Tom Claycomb: Backpacking is the life

I wrote the Backpacking 101 article a couple of weeks ago and it made me want to go backpacking. I had to hurry because hunting season was right around the corner. Dove season hit Sept. 1, I have an Umarex airgun pigeon hunt lined up on Sept. 6 and then Robert Martin and I have to go archery deer and elk hunting right after that. And on top of that I received a call last night from a publisher in Texas wanting to do some December hunts so I’m pretty much booked up until February.

So, it was now or never. My backpacking daughter had just started back to school and her job in school kicked back in, too, so I lost my backpacking buddy for the rest of the year. Plus, on top of that she just got married last month. So, I was on my own.

So I grabbed my pack, loaded it up and took off alone. Unique. I came around a corner at 3:15 and a nice sow and two little fuzz ball cubs were in the middle of the road. I love watching bears. They stood in the middle of the road for a good one to one-and-a-half minutes before they scampered down the road.

They started uphill and I took a few pics. They scattered and dislodged a rock the size of a volleyball that came tumbling down the mountainside. That would have been a unique insurance claim. “Three bears threw a rock through an outdoor writer’s window and knocked him out cold. When he woke up, he discovered they’d eaten all the candy/desserts in his backpack.”

I got to the trailhead, strapped everything on my pack and took off. My knee had been bothering me so I tried to reduce my weight. I guess the pack was two to three pounds lighter than normal but it was still too heavy. I got to the spot where I wanted to throw up my tent, and there was a retired fish biologist named Mark and his wife, Kelly. They were packing out the next morning so I threw up my tent.

I had an interesting talk with them. He confirmed that there is a huge catfish population in the Snake. I’d seen a group of 42 Monday when I was bowfishing with Grinz N Finz. They’re some hardcore backpackers. They’re headed to Arizona next month for a 21-day hike.

I got up the next morning and dipped a coffee pot full of water out of the river, built a fire, slammed down some oatmeal and a few cups of coffee and then headed downstream. Crud, I was a couple of weeks late to pick any huckleberries, which I always enjoy in my morning oatmeal. There was a scant amount of thimbleberries but they were on the downhill slope.

It did surprise me the amount of bear signs that I was seeing. I figured by now they’d of been up higher eating berries. But there were a lot of the orange berries (I don’t have a clue what their name is) and they were hitting them.

Twice I was walking down a trail by a creek and came back by a couple of hours later only to discover a fresh bear sign where I’d just passed. The bears were pretty active but never bothered my camp.

The fishing was tougher than normal. I didn’t catch near as many as normal although I did catch two whopping cutthroats. An 18 incher and a 19 incher. That’s only the third 19-inch cutthroat we‘ve caught there in over 20 years of fishing.

Usually any cutthroat 13 inches and larger are fat, almost like a bass but these were lean. More on this later.

The fish biologist told me that he’d seen quite a few salmon but I didn’t see any on this creek but did see one later in the week on another river.

This turned out to be a super peaceful trip. It sprinkled lightly one night for five to 10 minutes but the weather was great. One day it was slightly overcast for most of the day which cooled things off a bit, so that was nice.

There’s something relaxing about cooking in the late evening over an open fire. I scrimped on food during the day but for supper I went all out and ate some gourmet Mountain House meals. I love their beef stroganoff and chicken and dumplings. Kolby wasn’t there so I ate a raspberry crumble in her memory.

It was a great trip and recharged me before I had to pack out and go jump on a plane and re-enter the rat race. My days in the backcountry came to an end and I soon found myself loading up my pack for the hike out. It’s not a bad hike out but it was hot and I’d soon sucked down my last drop of water. When I got to the trailhead, I whipped out my Aquamira filtered water bottle and sucked down 10 gallons of ice-cold mountain water. It’s a little bit of a pain to suck water through the filter so I squirted it out of the bottle into a coffee cup and slammed it down a cup at a time.

On the way out I passed some Forest Service kids that said they were hiking in until November for a project. After a while I ran into another guy named Brian that turned out to be a fish biologist in the area. I asked him if I could steal some of his time to ask him some questions. He was super gracious and let me ask questions to my heart’s content for a good 15 minutes.

I asked him why the cutthroats were so skinny. He explained that the heat could have been stressing them a little but obviously their food source was lacking. I then asked him why I hadn’t caught any big bull trout. He explained to me their habits. How they have voracious appetites and how much they migrate up and down the rivers. He was very interesting to talk to and I learned a lot.


Last Backpacking article I covered necessary gear but I did test a few new items on this trip that I liked:

— Danner Recurve Moc Toe boots. Lightweight and super comfortable.

— Sierra Designs sleeping bag. Compact/lightweight and yet I didn’t get cool at all which I normally do.

— Klymit pad. Super compact and lightweight.

— Alps Mountaineering Canyon 20L day pack. Only 1 pound, 5 ounces. The perfect day pack.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at

Tom Claycomb: I went fishing … for fishing rods

I went out fishing today by myself and had time to think about some deep topics. I decided, if you really think on it, outdoor writers are useless. They’re like sheep. If one jumps over an imaginary rock, they all do. Here’s what I mean by this. They all preach the same gospel. Nary a one of them has an original idea.

If one of them comes up with a new theory, they all preach the same thing. For instance, if you read any article on elk hunting, they, one and all, say now that we have wolves terrorizing our elk 24/7; they don’t talk as much. Go to any elk calling seminar or read any elk hunting article and they’ll advise you not to call much. It sounds plausible. In fact, it makes a lot of sense. The problem is, IT’S FALSE.

Years ago I was elk hunting and a buddy had a camp and was hunting in the same area. Twice that week one of the guys in his camp was calling elk and a pack of wolves came in and circled him and his young son. So yes, wolves will zero in on elk if they’re talking.

Wolves have definitely made them quieter BUT they still come in when you’re calling, they just might not be talking. I learned this years ago. My old hunting buddy Roger Ross was getting near the end of his hunting career and couldn’t walk much. He’d use a walking stick and set on a three-legged stool.

What was probably our last hunt, we went to where he’d seen a bull. He got on one side of a rise and had me set on the other, about 100 yards apart. I asked him, how long do you want to set here. I figured 15-30 minutes so it surprised me when he said about 1½ hours. I didn’t want to question him so I said okayyy.

We called and called. About 1½ hours later I looked down the mountainside and here came a four-point bull sneaking up to me. He never made a peep. I learned then that yes, they may not talk as much but they’ll still come in. Since then, I call more than ever.

And terminology. If one writer comes up with a new word it suddenly is the buzzword. For instance, I caught most of my fish Saturday in the upper third of the water column. Suddenly everyone is talking about the water column.

So with all of the above said, why can’t there be one creative writer out there in the midst of the 102,325,789 other derelict writers and write on real and timely topics that we’d like/need to hear? This thought is so abstract that I bet that if an outdoor writer reads this column, he’d be shocked!

To prove my point, has anyone ever seen an article about ‘Fishing for Rods?’ Am I the only fisherman that has ever lost a pole in Davy Jones’ locker? No! I was reminded of this today. I ran over to CJ to see if I could catch one last cooler of crappie and perch to tide us over this winter. It was a beautiful day. There was basically no wind, which in and of itself is a medical miracle in Idaho!

Everything was going perfect. Well, maybe not. In the first 2-3 hours I had only caught one crappie. So it was time to try something else. I used jigs, Ratlin’ Traps and bottom bouncers. Nada. So I ran over to a spot where I usually can rack up the trout. Someway while driving the boat, managing my lines and such, the bottom bouncer snagged the bottom and jumped out of the boat like a high diver.

I’m trying to get a visual on where it flipped, fight the wind that had kicked up and get turned around without hanging the other line in the motor as I saw the rod slowly sinking to the bottom.

Which brings up the name of this article. Why haven’t any of these phony outdoor writers ever written an article describing the best way to retrieve a rod that jumped over board? I know I’m not the only one that this has ever happened to.

I figured a Kastmaster should be good to snag the pole. The best I’ve ever been able to figure out is to get a heavy sinking lure with treble hooks and drag along the bottom in hopes of snagging the line or rod.

It wasn’t like the fishing was red hot so I might as well try to snag it for a minute. I decided to upgrade my rods and reels a few years ago so I didn’t particularly want to lose one. But, after a good 15 minutes I decided that maybe I wasn’t that emotionally tied to this particular rod. I’ll try a few more casts.

I was about to give up when I felt something drag a little. I’d hung the line and the Kastmaster ran down to the bottom bouncer. I reeled it up and pulled the line until I got the rod in. I thought hold it, this would be a good article so I whipped out my cell phone and took some pics.

It was a little tough to get anything resembling a decent picture plus then it hit me. If I keep messing around, I’ll probably drop the rod back down and maybe my cell phone. So, the picture you see is the best you’re gonna get!

MORAL TO THE ARTICLE: If a rod flips overboard, try to mark where the crime scene is. Then drag a heavy lure over the area. End of story.

I love spring in Idaho

Recently, Katy and I were running to buy a pair of boots and then I was going to take her out to dinner. I was thinking about how magical Idaho is in the spring (I know, I know, I say that every spring).

Suddenly, I was singing: “It’s the most wonderful ti-i-ime of the year. There’ll be whistle pigs flipping, the crappie will be nipping, the mushrooms will be growing and the turks will be crowing, it’s the most wonderful ti-i-ime of the year!!!!!”

OK, I’m not a songwriter but springtime is magical in Idaho and less we get tied up mushroom hunting, turkey hunting, bear hunting and crappie fishing don’t forget — whistle pig hunting. It’s one of the highlights of the year. It provides for high-speed shooting and is a great hunt to break kids in on.

There are plenty of them and they are in no danger of being over hunted. They’ve been shot for centuries and are doing fine. In fact, if they are thinned out, they’ll do better because the plague won’t run through their colonies as fast and wipe them out. Farmers will gladly welcome you because they devastate crops. They can wipe out a field of alfalfa in a short amount of time.

So, what is a whistle pig? They are a unique animal. Their official name is Townsend ground squirrel. The subspecies south of us are the Urocitellus Townsendii Idahoensis. They emerge and mate in January/February. Although everyone thinks of them as appearing in mid-April, I’ve had good hunts in early March, according to the weather. But when it gets warm, they are out in full force.

Gestation is only 24 days and they’ll have six to 10 young in April. Their eyes open in 19 to 22 days and are weaned muy pronto. This seems to be their system to me. As stated above, they come out in late January/February and go on a breeding frenzy. Then they go on a feeding frenzy until the end of May/June when it gets hot and the grass dries up. Then they go back underground and that’s the last that you see of them for the year.

Some people think that they go underground and eat plant roots for the next seven to eight months. Some people think that they hibernate. What they actually do is called “estivation.” Sort of a summer hibernation.

You may be fooled into thinking that they are cute little furry creatures but make no mistake, they are a prairie rat. Adult squirrels have been known to cannibalize unweaned young. And while hunting you’ll frequently see them run out and eat their fallen comrades.

Enough of the scientific angle. What will you need to hunt them? Some people use a .223 but most people use the lowly .22. Most shots will be within 100 yards so a .22 is the perfect gun. And the Ruger 10/22 is the most popular model. Since they are small, you’ll need to use a scope. I put a Riton Optics 4-16x on my 10/22 and a Timney Trigger and a Boyds’ Stock to make it super classy. But the .17 HMR is also a popular rifle. It is faster, has better results and reaches out a little further.

But the last 10 years I’ve mostly been using airguns. They’re a lot cheaper to shoot and with ammo being so scarce airguns might be the only option for you. Plus, since they’re quieter they pop back up faster.

I’ve been using the Umarex .25-caliber Gauntlet and the .22-caliber Synergis. They are both super-good choices in the airgun realm. For pellets use JSB Dome pellets if you want supreme accuracy. But JSB just came out with a pellet named the Knockout pellet that looks like a good hunting option. I went out shooting yesterday but the wind was blowing so bad that I can’t testify one way or another as to their accuracy. You’ll also want a good pair of binoculars to find the little elusive creatures. I use a pair of Riton Optics 10×42 binoculars.

I think that the high deserts are beautiful in their own forlorn way. Hunting whistle pigs gives you a good excuse to go out and see them. Plus, there will be unique wildlife viewing opportunities. You’ll see badgers, which I think are beautiful (but the kings of bad attitudes). Once I shot a whistle pig and suddenly a badger ran out, grabbed it and ran back to his hole. Another time my old buddy Roy Snethen shot one. He flipped twice and I said “You got him!” Suddenly a hawk swept down and grabbed him and I said “You had him!”

So, before they go underground for the year you better grab a kid and run out and have some fun!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at

Varmint hunting 101

For the most part hunting is over. Yeah, there may be a couple of late season depredation hunts around the country, but still it’s pretty much done for the winter. But back away from the edge. Before you jump, read on.

If you put your guns away for the winter now, you’re missing one of the most fun hunting seasons the outdoors has to offer — varmint hunting. It can provide for some high-speed shooting. And no two hunts are ever the same. One time a coyote will come within 200 yards and set down and allow a shot. The next set-up you turn around and one is coming in at Mach I at 20 yards.

To be successful, you’ll need some specific gear. Let’s cover that.


When a coyote comes in, he’s heard a lot of noise and is expecting to see something. It makes him a lot more comfortable if you offer a visual. Due to their light weight and portability I use Montana Decoys. I like to set up their coyote decoy and a rabbit or an antelope fawn or a deer fawn. Motion decoys are also great. Most of them are just a white rag on the end of a wire that twirls around.


I’ve gone the route with cheap calls. Break down and buy a FoxPro. They’re the best. In the old days we used hand calls. Electronic calls are a 100 times better. You can set them out 30-40 yards away from you so the varmint is focusing on the source of the sound and doesn’t see you. Also, if he’s coming in and you’re using a hand call you have to keep calling right up until you take the shot. That takes a lot of juggling.

Electronic calls will have remote controls so you can change sounds, raise/lower the noise level, etc. from afar.


Match your camo with the terrain that you’re hunting in. I don’t have a particular manufacturer that I favor. I just buy what matches the terrain where I’m hunting. Usually, for varmint hunting here in Idaho you’ll want a sagebrush pattern.


Now for the big one. The AR platform has taken over the varmint hunting scene and for good reason. A semi-auto allows for fast follow up shots when multiple coyotes come in. With a bolt action the follow up noise of racking the bolt allows them to pinpoint your location. But if all you have is an old bolt action, don’t despair. Last year my brother-in-law dropped three coyotes in rapid succession.

What caliber to use? There are 20 different good calibers but the most popular is the .223/5.56. Use a good expanding varmint round unless you’re saving the hides. For scopes, I’d recommend a 4-12x or a 4-16x.

Shotguns? Yep, I counted two years ago and 40 percent of my shots were within shotgun range. How many times do you look around and here comes a coyote at Mach I with his tail feathers on fire at 20 yards? If I have two or more shooters with me I always have someone carry a shotgun.

I use a semi-auto. In fact, right now I’m waiting on a Savage Renegade to arrive. You’ll also want something more than a plain old bead. I just received a Vortex SPARC Solar Red Dot to put on the Renegade. With the modern coyote loads their pattern is so tight that you’ll need to aim at a body part plus, beads aren’t accurate.

For shells the best that I have found is the HEVI-Shot Dead Coyote loads. The HEVI-Shot crew member told me that she had rolled a coyote at 70 yards. DOA. Unbelievable.

So as we close, don’t waste your Saturdays in a mall. Pick up your rifle and go varmint hunting.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Smoking your turkey for Thanksgiving

Four centuries ago, America was a fledgling country. Her life was in the balance. The pilgrims were on the verge of starving and things didn’t look good. Luckily some friendly Native Americans came out of the woodwork (OK, the woods) and provided a feast for the pilgrims. That shifted the pendulum and gave the starving pilgrims hope.

Tradition has it that they brought in some wild turkeys among an assortment of other foods. The pilgrims were overwhelmed by their kindness and gave thanks for the meal, their new friends and all of their many blessings in general.

Since that time nearly 400 years ago, Americans nationwide have declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday and stopped for a day to acknowledge their many blessings and give thanks for them and our country. Four hundred years later, we still have the best country in the world as evidenced by the thousands of people trying to enter America. Who can blame them?

So with that said, what should your main course be this Thanksgiving? Anything less than a turkey along with maybe a smoked ham and for sure pumpkin pie is obviously a plot designed to end all true American traditions.

One year, I thought I’d do something different. I grilled some ribeyes for a change of pace. They were nice, well-marbled ribeyes. They were probably as good of ribeyes as any that you’ve ever had. But it went against all tradition. It put a big kink in the Claycomb family traditions. The Wampanoag native people would have turned over in their graves. Never again has my family deviated from having a smoked turkey as the main dish. Since then, things have settled down and all is well again in the Claycomb household. Katy and Kolby have not left me.

The last decade or so, Mom has sent us a smoked turkey from Greenburg’s in East Texas but a few weeks ago their plant burned down. So this year we will go back to me smoking the turkey. If you’ve never smoked your own turkey, don’t panic. It is super easy and will turn out delicious.

Most likely, you will run to the store to purchase your turkey, but if you’re lucky, you may be smoking a wild turkey that you killed this spring. If so, realize that you will need to baby it a little bit more than if you’re cooking a farm raised fat butterball turkey. A wild gobbler won’t have as much fat as their farm-raised cousin so it won’t be as juicy. Baby it a little more than you would a store-bought turkey.

I learned how easy it was to smoke turkeys over 40 years ago. A buddy at work, her family raised turkeys and she knew that I smoked deer meat, sausage, etc., and asked me to smoke a turkey for her. I told her I didn’t know how. She told me all that she needed was for me to put it on my smoker for three to four hours and then she’d come by that night and grab it and take it home and finish cooking it. I was apprehensive but she told me to just smoke it and quit worrying. (At the time, I had a wood smoker. Now I use my Camp Chef pellet smoker.)

The next day she brought me a sample. Oh my gosh, it was the best turkey that I’d ever had. I have since cooked them as she instructed. Here’s how you do it. If you have a regular smoker, throw it on the smoker at low heat for four hours. Then put it in a black turkey-roasting pan in the oven all night at about 190-200 degrees.

Put a couple of cups of water in it to keep it moist. You don’t want it to dry out. In the middle of the night check it out. If all of the liquid has evaporated add a couple of more cups of water. When you wake up, if it pretty much falls apart with a fork, it’s done. If not, turn up the heat to 325 and cook until done.

When you put it in the oven, sprinkle with spices. I’ve cooked it like this for the past 40 years. But this year, I’m going to deviate and use this recipe that I found on Hi-Mountain Seasoning’s website: Bourbon-glazed Holiday Turkey. It looks good. (

I’ve ordered their Game Bird & Poultry Brine Mix and their Poultry Rub Blend to use. I can’t wait!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

Fish tacos are hard to beat

I’ve got to clarify one item. A lot of people think/expect an outdoor writer to write about a different topic every time and for my magazines I do but for my newspapers I don’t. Let me explain.

Right now bear season, whistle pig hunting and crappie fishing are all in full bloom. And crappie fishing is leading the pack. They are still spawning and fishing is still unbelievable. Why would I veer off on some other tangent when crappie fishing is as good as it can get?

And there are so many angles to a topic if you love it. On crappie for instance: Pre-spawn crappie fishing, post-spawn crappie fishing, different methods to fish for them, then of course different ways to cook them. So, in a nutshell what I’m saying is that I could write for six weeks just on crappie fishing.

The outdoors runs on seasons. You may wake up Aug. 4 and want to go morel mushroom picking but sorry, it’s out of season then. You’ll have to wait until next spring. So that’s what I love about writing for the Journal. Doing a weekly article allows me to write about pertinent topics as they are happening — real time. Make sense?

So, if you’ve read my crappie fishing articles and been going fishing, then most likely you have the question, “What do I do with all of these fish now”?

I love crappie fried plain, dusted with cornmeal. But I also love them battered in pancake batter. Or blackened with Paul Prudhomme’s blackened Redfish spices. Or using Roe’s (a Cajun girl I know) trout meuniére recipe.

But — for a light lunch on a hot day, fish tacos are hard to beat. 

So with that said, I’m going to tell you how I like to make my fish tacos but realize, there is nothing sacred about my recipe. Tweak it to fit the taste of your family.

To begin, cook your fish. I like to roll my fillets in cornmeal and season with Tony Chachere’s seasoning and fry to a golden brown.

Then heat some corn tortillas in a skillet. I put in a little grease and heat them up.

Next, lay out the tortillas on your plate or a cookie sheet. Lay a fillet on each tortilla and put on a little bit of salad.

Splash on some salsa and sprinkle on cheese. Instead of salsa we also like some of the spicy or vinaigrette types of dressings — or last week I used some Sweet Baby Ray’s Dipping Sauce. That was excellent, too.

Lately, I’ve also chopped up some onion slips and sprinkled on, too, which are good. You can also add fresh chopped tomatoes and especially slices of avocados.

Fold the tortilla over and indulge.

Try a fish taco and you might just find it hard to go back to eating fish fillets by themselves.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.