On mushroom hunting

If you haven’t ever tried morel mushrooms you’re missing out on nature’s best outdoor treat. Or for that matter, the best food ever since manna dropped down from heaven in the wilderness. I’ve been in the beef business nearly all of my life so I can get good steaks. But for eating pleasure, a morel will rate right up there with a choice ribeye.

There are quite a few edible mushrooms in the Northwest Pacific but I’m not comfortable picking more than a few varieties. I took a mushroom class but still don’t feel comfortable venturing out of my comfort zone. If you make a mistake and pick the angel of death, well, let’s just say that you and God had better be pretty good friends!

So now that I’ve scared you spitless, let’s proceed. The first season you ought to go mushroom picking with an experienced old timer and have them show you the ropes. They may be able to help you identify morels, shaggy manes, cauliflower, puffballs and calf brains mushrooms.

The good news is morels are easy to identify. The only thing that I’ve seen that even remotely resembles a morel is the snow morel/false morel. But again, make sure that you go with an old timer the first season.

The growing season on morels is short. I’ll say something like a one- to two-week period max. They’ll pop out earlier at lower elevations and then you’ll find them later up higher. The magic formula for them popping out is for the soil to be moist and have a warm night or two.

I’m sure if you did a scientific study, you’d discover that their growth is triggered at a certain soil temperature. I find them up where I bear hunt around May 10 at 5,200-foot elevation. Of course I’m up there baiting from April 15 to June so I keep checking until the season hits.

It seems they jump out overnight. I’ve always threatened and maybe I’ll do it this year and that is to find a small one and put a marker by it. Then come back the next day and see if it’s grown 2 to 3 inches.

You want to be checking for them early and not be on the tail end of the season. Nothing is more disheartening than to find a good mess and they’re on the downhill side and deteriorated and you can’t eat them. So, it’s better to be early and barely find any than to be late and only find rotten ones.

So where do you find them? Ha, that’s the million-dollar question. I’ve hunted them for decades but still don’t have it all figured out. Everyone will tell you to look by old rotting logs. Well, there are a million old rotting logs in the forest and the majority of them don’t have mushrooms. Some people say to look under tamaracks. I seem to find them randomly. But there are some likely spots.

They’re not in a bog hole but I have a good spot that is a little bit of a hole which caused it to be moist. Along old logging roads. Especially on the sidebank above the trail. Last year’s logging operations where the ground is tore up. Check in old Caterpillar tracks (bulldozers not the caterpillar bug. Their tracks are too small).

Over the years as you find them go back to those spots. Not that it’s a hotspot every year but many times they are. When you find one on a hillside look up and downhill. Spores wash downhill and many times you’ll find more.

But now and then I find them in weird spots. Years ago I found a bunch on a grassy hillside. I’ve looked there every year since and never found anymore there.

But the absolute most magical spot is in last years forest fire areas. But the second year the burn has lost its touch. You can go to the Forest Service and get maps of old burn areas or pay attention to fires this summer and go back next spring.

I’m not sure if the fires need to reach a certain temp or what but a couple of years ago, I was up bear hunting and found where a random fire had run through the forest. It was a spotty little fire and I thought great! Nobody knows about this spot. But I didn’t find one mushroom in the burn. Weird.

But some years you’ll find clumps big as a cow pie. I remember at one fire years ago two of us couples picked two 5-gallon buckets each in no time at all and had to step over a million on the way out.

It about killed me passing clumps of eight to 12 nice healthy morels.

Uggh, we are out of room. I’ll try to do a mushroom cooking article next week.

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.

Bear hunting with the spotting/stalking method

Last week we talked about baiting for bears. This week we’re going to talk about the spotting/stalking (S/S) method. So why would you want to S/S instead of baiting?

1. Some units don’t allow baiting.

2. You don’t have any free time to bait.

3. You’re an out-of-stater so it’s not possible for you to bait.

4. Because it’s a cool way to hunt and it works.

What you’ll need

If you’re going to be successful at S/S then you’re going to have to have the proper equipment. Years ago, we saw 10 bears in two afternoons. I only saw one bear before Ed Sweet and Gary Kirkpatrick because I only had some mediocre 8×42 binoculars. They had some high-dollar spotting scopes. To be successful, you have to have good glass. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy $2,400 binocs and $2,500-$3,500 spotting scopes but you don’t want a set of Blue Light specials either.

Here are a couple of decently priced optics that you should be happy with. I use Riton Optics X5 Primal 10×42 HD binoculars. They seem almost as crisp and clear as my $2,400 European binoculars. I used to recommend 8x binocs but you just miss too much game so carry 10x.

Just last year I started testing a Lucid Optics SC9 9-27x 56ED spotting scope. It is a sweet little, lightweight spotting scope. It’d be nice to have a 45x or 60x spotting scope but they are so bulky and heavy that you just won’t end up carrying them. So I’d recommend a smaller, more compact spotting scope.

And then you’ll need a lightweight tripod to set your spotting scope on. (You can also use the tripod for shooting sticks.) Some of the tripods that I’ve tested weigh more than a BIG spotting scope. Gee, they are stout enough to set your house on. Again, if they’re that heavy you just won’t end up lugging them up a mountain.

Then to carry all of the above gear plus your water and snacks you’ll want a medium-sized backpack. I tested out the Alps Mountaineering Ghost and Baja 40 backpacks last year and they should work fine.

How to S/S

Now that we’ve covered what gear you’ll need, let’s cover how to S/S. In early spring bears will be coming out of hibernation. After fasting all winter their stomachs are tender and they’ll be eating grass and flower tops.

You’ll see them at dusk feeding on hillsides like deer (in singles). They’ll be out grazing at the snow line. When I say at the snow line, that doesn’t mean within 2 feet of the actual snowline but somewhat following it.

I don’t know the name of the flowers but they like eating the top off of the yellow flowers. I remember one year I went back up after season to film some bears. I saw one and he was ripping into the grass faster than a grazing cow. It was a weird deal. I got within 17 paces of the bear and figured that was probably close enough so I stopped and snapped a pic with my 35mm Canon. At the sound of the click, he spooked. I think that I could have walked up and slapped him on the rear.

So what you’ll want to do is after work run up to the mountains and hop up on top of a ridge where you can get a good view and set up your spotting scope. How to properly glass is a whole article in and of itself but briefly, set-up and take a pad or an Alps Mountaineering Dash chair to set on. If you’re not comfortable then you aren’t going to be able to glass too long.

You need to have a glassing system. Scan across the opposite ridge. Get to the end and drop down 50 yards and scan back to the other end. Repeat, repeat to the bottom of the mountain. Wait a few minutes and repeat. Bears will feed in and out of cover.

They’ll come out a little bit before dusk so you don’t have too long to find one and sneak up on it.

When you see one, you’ll have to formulate a game plan fast. Is he the bear you want? Is it a sow with cubs? Is it moving along too fast for you to be able to get to? If it is too far to get to before dark you may have to move over the next evening and set up closer. If there is good grass, he should be in the same vicinity tomorrow.

If he’s the bear you want mark where he is. Is there a tall burnt tree near him? A patch of white flowers? When you get over there the area will look a lot different than from where you were. He may be hard to find.

There is so much more to cover but once again, we are out of room. Good luck. Spotting/stalking for bears is a blast. Have 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.

Bear hunting with bait

I don’t know why but bear hunting has always intrigued me. Maybe because of the element of danger. Maybe because no two hunts are the same or maybe because after a long, hard winter it is the first big hunt of the year (other than cougar and varmint hunting). Or maybe because it’s a good reason to get up into the mountains.

But for whatever the reason, I love bear hunting. Anymore, I don’t really care to shoot one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve shot one since 2016. I only shot those two because I’d just gotten a cool Golden Boy Henry’s 45-70, which is a brass lever action. It looked super cool in the picture with my cinnamon bear.

And then I shot a big brown bear up in Alaska. I wanted to make a batch of bear sausage so that’s why I shot the black bear. Anymore, I just like baiting and watching them or taking kids or new hunters. They get so excited that it is as much fun as hunting myself.

There are basically three ways to bear hunt:

1. With hounds. If you’re hunting with hounds, you’re either hunting with a guide or a buddy. Since you’ll be playing by their rules, I won’t cover this one.

2. Baiting. This is a fun way to bear hunt. If you learn how to bait properly you’re in control of the game. I’ll explain more below.

3. Spotting/stalking. This is a fun way to hunt.

Only nine states allow baiting for bears and Idaho is one of them.

If you bait, you have time to study your bear. Is the hide rubbed? Is it the size and color phase that you want? Is it a sow with cubs? If you’re out hiking in the woods, you might have the tendency to shoot as soon as you see one before it gets away and then discover that it was a sow with cubs. When baiting, that is not the case. You have time to study the bear and see if it has cubs.

The only time that I nearly shot a sow with cubs was years ago when I was hunting on a river with a salmon run. A buddy wanted a bear skin and I just wanted the meat. So I told her that I’d give her the hide.

On the last day of the hunt, I saw a decent sized bear and studied it for a bit before deciding to shoot it. Finally, I hit the safety but suddenly a cub walked out. I watched her take the salmon up in the brush and everyone lived happily ever after. If I had of been baiting, I wouldn’t have been so rushed. So baiting is a great way to bear hunt and ensure that a sow with cubs is not shot.

Also, it helps the bear population if a few big boars are shot. One year, I set out my bait and then went turkey hunting all day. At dusk, I went down to check my bait, to see if by chance a bear had come in. Halfway down I saw two bears on a slope 75 yards a ways. I notched an arrow and suddenly a cub jumped up the tree by me.

Uh-oh, that had to be a sow and cub up the hill. Nope, here comes a sow off to the right. I’d stepped between a sow and three cubs. Not good. Luckily got out without having to shoot her.

The next day maybe 700 yards from that spot I was going down an old, old logging road and stepped over a big yellow pine that had fallen over. A 1½-year-old cub was laying there with its nose under the log.

I thought it was asleep and poked it with an arrow. I finally figured it out. It had to have been one of the three cubs that I’d seen the night before. A big boar had obviously killed it so the sow would recycle and breed. Big boars kill cubs. So, shooting them actually increases the bear population.

To bait, use a barrel. That way bears can’t run in and gorge or drag bait off in the brush to eat. They’ll set there for 30 minutes feeding. Chain or strap your barrel to a tree or the rascals will drag it off.

Everyone has their secret bait but the truth of the matter is, you’re going to use whatever you can get large amounts of. When multiple bears get hitting your bait hard, they’ll clean out a barrel in two to three days.

Meat is fine and I’ve hauled tens of thousands of pounds of meat to the mountains but there are better options. After a long hard winter of fasting, meat is tough on their stomachs. Donuts are like crack cocaine to them!

Hang up a scent bag. This way you can have multiple bears coming in. Anyone can get one bear hitting the bait but what if it isn’t a big one? You want six bears an evening hitting your bait. That’s when it gets exciting.

Uh-oh, we’re out of room. We’ll continue spring bear hunting next week.

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.

Airguns 101: Part IV

This week we’re going to wrap up the four-part series on airguns. This article will be a wrap-up/summary on airguns.

If you need further convincing that airguns have hit the modern shooting world with a big splash and is not just a fizzling fad among a group of old senile bald-headed men looking for a new source of entertainment, check out the offerings at your favorite outdoor store. Or go online and look at all of the airgun offerings. I’ve heard there is a new airgun company that opened up at the old Nampa Rod & Gun Club in Nampa. I have to go check that out. Or check out Pyramyd Air, which is a large online airgun store.

Or check the true litmus paper — the free market. I test a lot of airguns, sponsored on hunts and conduct seminars by airgun companies. You’d think I knew all of the airguns companies out there but I learn of a new company every time I open a catalog. If airguns weren’t popular, then why would so many companies be jumping on the airgun bandwagon?

So let’s get started. We’ve learned that there are three good platforms to choose from.

1. CO2

2. PCP (Pre-charged Pneumatics)

3. Break barrel (BB)

They are broken down into these three classifications due to their power source. You’ll have to choose which one works best for your desired application. To help you make a decision here are my thoughts.

What I am about to say is not totally true but generally is.

1. CO2s — good to train kids. They’re not as powerful so you can set up a shooting range in your garage with the proper backstop and targets.

2. Break barrels — These are the most economical, the most powerful and a great option for hunting. If you get a mid-priced BB like the Umarex Synergis (yes, it is an under lever but I’m putting it in the break barrel category), you will have a shooter that is accurate and powerful enough for small game hunting. If you buy a BB with a magazine then you’re not digging pellets out of your pocket every shot. But, over time you will have malfunctions with the plastic magazines so you preppers may want to go with the single shot BB. Although you can still slip in a pellet by hand.

3. PCPs — are the most expensive to shoot due to the fact that you’ll need auxiliary air tanks, pay to fill them, etc. I’d suggest buying a Umarex Readyair Airgun Compressor. It’s the most economical air compressor that I’ve found. I have no doubt, in due time if you really get into airguns, that you’ll end up buying a PCP. The .25 cal. Gauntlet has an MSRP of $329.99 and has worked great for me. The Marauder has an MSRP of $539.99. But if you want to burn money you can blow up to nearly $3,000. I just can’t afford that plus, I get super groups out of the above two PCPs so I don’t know what more those expensive ones could bring to the party?

SCOPES

I didn’t touch on scopes in the other three articles. In the old days every one told you that you had to buy airgun compatible scopes, that due to the unique recoil of an airgun that they would break a regular scope. I think this applies to BBs but not the other two models. But still, to be safe check before you buy a scope for your airgun. A lot of the cheaper airguns come with cheap scopes. So you may want to upgrade your airgun scope.

Since we’ll be shooting small game with a small kill zone, you’ll want at the very least a 3-9x but a 4-16x is better. I’ve found Riton Optics scopes to be economical and yet they have a crisp view.

PELLETS

As covered in the last airgun article, if you want tight groups you have to use good pellets. JSB is the best. If you’re plinking and flinging out hundreds of pellets per day, I’ve had good luck with Crosman and Sig Sauer pellets.

SAFETY

As my daughter would say, “Dad, you’ve never been known as Captain Safety,” but despite the voices of the haters, I want to throw out one word of caution. I don’t want to make you paranoid but I think that it would be prudent to take a jug of water and periodically wash your hands since you’ll be handling lead pellets. And for sure wash before you eat or suck your thumb if you’re so inclined to thumb sucking.

I don’t have any data to support this paragraph but I think that it only stands to reason to do this.

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.

Airguns 101: Part III

As hunters, we all know that we have to experiment to find which ammo shoots the most accurately in our big game rifles, right? We check different manufacturers, grains of bullets and designs.

A while back, I was setting up a Mossberg Patriot Revere .30-06. I mounted on a Riton RT-S MOD 5 4-16×50 WIDE FOV scope. I planned on this set-up to be a shooter.

But after testing several brands of ammo, I still couldn’t get the results I wanted. Finally, after testing 13 different manufacturers and grains of bullets, I got what I wanted.

We know this on our firearms but something that surprised me was that it is just as important to test various manufacturers, shapes and weights of pellets if you want your airgun to shoot accurately.

Like I said in the first article in this four-part airgun series, in the beginning I could not get better than a 1½-inch group at 15 yards. Finally, I got some good airguns and my groups improved immensely, but my quest for accuracy was not yet complete.

With airguns, we’re hunting small game that has small kill zones, so it’s imperative that we get superb accuracy out of our airguns. In my quest for accuracy, I then learned that which pellet you choose is as important as buying an accurate air rifle. You just cannot get a good group with substandard pellets.

As an outdoors writer I get to test a lot of pellets. Luckily I met the JSB crew at the SHOT Show and everything fell in place. From what I’ve tested, JSB hands down makes the most accurate pellets.

Sig Sauer splits the 2/3 place with Crosman. Now we were cooking. Good gun + good pellets = hitting the mark.

Why does accuracy vary so wildly between manufacturers? Here’s my theory. One air gun company in particular makes super lightweight alloy pellets. That way they can boast speeds of up to 1,450 feet per second.

They may travel along fast … you just don’t quite know where they’re traveling to! They are highly inaccurate. So what good is speed if you don’t hit where you’re shooting? Remember: Accuracy trumps speed.

I don’t know why but the Diabolo (actually the dome shaped, which I guess is a Diabolo hybrid) shoots the most accurately for me. Looking at them you wouldn’t think that they are aerodynamically stable but they say the skirt stabilizes them in flight. I don’t know. I’m not an engineer; I just know what shoots best for me. One last comment on this point. I’ve found that whatever pellets shoots the most accurately for me in one gun does so as well in my other guns. So pellets one, two and three rate the same in all of my guns.

You may ask, what about the polymer-tipped pellets? You’d think with the point they’d fly faster, be more accurate and penetrate better thereby having better killing properties. I agree. But that’s not totally true. Again, the dome-shaped Diabolo pellet is the most accurate design.

Now to address better killing properties. Yes, I’d have to assume and agree that the polymer tip will penetrate better than a flat-nosed pellet. Although I never have tested both on gel to see how well each penetrates. But the problem is, all of the polymer-tipped pellets that I’ve tested aren’t as accurate as the Diabolo shaped pellets. So what if they penetrate better if they don’t hit in the kill zone?

Again, accuracy trumps all.

Another downfall of the polymer-tipped pellets is that they won’t work in airguns that use a magazine. They protrude out too far and jam up. Used to, this applied only to the CO2 and PCP airguns. They’d work fine in break barrel airguns but now more and more manufacturers are offering break barrels that utilize a rotary magazine. I commend the industry for experimenting and trying to make new designs but the polymer tips just aren’t fitting into my world.

What about the semi-hollow point pellets? I haven’t done extensive testing on them so this is just my gut feeling. I don’t think that an airgun spits out pellets fast enough to make a hollow point perform and expand like they do in your trusty ol’ 30-06. Although, I took the Umarex .50 cal. Hammer axis deer and hog hunting last year. I dug the bullet out of the axis deer and it had mushroomed and performed great.

I’m going to have to test the hollow-point wannabees in the smaller calibers before you take what I’m saying as the gospel.

Moral to the story: Shoot good pellets or you’re going to get frustrated with the inaccuracy of your airgun.

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.

Airguns 101: Part II

As we continue our quest into airguns today, let’s talk about what model to get. There are three popular models of airguns. Let’s cover those and try to decide which one would best meet your needs.

They are broken into three groups depending on their power source.

CO2

CO2s derive their power from a CO2 canister that you insert into the gun. The bad deal with CO2s is that as the pressure drops, so do your pellets/BBs.

Most CO2s only spit out pellets at 600 to 800 feet per second, so not really a viable option for hunting. I assume so as to conserve power, most of them are .177s. So why even buy a CO2? Well, they do serve two purposes that I can think of.

1. If you want to run pests out of your garden such as deer but don’t want to kill them, CO2 BB guns are great for that. Plus as far as I know most all of them are semi autos so you can scatter a whole herd of deer.

2. If you have small children that you are wanting to get into hunting and shooting they are the best choice. It takes someone strong to work a break barrel and PCPs are expensive.

Sig Sauer makes CO2s that mimic their real firearms, which makes them great for training (smart idea). I teach a lot of Airgun 101 seminars. I was conducting one last year in Reno at the Safari Club International convention. A lot of grandads and dads who want to get their kids into hunting and shooting bring the kids to my seminars. I had the Sig MCX on my demo table. It looks, feels and has the same features as the real SIG AR. As you can imagine, all of the kids were telling grandad to buy them an MCX.

CO2s are great for getting kids into shooting. Sig makes a lot of cool targets. Spinners, flippers, shooting galleries, etc. So if your kid doesn’t want to hunt but wants to shoot or plink tin cans, CO2s are the ticket.

BREAK BARRELS (BB)

BBs are the most popular model and for good reason. Some boast speeds of 1,450 fps; remember, a .22 only flies along at 1,250 fps. So they’re a good choice for hunting. They’re also the cheapest to operate. Break the barrel, insert a pellet and you’re good to go. Preppers like these.

BBs get their power by compressing a spring or a cylinder usually filled with nitrogen. They have a unique recoil. They kick backward and then forward. To get any degree of accuracy, you need to use the “artillery hold.” Hold it tight as normal with your strong hand but only cup your off hand and set the forestock in it. Let it slide backward and forward when you shoot. Hold your off hand in the exact same spot every time or it will affect your point of impact.

With a BB you can shoot pellets with polymer tips. PCPs and CO2s use magazines and the polymer tips jam up in them.

The major pain with hunting with a BB is that every shot you have to dig in your pocket, open a can, pull out a pellet and load it. I have a small canvas pouch that I can dump pellets into which does speed up the process immensely. But, a few companies have come out with air rifles that utilize a rotary magazine. This is great. Buy two to three extra mags and you can hunt and shoot high speed.

PRE-CHARGED PNEUMATICS (PCPs)

These are my most favorite air rifles because they’re the most accurate. I get 3/16-inch groups with some of mine. So they are the ultimate hunting airgun. They don’t travel as fast as a BB, most of them probably 900-1,100 fps but accuracy trumps speed.

They are powered by compressed air, which is stored in a tank on the gun. Most of them will hold 3,000 pounds per square inch. Yes, I said 3,000 psi, not 30 psi like your truck tires. That’s some serious air pressure. The PCP regulates the air for each shot so whether your tank has 3,000 or 1,800 psi it shouldn’t affect the trajectory of your pellet.

PCPs are also the most complicated of the airgun family. To charge one you must have an external air tank. These cost about $350. Not that it is expensive but to fill the tank you have to run to a skindiving shop and pay them $6-$8. This can be inconvenient as you have to work around their schedule. Plus, on a busy day of shooting I’ll go through two tanks in two-thirds of the day. So if you’re hunting with one, you’ll want two tanks.

You can buy hand pumps that resemble a bicycle pump but they’re major pain to operate. Let’s just say — if you go this route, you can cancel your gym membership!

But, have no fear. Umarex saved the day. They have a compressor called the Umarex Ready Air which you can plug into a 110 outlet or to your truck battery out in the field.

Well, once again we are out of space before I am out of words, but we had better knock off or the editor will have to cut the obituaries for this week.

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.

Patterning your turkey shotgun

A lot of turkey hunters think that the whole key in being successful is to learn how to call superbly and that’s all they focus on. In my turkey seminars, I teach that calling is about 20 percent of the puzzle. You have to also learn strategy, camo, decoys and many other details if you want to be successful. Calling is actually only a small part of ensuring that you have a successful turkey hunt. There are many champion callers that can call a whole lot better than me but they aren’t good hunters.

So with the above said, let’s discuss an often-forgotten piece of the puzzle — patterning your shotgun. On most of your shot gunning you can switch out the choke and use one shotgun for multiple hunts but if at all possible, for turkey hunting it is nice if you can designate one shotgun for turkeys. Here’s why. To shoot out to 40, 50 or even 60 yards, you’re going to need a sight or a scope because using the beads on top of the ventilated rib just doesn’t work. If you have to mount, unmount a sight or scope every spring on your multi-purpose shotgun it will be a pain.

This year I got a Mossberg 930 and mounted a Vortex SPARC AR Red Dot scope on it. If you can’t afford to designate one shotgun for turkeys, don’t panic. But for sure use a good turkey choke like a TruLock .650 or .660 choke so that you can get a tight pattern. Even my youngest daughter looked at a target I shot and said, “Daddy, you don’t want that many BBs in him do you?” It put 132 BBs on the target.

After you get a good choke, test three or four different loads because they vary in how they perform. Turkeys are tough birds so you want to make sure you use the best shells. The bad deal is, the good turkey loads are expensive. They run from $1 to $5 per shell so you don’t want to waste too many on the range but still, if you go to all the time, trouble and expense of going hunting it’s a small investment to do so. From what I’ve tested, HEVI-Shot out performs everyone else.

To make the choice even more complicated, manufacturers offer different sizes of shot and HEVI-Shot even offers a blend of 5, 6 and 7 shot in one load. The theory is, the 5s are heavier and even though lighter, the 7s provide for a tighter pattern. You’ll have to decide what size shot you prefer.

If you test a lot of different manufacturers then you ought to buy a Caldwell Lead Sled. If you don’t, after shooting a few of the 3-inch or 3 ½-inch shells you’ll be flinching. (OK, I hate to be a wimp but the 3 ½-inch shells KICK BIG TIME.) Also to reduce flinching, wear double ear protection. I wear foam earplugs and earmuffs.

To pattern your shotgun, aim 5-7 inches below the head. That way the bulk of the pattern hits from the heart to the head. If you shoot at the head, half of the BB’s whiz harmlessly overhead. I like to use Birchwood Casey Shoot N-C targets. They make it easy to count how many BBs are in the kill zone. To count how many BBs hit in the kill zone I lay a piece of paper over the target and count holes as I slowly slide it down. Shoot and then count how many BBs hit in the head/neck area. I’m sure there is a socially accepted number you want to obtain but I don’t know what that is.

Do you have to buy store bought targets? If you’re a kid on a paper route budget — no! you can get a large piece of cardboard and draw a turkey on it. Color the head red so it’s visible at 40 yards. After you’ve decided which shell to use, shoot at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. That way you’ll know how effective you’ll be at each range. If you have a really tight choke it’s easy to miss if one is really close.

Some of the loads will have up to 2 ¼ ounces of shot so they kick. So it doesn’t scare off young hunters and women, have them shoot a 3-inch mag in a 20 gauge. Put a recoil pad on their gun.

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.

Airguns 101: Part I

I got up this morning at 4, ran to the airport and jumped on a plane heading to the inaugural Shooting Sports Showcase in Alabama. We boarded and it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. One and a half hours later they deboarded and herded us into a long line for rebooking. Five hours later I’m back home where I started.

The plan was to meet the publisher of Ammoland Shooting Sports News, Fredy Riehl, who is a good buddy of mine, in Atlanta. From there we’d run over to Alabama a day early. There’s a park where you can shoot howitzer cannons and drive tanks. Scratch that item from the agenda.

Oh well, I got to go home and be with Katy one more day. I was going to write my article for the next week on the four-hour flight, so I’ll also get that done while at home. I set down to plan what topic to cover and suddenly it hit me. I’ve never written an airgun article for the ISJ! Wow, how did I let that one slip by me? I’m big-time into airguns. Tested airguns for a lot of the major airgun companies, been on prostaff with one of the major ones, hunted big game with the big Umarex .50 cal. Hammer etc. etc. So I’d like to encourage you to check out some of the modern airguns.

I won’t be able to do airguns justice in one small article so I’m going to do a four-part series to pique your interest. (That is unless some other hot topic pops up in the meantime, like whistle pigs attacking school kids at their bus stop, in which case I’ll have to do my civic duty and write about that).

So with all of the above said, let’s get started on airguns. If you’re like me, I got a BB gun when I was 6 years old, a pellet gun at 9 years old, a shotgun at 10 years old and then a .22 at 12 years old. I think I started deer hunting at 9 to 10 years old. So by the time I reached this level I left my airguns in the dust never to be shot again.

Decades later, I started hearing rumblings about the modern break barrel air rifles. Then my brother-in-law had me shoot his new break barrel air rifle. For the life of me I could not understand why a grown man would digress and go back to airguns.

Finally I thought well, I might as well check them out. I’m always scrambling for new topics. Airguns should be good for one. Little did I know how deep I would end up in them.

Shortly thereafter I was at the Professional Outdoor Media Association Convention in Missouri. At the Media Day at the Range event, I met with Winchester. She showed me the ins and outs of a break barrel and before long I had one in my hot little hands.

But upon shooting it, I was sadly disappointed. I could only get a 1 ½-inch group at 15 yards. I had a buddy on the SWAT team shoot it. He only got a 1 ¼-inch group. That’d never work. With airguns you’re hunting small animals with small kill zones. I called Winchester and they said yea, we expect a 1 ½-inch group at 13 yards.

Why I didn’t give up on airguns right then I’ll never know, but I persevered. Before long I got invited to the 1st GAMO Squirrel Master Classic and tested out a pile of airguns but still wasn’t convinced any of them were accurate.

Then I got put on prostaff with Crosman and obtained an accurate airgun. The whole process took me probably five or six years to make the decision that I wanted to be an airgunner. So you don’t run out and buy an airgun and become disillusioned like I did. I want to write this series on articles so we can speed up your learning curve and so you don’t go through the same frustrations that I did.

Let’s start off with the first item: Which caliber should you buy? At the first SMC event, they gave us .177s to hunt with. The next year they supplied us with .22s. I noticed it took 40 percent fewer shots with a .22 than it did with the .177s to get a squirrel out of the tree. I was sold on .22s.

I was fat, dumb and happy with my .22 for years until I got a Umarex .25-caliber Gauntlet. I’d seen .25 pellets for sale, but why get into them? Then I’d need to have a supply of .177, .22 and .25 pellets.

With the Umarex .25-caliber Gauntlet I noticed as much of an improvement inn efficiencies as there was in a .22 as compared to a .177. There is just as much of an improvement in jumping up from a .22 to a .25.

Moral to the story: Don’t buy a .177. I’d recommend getting a .22 since pellet availability is better than a .25. Heck, you can probably even buy .22 pellets here in Idaho at your wife’s hairdresser shop! (But if you get into hunting small game with airguns, I’d suggest buying the Umarex .25 cal. Gauntlet).

Well, we are officially out of room. Tune in next week for more on airguns.

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.

Get into turkey season with the right gear

When I started hunting turkeys as a kid, there wasn’t really much gear. I had an old Scotsman wood box call and used the same shotgun that I used for dove, quail and duck hunting. For shells we used 2-shot. That was pretty much the extent of our gear. Now? There is a boatload of gear available. But which items do you really need to help make you successful? I’ll list out some of the items that I think will help.

In the old days, your range was 40 yards max. It’s a whole different breed of cat to call a gobbler into 40 yards than it is to get one in to 75 to 100 yards. So the further you can extend your shots, the more chances you’ll have. So use ammo that can reach out to maximum distances. I’ve tested most of the major brands and HEVI-Shot ammo can stretch your shooting ranges. I think I favor their Blend shells. Of course, the 3 ½-inch mags are best but they kick like the proverbial mule. So I use 3-inch mags. Next you need a highly functional choke to get maximum performance out of your loads. I like Tru-Lock chokes.

To shoot longer distances, you’ll either need a good sight or scope.

CAMO

Turkeys have almost x-ray vision so be particularly careful to camo to the max. Use whatever pattern matches your locale the best. I don’t use the same pattern from head to toe but mix it up. For sure wear a face mask and gloves. Another thing that I’d throw in my pack would be an Ameristep Throwdown Blind. These are super lightweight portable little blinds that you can easily carry with you. This way as you’re moving around locating a bird you can have some concealment with you.

HUNTING VEST

I have a Scent Blocker Thunder Chicken Vest. Here’s why I recommend wearing a turkey vest. That way you can leave all of your calls in it so you don’t forget any. Also, they have a pad so you’re more comfortable while calling. If you’re not comfortable, then you’re going to be fidgeting around and get busted. They also have a pouch to hold your decoys.

DECOYS

I hunt in the mountains so light-weight decoys are of the essence, which means I use Montana Decoys. I’d say if possible, to have two to three decoys to increase your odds. Make sure that one is a Jake. Of course, if you know where they’re roosting set up off the roost before daylight in the direction that they’ll come off to.

CALLS

You’ll for sure want a locator call. A lot of people like a crow or owl call. I like my coyote howler. Hit it and it will shock them into gobbling. I like old wood box calls. If you’re new a Pushbox is easy to operate. You’ll also want to always carry a couple of reeds. They’re hands free so you can keep calling when they get in close while you’re holding your gun in the shooting position. Also have a Gobbling shake call.

You want to be comfortable so you can hit it hard all day so wear some good hiking boots and hiking socks.

Another big deal is shooting sticks. You don’t want to be set up calling and have to raise your shotgun to take a shot and spook your bird. Have your shotgun laying on your bi-pod and pointed in the direction that you think the gobbler will come in from.

It’s a whole lot easier to call in a bird if you can intercept them and get between where they are and where they’re going instead of making them totally change directions. It is more convenient for them.

When calling it is more productive to have two of you. That way if one comes sneaking in and circles you at 80 to 100 yards, he unsuspectingly runs over the top of your buddy that is concealed away from you. This is true when calling elk, crows and a lot game that we call.

And lastly hopefully you get your bird. But then what? You can bake it like normal or you may consider making turkey jerky out of it. I made jerky out of one a few years ago using one of the Hi-Mountain jerky blends and it was great. Use a knives of Alaska Cub Bear caping knife to bone it out.

Good luck!

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.

Last call for varmint hunting

For the next two columns I was about to write a couple of turkey articles but since I went varmint hunting recently, I had to do one last varmint hunting article for the winter. On this hunt, a buddy and I were checking out a new ranch. The rancher had invited us down so it was more of an exploratory visit/scouting trip than a hunt this time.

But isn’t that how a lot of our hunting/fishing trips are when we visit a new spot for the first time? Which is why we scout before hunting season. On a side note, you need to scout even if you’ve hunted an area for years. What if the past summer there had been a forest fire? Or what if they logged that area? Things can change even if you have hunted the same area for decades.

As a whole, we’re on the tail end of varmint hunting. It’s best to start varmint hunting in October/November on into the first of February. Also, you’re competing with the ranchers who are thinning out coyotes in their calving areas. Hungry coyotes converge on calving areas, which is not good.

Here’s another unique twist. I was talking to a rancher a good while back and he said that the year before ravens had killed 20 of his calves. Right after birth, the ravens would swarm a helpless newborn calf and peck their eyes out. For the life of me I can’t understand why there are rules/regulations/restrictions on hunting crows and ravens. They terrorize wildlife. And if sage grouse populations are so fragile why is the No. 1 enemy not being dealt with?

Anyway, moving on, coyotes should be paired up by now. If a coyote responds to your calling, you most likely to have two or more coming in. Last time I told you that someone in your party needs to carry a shotgun. It’s probably still a good idea to carry one but more than likely this time of year coyotes are going to be call shy and more wary. All the young dumb ones have been shot or educated. So you most likely will have longer rifle shots. So you’ll want a flat shooting rifle that can reach way out there. So be ready for some longer shots.

Speaking of long-range shooting, if you’re making long shots, you’ll need a rest. And not a quarter-inch limb on a sagebrush! Right now I’m testing two tripods. The Vortex Summit and the Vortex High Country. So I’d recommend packing along a tripod.

Since they’re mating or just getting done, I’d start out with a howl to locate them. More than likely if there’s one around, he’ll answer. Especially early in the morning. Now, whether he comes in or not is another question. He may set down out a good ways and yip at you.

And of course, they’re coyotes, so they’re going to be hunting at night on into the morning. So you should be able to find them out feeding. A lot of times a good place is if there is a hay field (or any grassy field) and sage brush around it. They like to hunt mice in these fields at night.

And again, I’d for sure use decoys this time of year. If they’re not coming in because they’re gun shy then decoys may ease their nerves.

And lastly, after a storm they should be out hunting. Like right now as I type this article it is snowing.

Good luck.

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.