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 smileya7@aol.com.

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.

DECOYS

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.

CALLS

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.

CAMO

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.

GUNS

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. (himtnjerky.com)

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.