball flesh is soft or looks yellowish or green, it’s no longer edible. In its final phase the puffball flesh dries and if you step on it a puff of powder comes out. Each of those little grains of powder is a spore capable of starting a new puffball. The number of spores in a giant puffball can be trillions. That’s a lot.

Perhaps if I left that puffball where it was, next year the whole hillside might have been covered with puffballs. We’ll never know because after bringing it home we sliced it and fried it in butter. That mushroom is gone.

While the puffball was a treat, it was just a bonus to the outing. Ruffed grouse were the goal of the trip and when Flicka and I finished our hike up and down the hills we had flushed several grouse and gotten two of them.

After we finished the hunt I drove on to the Big Hole River. After a late lunch in the shade of a golden cottonwood tree I rigged up a flyrod and waded up the river. It was mid-afternoon and the main dry fly action of the day was over. One trout came up and looked at my fly and turned away.

A couple minutes later another trout wasn’t so fussy and took the fly. This trout wasn’t a bit happy about being fooled into taking an artificial bug but after a few minutes I was able to bring it to hand long enough to unhook it and send it back to get a little bigger, though to tell the truth a 20-inch brown trout is just fine as it is.

We’d had a real western Montana day. A pleasant walk through the aspens on a golden October day, two ruffed grouse, a giant puffball and a 20-inch brown trout.

I love living here.