Cleaning your rifle for accuracy

As I get older I like to have tighter and tighter groups for my rifles — I like an accurate rifle. Fifty years ago, 1- to 1 1/2-inch groups with a factory rifle and factory ammo were unheard of, but today it is possible. But you have to do a couple of things if you want to get a tight group using factory ammo and a factory rifle.

Here’s what I’d suggest. First, you’re going to have to test a few different manufacturers and grains of ammo to determine what shoots best in your rifle. It constantly amazes me as to how much the accuracy of different ammo varies.

Secondly, some rifles are more picky than others. Some rifles like to be clean before they’ll give you a good group. My Mossberg Patriot Revere .30-06 likes to be clean. After I shoot about 15 shots, the groups start widening out. That doesn’t cause me any heartburn because I’m not going to get in that many shots in a day other than on a hog hunt.

So here’s how I’d recommend cleaning your rifle. But first, one disclaimer. I’m a middle of the road cleaner. You have extremes on both sides. On one side was my old 94-year-old buddy, Roy. He said a smokeless rifle didn’t need to be cleaned. And then on the other end of the spectrum are the fanatics that will run 20 patches down their barrel.

Here’s what I do, and it works fine for me. To begin, get a good gun cleaning station. I use an Otis Range Box. For years, I’d pile blankets on the kitchen table and try to balance it on them. Make a one-time investment in a gun-cleaning station and you’ll be happy ever after. You can keep all of your gun-cleaning supplies in it so it doesn’t take 30 minutes rummaging around hunting all of your supplies.

The first patch I’ll run down my barrel using some Barnes CR-10 Rifle and Hand Gun Bore Cleaning Solvent. Then run a wire brush. Then a rag to clean it up and repeat. it depends on how dirty the rifle is, but generally I’ll do this two or three times (Let it set for a minute the first time. But read the instructions).

Then I run a couple of dry rags down the barrel to remove any loose crud and then use some of my Otis gun cleaning oil and run a few patches and brush it until clean. You want to remove all of the CR-10. The last patch I run a lightly oiled patch down the barrel.

Then oil a rag and lightly oil the bolt and clean out the breech. Then run a patch over the outside of your rifle. If you over oil it, it will just act as a dust magnet.

Then using an optic rag, I will clean the lenses on my Riton Optics scope. Don’t dry rub the lenses. I like to blow off any loose dust. Then using a good lenses spray apply to the lenses and then clean with a lenses rag.

You are now ready to go sight in your rifle.

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.

Dutch ovens really up your cooking game

In the last two decades, Dutch-oven cooking has gained monumental acclaim. A lot of the articles I write I feel like I barely get to do them justice because of my limited space, but on this topic I really am just going to barely scratch the surface. There’s been no telling how many books have been written on this subject.

When you think about Dutch ovens, your mind automatically drifts back in time to the old trail drives and cowboy chuck wagons. It’s the crack of dawn and while everyone is roping their horse for the day, the cook scoops a shovel full of hot coals out of the fire. He throws some on top and some on bottom of his old Dutch oven and heats up a batch of sourdough biscuits. In a short amount of time, the cowboys all line up single file as he serves them up a hot cup of coffee, biscuits, scrambled eggs and sausage.

Now let’s fast forward 100 years. The modern-day Dutch-oven cooks are chefs that demand an exact heat level. My buddy Paul Loree strategically places a certain amount of coals on top and on bottom for the exact heat he wants for that recipe.

I bought my first Dutch oven in 30 years ago. I messed around with it, but years later I attended a class that Paul taught. That’s where I really learned how to do it right. Paul has taught thousands of people how to cook Dutch oven.

Where do we start? The first step is to buy a Dutch oven and bring it home and scrub it out with hot soapy water and a Brillo pad. This will remove the wax, grease or whatever the heck it is they protect them with at the factory. (Many manufacturers claim to preseason their Dutch ovens, but I still do it myself.)

Dry it off. Grease it up and fire up your oven to 400 degrees. Throw it in the oven for an hour. Let it cool off and pull it out. Grease it up and it is ready to use. From now on you will never use soap on it again or it will remove the seasoning and you’ll have to re-season it. From now on to clean it, scrub out the old food and heat and grease.

Here are a few good Dutch oven cookbooks:

  • “Lovin’ Dutch Ovens: A Cook Book for the Dutch Oven Enthusiast” by Joan S. Larson
  • “The Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook” by Sheila Mills
  • “Cast Iron Cuisine” by Linda Cawley and Geri Munford (A good one for beginners)

Buy one of these books and try some of the recipes. Remember, every time you open the lid to peek in it increases the cooking time by five minutes.

There is a wide array of tools and accessories to make life easier when cooking with a Dutch oven. Tongs to lift the lid, lid holders and charcoal starters are just a few. Paul will shoot me for being a heretic because in the old days they got by without all these gimmicks. It’s just that they make life easier.

Shortly after attending Paul’s class I took my boss Doug Pagler bear hunting. We got back to camp after dark and I was preparing dinner and was worried that I didn’t have charcoal and was trying to carefully measure out some hot coals. Doug brushed me aside and said quit worrying about it. He grabbed the shovel and scooped a load and laid it on top. I told him we needed so and so many coals. He told me not to worry, he’d been cooking Dutch oven for years. Then he said something that clicked. He asked me if I really thought that the old cowboy carried a bag of charcoal to cook with?

As best I remember we ate every bit of whatever it was I was cooking, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. It’s just that the cooks nowadays have exact heat temps and know exactly how long to cook a meal. There’s no guesswork — for them it’s just like using an oven. They know for each recipe exactly how many charcoal briquettes to lay on top and how many on bottom.

Remember, though, in the cowboy days all they had to use was the coals they scooped out of the fire pit. All my buddies are hardcore and use an exact number of charcoal briquettes. You can also double stack ovens to conserve coals. Paul cuts the side out of a metal trash can and stacks his ovens in it. That blocks the wind and helps him cook faster.

You can buy a variety of brands and sizes of Dutch ovens. The most common is the 8-quart oven. They even make aluminum ones. They are unbelievably light. Paul packs them in on his horses. And they make an anodized one if you’re worried about Alzheimer’s. The aluminum is light and cleans easier, but the cast iron has a more even heat. Whichever one you buy, get one with a lip on top and legs on bottom. This way you can put coals on top. Lodge is the best brand that I’ve found. The walls have a more consistent thickness, the lid seats better and the handle works smoothly.

What can you cook? The sky is the limit. The classes that Paul taught were four weeks long. The first class he taught for the first two hours and then served the whole class. He had cooked a whole turkey, enchiladas and lasagna for a main course. For dessert, he had cherry cobbler, and if you didn’t like cherries he had peach cobbler. I was totally sold after that meal. Now it’s a given. If we’re having a barbecue, we tell Paul to bring whatever he wants as long as it’s a Dutch oven special.

A couple of years ago, we had a dinner for our cattle suppliers. We had a guy with an outfit named Going Dutch or something like that cater the meal. He fed more than 300 cowboys with Dutch ovens. He grilled some ribeyes and cooked potatoes in his Dutch oven. They were sliced and cooked with cheese and jalapeños. They were worth dying for.

I’m telling you. You can cook anything. Paul even cooks pizza. Here are a couple of easy recipes to get you started.

Doug Pageler’s Quiche

  • 4-5 eggs
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups Bisquick
  • 1 can of mushrooms
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 8 oz. cheese
  • 1 lb sausage

Charlie’s Honey Buns

  • 1 cube butter
  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar and 2 tbsp Karo syrup
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • 2 cans Pillsbury Grands biscuits

Line a 12-inch Dutch oven with aluminum foil. Place Dutch oven over 5 or 6 coals and melt butter. Stir in brown sugar and nuts gently. Slice biscuits in 1/2 or ¼ and drop all around on top of the brown sugar mixture. Cover with lid and 12 to 14 coals on top. Bake until golden brown — about 15 minutes. Dump onto a large plate and let the goo drip down the sides.

If your salivary glands aren’t salivating by now, you’d better get yourself checked out. You ought to buy a Dutch oven this fall and try it out in hunting camp. It’ll add another dimension to your camping experience and will guarantee you a spot in any camp.

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.

Adventures in sharp-tailed grouse hunting

My buddy Ron Spomer bought the Dancing Springs ranch in July, which is south of Pocatello. He has been after me to come visit ever since he bought it. He kept telling me about all of the pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and huns that he’s been seeing — and on top of that, deer, elk and even a moose.

The season for sharp-tails and huns was about to close so it was time to go. Katy had to run over to Nebraska last weekend so it turned out to be the perfect time to go. After I got off work Friday, I jumped in the truck and ran rover to see Ron and Betsy.

It turns out that when I got there Ron and a photographer were taking out to film a deer hunt for the Winchester World of Whitetail. I unloaded and Betsy showed me around. Wow, we didn’t walk 200 yards down the pasture road heading to their house before we had already jumped two sharp-tails.

He ended up bagging a nice buck. I don’t want to spoil the upcoming TV show so I won’t say anything more. It was now time to go sharp-tailed grouse and hun hunting so the next afternoon we took off. We walked up and down the many draws covering the lower part of his ranch. Later that afternoon, it had started spitting a little rain and snow. Near the end of the hunt, it was getting a little nasty.

At the bottom of his place, there are pastures and the drainages that run through them are choked with hawthorns and choke cherries. Little did I know how thick they were. The weather was getting bad as we walked down one last draw that Ron seemed pretty optimistic about.

Everything was holed up pretty tight with the bad weather and so were people if they had any good sense. I was walking along day dreaming and suddenly a couple of sharp-tails came blowing out. Ron dropped one right over the brushy draw and I dropped one that fell right in top of the highest bush.

Suddenly sharp-tails started blowing out like a roman candle. Three or four came up my way and I dropped another one. The limit is two, so I was done. Ron is training a new bird dog — an English Setter named Covey — and it took off up the hill to get my second bird.

It looked like it was onto it but because of the tall grass I couldn’t be for sure. Then one busted about 20 feet further up hill. I figured it was my bird and had run uphill but suddenly Covey came up with my bird.

Now to find the tough ones. Ron had told me that the draws were thick but, gee, they were impossible to get through. At times I’d get locked in one spot, just like I was hung in a spider web.

Finally I saw the bird. He had miraculously fallen through the brush and hit the ground. It was so thick that I didn’t think that I was going to even be able to get to him. By now I was crawling, which is not fun in that thorny thicket. But after another five minutes I made it and had retrieved him.

What a great afternoon. We hung our birds in his shed to age for a few days and went in to dry off and wait on Betsy to whip out another great, hot meal.

If you want to read some about Ron and Betsy’s adventures on their new ranch, check out their blog at https://bit.ly/2q0gtaY. He writes updates fairly regularly. It is lighthearted, fun reading.

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.

Just a kicked-back 4-wheeling trip

Last week my buddy Fredy Riehl, the editor of Ammoland.com, and his daughter came out to visit me to go on a 4-wheeling trip. He lives in New Jersey so he has to come out to Idaho to get in touch with reality every once in a while. This trip, he wanted to bring his daughter Carly with him. I have all daughters, so I told him sure. Turned out she was a great kid to have along and we all had a blast. (OK, she’s actually a young lady, but everyone is a kid when you get to my age.)

Fredy and I have gone backpacking, fly fishing, etc., the last couple of years and this year I thought it’d be fun to take him 4-wheeling. There are literally thousands if not millions of acres you can 4-wheel on, much less if you throw in the big outfit that I used to work for. I don’t know how many acres they own. They have 32,000 cow/calf pairs so it takes a lot of pasture for that many cows.

Fredy and Carly flew in, and I picked them up at the airport. We had to run pick up the Can-Am Defender MAX side-by-side four-seater and trailer. Wow! Compared to my 4-wheeler, this was a Cadillac.

Next, we ran by a local outdoor store and they stocked up on a few last-minute items. PahaQue had supplied us with a couple of tents to test out and Camp Chef had sent us one of its cool little backpacking stoves. There had been a fire ban so I was scared that we might not be able to even build a fire, which was a major bummer because a roaring fire is a big part of camping.

CRKT Knives had supplied us with some of its sweet little Mossback bird and trout knives. I love those little knives. At first glance, you may discount them for being too petite, but think again. They’re great. They’re lightweight and handy.

I also packed along my Riton binoculars. We were going to be in some good elk, deer and antelope country, so I wanted to be able to let them see some nice bulls. You wouldn’t believe the huge herds of elk I see down in that country — sometimes herds of up to 500.

Then like mentioned above, we had some PahaQue tents and a cool GCI cooking station. The PahaQue tents are great. Instead of the tent poles slipping into a solid sleeve, they also have plastic clips that clip onto the poles. I have grown quite fond of this type of tent. For this excursion, we tested the Rendezvous and the Basecamp tents. The Basecamp, you basically just shake and it pops into a huge tent.

So, into the trip. I love 4wheeling in the Owyhees. I always find old cabins. I love looking around them. At one old homestead, Carly found an old buckboard wagon in perfect shape. It had been parked off to the side and was overgrown with bushes. The wheels were gone but other than that it was in perfect shape.

You can only imagine the history behind that old wagon and homestead. That country still gets snowed in bad.

There are some super rough canyons down there. I had one that I found a couple of years ago while elk hunting that I really wanted to show them. I finally found it the day that we were leaving but we came in on the upstream side of it so they didn’t get to see the coolest part of it but it was still cool. We also found some eggs. I don’t know the official name, but they are some rocks that are as big as ostrich eggs. You can cut them in half or we found plenty that were broke in half. They’re like a big softball cut in half, which has a concave area in it with quartz inside. They’re kinda cool.

We got to see a lot of cool country and the Can-Am really impressed me. We had no trouble getting around everywhere we wanted to go. Coming out of camp, we loaded it down and it carried all of our gear out in one trip. Impressive!

Well, things finally came to an end but we had barely gotten started exploring. There may be a part two next summer.

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.

Boning out your big game

I love big game hunting — the planning, the hunting, the camping, everything. But if, after the hunt, you drop your game off at the processor, then your hunt is over. Why not extend your hunt and cut it up yourself? It’s going to be a little hard to explain how-to in an article but we can do it.

If you only bone out one deer every few years then it will be hard to get proficient, so if you have a pile of deer you can practice and get good. Before you panic, remember, cavemen have been cutting up game and getting by without knowing all of the cuts for hundreds of years, so even if you screw up but get it in the pot, it’s not a crisis. I’m going to show you how to market it a little better and get some unique cuts off your game.

FORE SHOULDERS

Separate the front shoulders off the carcass. You’ll be surprised. There is a seam that you hit and it’ll practically fall off.

If you bone out the front shoulder for sausage, you’ll only end up with a handful of meat because of all of the gristle and tendons. You’re going to smoke the whole shoulder and all of the gristle will disappear. Check out this e-article: https://amzn.to/2N6T4xN.

Put it on your smoker for three hours and then put it in a turkey roasting pan in your oven on 180 degrees. Add 2-3 cups of water and sprinkle with seasoning salt. If it runs out of water, it is ruined. If low, add more water. The next morning, if it falls off the bone, it’s done; if not, turn it up to 325 to finish it fast. It’s not ready unless it falls off the bone with a fork.

Pull all of the meat off. All of the gristle has disappeared. Chop it into ¼-1/2 inch pieces. Put butter in a black skillet and toast buns on both sides. Slap on a handful of meat and douse with barbecue sauce and Tabasco sauce. It will rival any Texas chopped brisket sandwich.

BACKSTRAPS

Make a cut down the backbone on each side. You’ll hit a bone at the hindquarter which is the pelvic bone. Scoop out the backstrap down to the fourth rib. I make chicken fried steak out of these.

HINDQUARTER

With the stomach cavity facing you, make a cut down the inside of the femur bone starting at the knuckle bone down to the ball joint. On the outside, go an inch or two below the knuckle bone and there is a seam separating the knuckle and the outside round. Remove the knuckle.

On the backside, there is a seam separating the gooseneck and the top round. Make a cut along the femur bone and hit that seam in back. Remove the top round.

I pull the muscle off the top of the top round and slice into chicken fried steaks.

Remove the gooseneck. I used to make deer roasts but now I use the knuckle and outside round for jerky or sausage because they are so lean.

On the chuck (forequarter) bone this out. I use this for sausage.

MISCELLANEOUS CUTS

OK, we’ve covered the major muscles. Now for the fun part. Let’s save some unique cuts. On deer, these will be small, but on elk and moose they will, of course, be a lot larger, comparable to a cow.

First let’s cover the flank steaks, where the stomach wall ties into the hindquarter. Right where you start making the incision between the hind legs to open up the stomach to remove the guts, you will cut between two tear-shaped muscles. (Oblique abdominal muscle). Cut these out and remove the tough tissue on top. Now remove the flank steak from the tough yellow tissue on the bottom.

Before you remove the knuckle as described above, half way down the knuckle under the knuckle bone you’ll see where an ice cream-shaped muscle — tri-tip — is attached. Mark it and remove it.

I sprinkle both with coarse McCormick Steak Seasoning and smoke. On the flank steaks, I lay on them some chopped green peppers, onions and jalapenos. Roll it up and pin together with toothpicks.

Smoke semi-slow until done. Slice paper thin and serve as hors d’oeuvres. You’ll love these!

Hopefully this is enough to get you started.

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.

Don’t forget to take care of your truck

As you get geared up for hunting season, you’re probably preoccupied with sighting in your bow or rifle, stocking up on food and planning menus, sharpening your knives and starting to pack. That’s all good and necessary but don’t forget about another main component: your truck.

There are tons of books and articles on how to pack a survival kit. Take a peek at Adventure Medical Kits’ website. And yet we just take off without giving a thought as to what lies in wait for our trucks.

So my point is everyone has a survival kit, but do you have a survival kit for your truck? If not, you should. Nowadays, nearly everyone has a four-wheel drive vehicle, which means you can get back deeper in the woods. If you break down, you’re really in trouble.

When you think about it, our trucks are our legs and feet. You lose them and you’re sunk, so I think it’d behoove you to set down and give it a thought. This is fresh on my mind right now. I’m up in the mountains helping a buddy build a cabin and recently my truck wouldn’t start. Luckily a neighbor pulled up about that time and helped me get started. I then parked it on a hill so I can jump start it when I head home in a few days.

Oh, one more recent problem. Just a few weeks ago, we were running over to Oregon fishing. I had a blowout. I normally carry two spares but I had my jon boat in back of the truck and only had one.

When I took it in to get fixed, guess what had caused the problem? A rock. Want to know how that I knew this? A 3 ½-inch rock had punctured the tire and was still inside. The worst I’ve ever had was years ago on a moose hunt north of Pocatello. I woke up three mornings in a row with flats. I had to go to town at lunch every day and either purchase a tire or have a flat fixed. Now I carry two spares. You can pick up a spare tire/rim semi-cheap at the junkyard.

If you’re like me, you’re probably not much of a mechanic, and even if you were, you couldn’t carry a shop full of tools. But there are a few tools and items we should carry to get out of the obvious disasters.

Here’s a closer look at the things you should carry in your vehicle:

  • In snow and ice, tire chains give you get traction. As with a lot of situations in life, put them on before you get in trouble.
  • You see a lot of trees fallen over in the woods, right? What if one falls behind you? You’ll be stuck. So carry an ax and chain saw. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more than it does.
  • No matter what the season, I always carry a shovel. In the winter, they’re good to dig snow out from under your truck if you high-center, and last spring I was out whistle pig hunting and bottomed out in a badger hole. I had a shovel, so I jacked up my truck, filled in the hole and off I went.
  • And for sure, do not trust the rinky-dink jack that came with your truck. Throw in a Handyman jack. I’ve been stuck a million times and had to jack up my vehicle and lay rocks or sticks under the tires to get unstuck or un-high-centered. (Curse of all curses). Also carry extra bolts. They always fall off the handle.
  • Carry two sets of keys. If you lose your keys, that’d be a bad deal. Leave the extra set in your truck. You can break a window if necessary. Plus, you need to leave a set with your buddy. We were bow hunting over in Nebraska and a blizzard blew in. My buddy made it back to the rig before me but was half froze because he couldn’t get in.
  • When you replace your old fan belts and hoses, carry them for backup. I’ve heard you can use a pair of pantyhose as a fan belt but I don’t wear pantyhose.
  • I’ve noticed that 90 percent of the time my truck starts sounding a little weird before it whacks. I’ve had this happen three to four times only days before I headed out on a hunt. Get it checked — it won’t get any easier to fix in the woods.
  • A few other items to carry flashlights, jumper cables, chains and a tire pump that plugs into the the cigarette lighter.

Hopefully we’ve listed a few common problems that you can be prepared for.

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.

Dove hunting is here — almost

Dove hunting is right upon us. If you’ve never dove hunted, you are missing out on a great bird hunt plus some great eating. I’ve dove hunted since I was 6 years old. We had great hunts as a kid; speaking of, it’s a great hunt to take your kids on to introduce them to hunting.

What’s not to like about it? The weather is warm, you don’t have to be stealthy and quiet like when big game hunting, and there is a lot of shooting going on. Sounds like the ingredients for a great day to me.

So how do you dove hunt? Scouting is important. Doves do well with agriculture so the first obvious spots to check are milo fields or sunflower patches. If you see a lot flying around or setting in dead trees and on telephone lines stop and ask for permission to hunt.

You’ll want to set along tree lines or fence rows. They have what I’ll called preferred flyways. If you’re not getting any shooting, move. If they’re out feeding, go do some jump shooting. If you have other people with you, this will get them moving around and help them out, too.

Especially on dry years, but any year really, hunt near water sources. They like to water at ponds, sloughs and slow-moving creeks and rivers. We hunt these at daylight and dark. I’ve had some great hunts on water sources.

I’ve dove hunted in multiple states but probably my most unique spot to ever hunt doves was in Nebraska. The marijuana fields were great. They love the seeds. It grew wild there and there’d be 20-foot-wide by 100-yard patches in draws. There’s be hundreds of doves feeding in them. It seemed to make them stupid and sometimes they’d fly right up and land in front of you waiting to be shot. Let that be a lesson for you. Do marijuana, and you’ll do stupid stuff.

So you’re convinced. You’re ready to jump in. So what gear do you need? It’s really pretty simple. Because of the high-speed shooting, you’ll want a shell vest with a game pouch in back. On 90 percent of your dove hunts, you’ll be sitting in one spot, so really the game pouch is used to carry boxes of shells. You’ll want a vest with plenty of shell-holding capabilities on front and two lower pockets to fill with shells. 

Using decoys will definitely help you out. There are a few options for decoys. Mojo makes a decoy with rotating wings and a Dove A Flicker decoy. There are also plastic decoys that you can clip onto fence lines or tree branches. Decoys will help.

For a shotgun, any style will work but you’ll be happier with a semi-automatic. For decades as a kid, I used a double-barrel but if you have a semi-automatic you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get off three shots, especially if you shoot like I do. Remember: You have to have a plug because you’re limited to three shots.

For ammo, Aquila low-base 8s are the ticket but many hunters use 7 ½s. Luckily, they’re not hard to kill so low-base shells work great. If not, because of all of the shooting, your shoulder would be black and blue. As kids, my brother and I once shot more than a case of shells in two afternoons and that’s when there were 20 boxes in a case.

A chair is almost a necessity and especially if you’re older. There are a lot of options on the market. They offer actual fold-up chairs but another popular option are the padded swivel top 5-gallon buckets. Many have a canvas pouch around them to hold shells as well as inside. That about sums up the gear.

We don’t have room to go into good dove recipes, so I’m going to refer you to a cooking recipe my brother did since he’s a better cook than me anyway: ronspomeroutdoors.com/blog/dove-dinner.

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.

Backpacking 101

If you’ve never backpacked, I’d like to encourage you to give it a try. I think a lot of people hear about hardcore backpackers going on 20- to 40-mile trips for seven to 14 days and therefore don’t even consider backpacking. Here’s what I’d implore you to consider. You don’t have to go on the Bataan Death March the first time. Or ever.

For the first trip, just go a mile. Or even a half mile. That way you can test out your gear and see what works and what doesn’t. You can also determine what else you wish you had of packed. There are basic items you want to pack along but then everyone applies a little different twist as to what they think is important.

I don’t consider myself a hardcore backpacker at all, but to get back where the hunting and fishing is the best — and to where there are fewer people — you have to backpack or have a pack string.

I teach a few Backpacking 101 seminars each year.

The first one or two, I tried to talk about the how-to aspects but quickly discovered most people want me to talk about that for the first 15 minutes and then the rest of the time on what items they’ll need to carry and which gear works best.

So with that said, let me hit a few basic things you need to know and then I’ll list out items I suggest carrying.

First off, you need a reason to go. I backpack so I can hunt and fish in the backcountry. Maybe you just want to see cool country, climb a mountain or take pictures (always take a camera). Next question, where should you go? Grab a U.S. Forest Service map and find a fun-looking area or read a local book that tells of good hikes. After determining where you’re going, buy a map from MyTopoMaps. They will make you as detailed of a map as you want. You might even be able to get a 20 percent discount if you mention my name to her. Last year, it turns up that there were some petroglyphs where we were going. I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t of gotten a MyTopoMap of the area.

Meals: You’ll need to plan your meals. If you forget an item, there’s no running down to the local grocery store. You’ll have to do without. Plan and pack for each meal and snack. For breakfast, I eat flavored oatmeal and supplement it with huckleberries. For lunch, I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They don’t spoil and have protein and energy. For dinner, I splurge and eat Mountain House prepared meals or make something out of Stephen Weston’s book “In The Wild Chef.” He has a ton of tasty and yet easy to prepare recipes.

Cooking gear: I use an Army mess kit to cook with. Take a plastic cup, spoon, fork and plate.

Water: I use Aquamira products. Their filtered straws or water bottles keep me from having to pack in water. I also use a small aluminum coffee pot to heat water for coffee, oatmeal or sterilize drinking water.

First aid: I don’t carry much first aid gear, but I always carry Adventure Medical Kits moleskin and band-aids. Their small rolls of duct tape are handy to tape on torn boot soles, broken tent poles and ripped tents. Take an extra pair of glasses if you have them and a tube of Mupirocin for cuts.

Lights/fire gear: You’ll want a headlight and I love the Coast rechargeable HP7R flashlights. To start a fire, I carry waterproof matches, a couple of boxes of regular matches and some fire-starting material in case it’s wet. I also take two or three cheap Bic lighters. You can break them over damp wood.

Clothes: I wear Irish Setter boots (check out their Drifter series or their Vapr Treks are super light); three pair of Browning hiking socks; Carhartt base layers for cool nights; nylon fast-drying zip off pants; a cap; and a GORE-TEX rain coat. I don’t pack a lot of clothing.

Sleeping gear: Lightweight tent, sleeping bag and pads. I love Alps Mountaineering gear. Take a tarp to lay on the inside of your tent so your bag doesn’t get wet.

Packs: OK, I’m old school. I still use an old frame pack but all of the modern little yuppies use internal frame packs. They don’t sway like a frame pack, which can throw you off balance. You’ll also want to take along a day pack for hikes out of camp.

Miscellaneous: I carry two mouse traps to keep the rotten little vermin from eating my groceries; a compass; a pistol and good ammo (like Hornady for bears); a roll of string; a beanie for sleeping in; roll of paper towels to clean up; toilet paper; and Bushnell solar panel to charge your electronics.

There are a lot more items I’d like to list but we’re out of room. Like I say, go on a short hike the first trip or two and determine what items you like personally. Get out and 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.

Backpacking in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

I’ve been super busy lately and have a new project coming up which will require more traveling and busyness. So what’s a guy to do? Take off on a backpacking (BP) trip for a few days of course! My youngest daughter normally goes with me but was tied up so I went by myself.

I had a lot of articles to get in so I whipped out and then put together all my BP gear that had been put away for the winter. Gee that takes a while due to all of the little gizmos that BP requires. I want to write a BACKPACKING 101 article soon so right now I won’t go into all of the gear you’ll want to have.

It’s a drive up to the trailhead and then of course a bit of a hike in to the spot I wanted to camp at. I wanted to leave early enough to get in and set up camp and still have a few hours to fish before dark so I could hit the evening hatch. I arrive at the trailhead and there were only 4 to 5 trucks. Hopefully they’d scattered in different directions than I was going.

I got to my spot and hadn’t seen a soul. Good. I slapped up camp, gathered a little wood and then rigged up my flyrod and trotted down the trail to the first hole. I used to BP into this spot the week after the 4th. Any earlier and you’d hit too much snow. But the last 14 to 15 years, I’ve pushed it back to the middle of August and on into September because the runoff has slowed down and the fish are more congregated in the holes. Plus, the big bull trout have come upstream by then.

Oh no! I arrived at the first good hole and there was a massive log jam in it. Logs had pretty much jammed up the whole hole. It was unfishable. About 5 years ago on a trip with Kolby there had been a huge snowslide that pushed a ton of dead trees into the river a few miles upstream. I guess they had finally made it down to this hole. Or maybe there’d been a new slide, although I hadn’t seen it while hiking in.

We’ve got to stop and ponder something a minute. Remember the Jarbridge Shovel Brigade in Nevada? If you remember, the overreaching feds refused to let them repair a road because a few piles of dirt may fall in the river and hurt the bull trout. When they refuse to fight forest fires, which results in miles of burned and dead standing timber that will all get pushed down into the rivers and result in huge mudslides for years to follow, does that not hurt more bull trout than re-building a road?

Some of these log jams are so packed that there is no way that a 30-inch bull trout can pass through them to go upstream and spawn. And one year there was a big mudslide that muddied up the river for miles downstream. The river looked like pig slop. Focus on the real problems boys.

So the hole where the big 30-inch bulls like to gather in is gone for this year and maybe a few more to come. It’s a mess.

I doodled around until dark and then hiked back to camp and built a fire and relaxed. The next morning I woke up, dipped a pot of crystal clear water out of the river and heated it up. Ahh, there’s nothing like breakfast in the high country. I ate a couple of packs of flavored oatmeal, slammed down a few cups of coffee and hit the trail.

But before we get into the day’s happenings I have to mention. I’d caught two mice over the night. I always carry two mouse traps and put them under my hanging pack. I hate for them to get into my food.

OK, enough of being a drama queen. I headed downstream hitting the holes. Whoa, something was wrong. I was not catching very many fish and nothing very big. I started off using some big black bead head wooly boogers. The last few years I’ve been using some flies called Fish Skulls that I order from flydealflies.com.

Later in the day I switched to dry flies. I caught enough to keep it interesting but not like norm. I found a few huckleberries that I stored in a water bottle to put in my oatmeal the next day. I fished until dark and then drug back into camp and built a fire and heated up a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff dinner. That’s my favorite from MH.

The next morning I put huckleberries in my oatmeal, wolfed that down and then took off fishing again. Today I netted a few nice native cutthroats, one was pushing 15-inches and a 15-inch whitefish.

Later that afternoon I found a good patch of huckleberries and spent over an hour picking them. I got enough to take some home for Katy & Kolby. Well, the trip soon cam to an end and I hit the hot dusty trail back to the trailhead. Uggh, I must be out of shape. The hike out about killed me.

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.

Crappie fishing Part 2 — or is it 3?

I have been writing a lot of crappie fishing articles lately, but there’s a good reason — the fishing has been unbelievable! Just like last year, every time I go, it keeps getting better and better. As far as size and numbers, the best trip was a week ago when my daughter and I went. We caught 213 and got some nice ones.

But yesterday, my friend Ron Spomer and I went, and as far as sheer numbers, it was the best trip. We caught 241. A lot of them were small. We threw back 192 but came home with 49. Again, the killer lure was a Mister Twister Red/White tube jig. I used a small jig head because there was no wind and it seemed to drop perfectly.

We caught the bulk of them about 30 feet off the bank but near dusk they had moved up right by the rocky banks to feed. If you haven’t gotten out yet, you need to go. The last few trips they’ve been full of eggs but last night I probably filleted only three to five fish that still had eggs, so the spawn is pretty much over.

But enough talk about fishing. Today I want to talk about cooking crappie. Crappie to me are the third-best freshwater fish, trailing behind walleye and then perch. They are a white, light, flaky fish.

I’m sure there are a million ways to cook them, but here are some of my favorites. To begin, fillet them. That way you have some nice little chunky fillets that will fry evenly. You’ll catch more than you can eat in one setting so it is important to preserve them properly. Vacuum pack them to keep them fresh and to prevent them from getting freezer burnt. I have a Caso vacuum sealer that works great.

RECIPES

  • My go-to recipe is very simple. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a plate. Roll the fillets in the cornmeal and then throw in a Lodge black cast iron skillet that has some hot oil in it. Fry. My wife likes to fry them a little crispy. I don’t fry them as well done so they are more moist. Either way is great. While frying, I sprinkle on some Tony Chachere’s seasoning. Use the Tony’s just like salt. It is a Cajun spice and my go-to all-around spice.
  • I also like to mix up pancake batter and dip the fillets in the batter and then fry (same as in No. 1) but these I like to fry to a golden brown. This method is great, too.
  • Here’s a Cajun recipe that I like. I got it from a Cajun girl named Roe while red fishing down in Louisiana. Sprinkle flour on a plate. Lightly dust the fillets. Put in a hot black iron Lodge skillet that has a little grease in it. Sprinkle on a little Worcestershire sauce and throw in a few spoonfuls of capers. I also like to sprinkle in a little balsamic vinegar. Fry a little crisp. These are great as is but on the first two recipes, I dip the fish in ketchup.

Happy Eating! Now I’m off to the mountains to bait for bears and pick some mushrooms. Ahhh, springtime in Idaho is great.

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.