It’s here! (Spring, that is)

I got home from the Texas hog hunt after midnight on a Saturday, unpacked, repacked and took off for South Dakota Monday morning for a couple of weeks. I don’t want to say that it was frigid but it did blow and snow last week in South Dakota. I arrived back home this past Friday and it was warm and sunny.

Wow! I was suddenly jolted out of my frigid winter mode and had woken up in a spring paradise. And it just hit me: I’ve got to hit ram speed and get my spring lined up right fast. First the dirty work though.

According to Uncle Sam I’ve got to get my taxes filed so that will take most of this week along with the 12 to 14 articles that need to be submitted. I think this week I’ll focus on those two tasks and maybe getting out and whacking some whistle pigs. They should be out big time. Hopefully I can get two days in of whistle pig hunting.

For whistle pigs this spring, here will be my arsenal. I’ll start off with my Gauntlet .25 cal. airgun. JSB just came out with a new pellet called Hades. It’s supposed to be an awesome small game pellet. Then I’ve got a new Anderson 5.56 with a Riton 4-16x scope. Can’t wait.

Then bear season is right around the corner. I used to always start baiting on opening day but usually it’s tough to navigate around the snow that early plus, the bears are hardly out and not eating much. So, I’m going to wait until the end of April to start baiting. I think I’ll check and see if the Umarex Air Saber is legal for hunting bears with and use it this spring. Or maybe I ought to try with a Henry’s lever action 45- 70. That’d be cool to shoot a bear with one of those.

Normally I always hunt bears out of a ground blind but this year I got a Primal Treestands SINGLE VANTAGE blind. This will be a big update for me. Being up high slightly defuses your scent and aids you in hunting. OK, and I’ve got to admit — You always slightly worry that a cub will stroll in beside you with the sow not far behind. How many times have I had a sow and cubs within a spitting distance of me?

Numerous! It’ll be nice to hunt out of a ladder stand.

I fly out in a week and as warm as it is I’m betting the mushrooms will be out big time by the time I get back. What to do, what to do. I think I’ll go up and put out my bear bait and then mushroom hunt for a couple of days. I didn’t do very good mushroom hunting last year so I have to make up for lost time.

We’ll write more on mushroom hunting at a later date.

That may sound like plenty to fill up the calendar until June but don’t forget-Crappie Fishing! I think I’m out of crappie. I’ve got to dig down into the freezer and see if maybe there is one or two last packages of crappie filets. (I panicked and ran out to check. Good, there was one package left for dinner tonight.) Walleye is the best freshwater fish and then probably perch but crappie is for sure third best and maybe they split the second and third spots with perch.

Crappie fishing is low key. When the bite is on you can slay them. I do good during the pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn season. So you want to make sure you’re hitting them early so you don’t miss out on the pre-spawn bite.

There’s not a better species of fish to take your kids out fishing for. They’re easy to catch so it doesn’t take a lot of skill. And, the tackle is simple. For lures use some light jig heads, some kind or plastic Mister Twister tails. Carry a variety of colors because you never know what is hot. I like silver, red, yellow and black. I just met Proline Baits and am going to try their scents this spring.

The longer I fish, the more I put stock in scents. Sixty years ago, you never heard about scents other than when carp or catfish fishing but I’m now convinced that I’m missing a lot of hits if I don’t use scents, especially on some species of fish.

After writing this article I’m even more excited than when I started it. Hmmm, I wonder if they’d really throw me in jail if I skip the tax deal for a couple of months and go hunting and fishing for a while? They’re letting all the non-violent criminals out of jail anyway in some states. Surely if I showed them some pics of the mushrooms, coolers of crappie and my bear they’d let me off the hook, wouldn’t they?

Oh no, and what about turkey hunting? We about skimmed right over them. I’ll wait and do a whole article on turkey hunting. I’m definitely going to have to go underground and put the taxes off for a while.

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.

Hog hunting with arrows

While at the SHOT Show, I visited the Umarex booth and checked out their Air Saber. It’s like a PCP airgun except that it shoots arrows. It has an aluminum tube which a nockless arrow slides over. When shot, a blast of regulated compressed air spits the arrow down range.

Shortly thereafter Bill Olson, the publisher of “Texas Outdoors Journal” called and invited me to go on a Texas Aoudad and hog hunt. Heck yeah, can I hunt with an Air Saber? We scrambled to get everything lined up and then one week before the hunt the guide called and canceled. But Bill hustled and got us a hunt lined up on the 2Morrow Ranch.

I flew down to San Antonio after midnight on Sunday and Air Olson (Bill’s pickup) picked me up and we drove as far as Uvalde. The next morning we drove on to the ranch. The first afternoon was scheduled for filming. We had to do some photo shoots on the Umarex Air Saber, Master Cutlery knives, Morrell Target and Wasp Broadheads.

We completed our filming, and Weston, the ranch owner’s son, asked if I wanted to hunt that evening.

Of course. Most of South Texas has thick mesquite brush, live oaks and all manner of prickly pears but this ranch was exceptionally brushy which didn’t afford for many long shots. Which was fine since I was going to be using the Air Saber, which is advertised as only having a range of 70 yards.

While filming I’d sighted in the Air Saber and at the moment only felt comfortable taking 50-yard shots, but later in the week after more shooting, I felt good out to 70 yards. I saw some game that afternoon but no hogs. No biggie, we had a week to hunt.

At first Bill and I were the only hunters in camp. It was great. They had a camp cook named Karen that kept us well fed. In fact, we gained weight. The food was a lot better than me and my buddies get to enjoy when up in the high country elk hunting. Some nights elk hunting you stumble back into camp well after dark and just want to skip dinner and go to bed. I could get used to having a camp cook!

I forget the whole series of events but Bill and I would head out an hour before daylight every morning and then come in for lunch and then head back out in the afternoon and hunt until dark. Hogs like feeding late afternoon into the night and if hogs are hunted much, they go nocturnal but we didn’t have any night vision gear.

We were having a hard time finding any hogs. I lose track but I believe it was Wednesday afternoon. … Right at dusk I looked around and saw two hogs to our left. I nudged Bill and threw up the Air Saber. They were a little fidgety and moving around feeding semi-fast. I ranged them at 65 yards but wanted to wait a minute to see if they wouldn’t feed in closer.

By this time, Bill was running the range finder which was a tremendous help. If he hadn’t been running the range finder it is likely that I would have missed my shot as fast as they were moving around. Bill whispered: 50 yards. I put the cross hairs behind the hog’s shoulder but in a hot second he was out to 65 yards. That would be somewhere around a 12-16-inch drop in the trajectory of the arrow.

Oh no, was he going to feed out further and not offer a shot? Then suddenly they started feeding back in closer. They stopped for a second and Bill hissed: 50 yards. Would they come closer or should I not chance it and take the 50-yard shot? I looked above the scope and noticed that the darkness was growing thicker by the second. I didn’t have but 2-3 minutes before there wouldn’t be enough daylight to take a shot.

The hog with a unique white shoulder had moved out further. The closest one turned broadside, Bill said “50 yards” and I squeezed the trigger. Wow! The Air Saber thumped the hog and slammed it to the ground.

The arrow passed through, severed the bottom half of the spinal column and landed 15 yards past the hog. No wonder the hog had been flattened. The Air Saber travels over 400 fps, which is why I used a heavy-duty Morrell target to sight it in. With a regular target it would have buried the arrows and the fletching would have been ripped off when pulling them out. Talk about power.

The last night, we saw two Nilgai cows at dusk. They were out 100-150 yards, too far for the Air Saber but Bill did get one with his .338 Win. Mag. We skinned it and then the next morning I got up at 5:15, and guide Kendall and I boned it while Bill was packing.

We split the meat up and Bill dropped me off at the airport and it was back to Idaho. The next day after church, I smoked a Nilgai tenderloin on my pellet grill. Bill assured me that Nilgai would be the best wild game that I’d ever eaten. After Katy, Kolby and I ate the whole tenderloin, it was hard to argue!

What a great hunt.

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.

2022 Scooters Youth Hunting Camp

I first became acquainted with the Scooters Youth Hunting Camp back in 2004 or 2005. My wife came home from school one day and told me that she’d signed up two kids in her school in some kind of youth hunting camp named Scooters Youth Hunting Camp and that I had to take them to it. What! The camp is held the first Saturday in May every year. That is right in the middle of primo bear and whistle pig hunting and crappie fishing … and turkey hunting … and morel mushroom picking seasons!

I don’t want to sound self-centered but I was stuck no matter how much I whined. So, I dutifully took the two young boys. Little did I know that I would end up liking the camp better than they did. In fact, I’ve been a volunteer ever since. And the two young boys have grown up to be good young men and I later got to take them both on their first deer hunt.

I conduct 40 to 60 outdoor seminars/speaking engagements per year all the way from Texas to Alaska. I had five in Vegas in January alone and yet the SYHC is the coolest deal that I do all year. Scott McGann originally did it to help single moms. But he couldn’t deny kids with two parents to come but his heart was originally to help single mom’s in getting their kids in the outdoors to help them stay out of trouble.

In the beginning, kids mailed in applications and all were accepted. I think in those days we had about 140 kids. Finally, it kept growing until we had to hire someone to do a call-in registration. Last year it filled up with 250 kids in 47 seconds. It is the coolest deal in the world.

Here’s the format: The kids show up and sign in and are divided into six groups. To begin, we meet and say the Pledge of Allegiance, a local pastor says a prayer and then group one goes to the first station, group two to the second one and so on. There are six stations.

• TRAP SHOOTING

•.22 RANGE

• BLACKPOWDER RANGE

• ARCHERY RANGE

• SURVIVAL RANGE

• GUN CLEANING/KNIFE SHARPENING

After 45 minutes all groups reconvene in the meeting area and a seminar is put on by a pro staff member. They are great seminars and I always learn a lot at them. When the seminar is over, the kids rotate to their next station.

At lunch time, we break and eat lunch that has been prepared by a group of volunteers. What makes the camp really cool is that, due to generous local businesses, the food and snacks are all donated and cooked by volunteers so they eat for free. After lunch the kids rotate to their next station.

After the kids have hit all of the stations they reconvene in the meeting area for Scott’s favorite event The kid’s drawing. Due to local businesses and major companies donating items every kid draws a gift. And I meant nice gifts. Companies and local businesses are over-the-top generous. Companies like Knives of Alaska, Smith’s Consumer Products, Spyderco, Swab-its, Otis, Umarex Airguns, Swab-its and the list goes on and on.

All of the kids get to go free due to the generosity of local and national businesses and volunteer help. Where the heck was the SYHC at when I was a kid!!!

Here are a few general rules but check the website below to ensure that you don’t miss the registration!

• Registration opens April 1, 2022, at 10 a.m.

• Kids must be 9 to 16 years old

• Camp will be held rain or shine. Nothing short of the rapture will stop the camp from occurring.

• The camp will be photographed by various media sources. If you do not want your kid filmed, then DO NOT attend.

It will take place in Emmett at the Gem County Rod and Gun Club.

(Ok, I hate to be juvenile but, here’s the highlight for me. HeBrews coffee in Emmett sets up a donut trailer at start-up. Let’s just say, I eat more than my fair share of sugar/cinnamon donuts).

Go to the website to register: scootersyouth hunting.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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Ice fishing, Part II

The other day I wrote horror stories about ice fishing. I figured I’d better follow up with a how-to ice fishing article in case someone still had a death wish and wanted to go! I’m headed to Texas next week for a hog hunt using the Umarex Air Sabre (which is an airgun that shoots arrows). Due to being AWOL, I had to submit this story early. By the time it publishes, ice will probably be melting at CJ so you’ll probably have to go up to a mountain lake to ice fish.

It’s according to how serious you want to get. If you’re going to go every weekend, you’ll need to accumulate more gear than I’m going to recommend. You see pictures of ice fishermen up in the Northeast that have ice fishing shanties out on the ice. We won’t cover that angle.

If you’re going to ice fish regularly, I’d recommend a portable pop-up hut. You set on a bench and there are holes in the floor to line up with the holes you’ve drilled in the ice. I’ve never used any of these so sorry, I don’t know a good one to recommend.

I’ve always wondered, but never have tried it, why wouldn’t a cheap little dome tent work? Set it up and fish in it? But who knows, the bottom of the tent may freeze to the ice and become a permanent fixture until spring! So, this idea may not work.

To haul out my gear I use a cheap little red kid’s sled. Load on your gear, tie a rope on front to drag it and off you go. It should hold all of your gear but if not, throw the rest into a backpack. It’s smart to take a 20-foot rope with a thick diameter. That way if someone falls in you can throw it to them and drag them out.

I always carry a 5-gallon bucket to set on. Yes, a chair would be more comfortable but you can throw your gear in the bucket and then set it in the sled. If it’s cold you may want to take a tent heater. Or, you can build a fire.

Then, of course, you’ll need an ice auger. I have a cheaper hand auger but if you’re going to be fishing much a gas auger would be better. If they’re not biting, you need to move. Maybe you can’t troll when ice fishing but if you have a gas auger you can move more/faster. You’ll also want an ice scoop to scoop the slush out of the hole after drilling it. You’ll also use the scoop to break up ice as it starts forming on the surface of your hole.

Now for the important items. If you’re going to be drilling a lot of holes, you may want to buy cheap tip-ups to save money. I personally favor regular rods and reels. But you don’t want your regular fishing rods. You’ll want to use the short ice fishing rods. Again, I’m not a 24/7 ice fisherman so I buy cheap ice fishing rods and reels but like with all fishing, you’ll cuss less and fish more if you use quality reels.

Like with all fishing, no one lure is the silver bullet. No siree, the manufacturers have convinced us that we need a multitude of lures of different sizes and colors. I usually use the little ice fishing jigs and tip them off with a meal worm. Or, I’ve got a variety of Pautzke’s Fireballs that you can put on the jig. They’re colored and scented to help attract fish. And, they don’t die like worms do. So you can keep a bottle for … I don’t know how long, but years. That’s probably your best option because a worm isn’t going to be too lively in the frigid water below anyway, right?

For perch, I usually drop down to the bottom and reel up 8-12 inches. But like all fishing you have to check all of the water column to find out where the fish are. They even offer fish finders for ice fishermen. I’ve never used one, though, so I can’t tell you anything about them.

One good thing about ice fishing, you don’t need a stringer or a live well. Kick a little snow in a pile and throw your fish in the snow and you’re good to go. Then when you leave, just throw them into your bucket.

One last tip: due to the cold water, the fish will be a little lethargic so don’t fish your lure fast. And yes, you can jig up and down but do it slower than normal. 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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Chilling tales about ice fishing

OK, I’m not a hard-core ice fisherman. I don’t want to be a little wimp but deep down, I don’t relish the idea of breaking through the ice. I don’t know which would be worse. Breaking through the ice or getting to survive and having to crawl out back up on the surface soaking wet and freezing cold! It’d be a toss-up.

Now mind you. I’ve experienced a lot of near-death experiences. But the older I get, the harder I try to stay alive. I haven’t broken a bone in … a few years now. Used to think you had to or you weren’t living life to the fullest.

But there’s something a little spooky about hearing that harmonic cracking sound reverberating across the lake as a crack comes racing across the lake and the ice semi cracks/splits between your feet.

Like I say, I hate to be a wimp but it’s just a little disconcerting.

I remember one time, not long after I graduated out of college, I took a job over in Nebraska. My buddy Mike Helzer wanted to go ice fishing. It had warmed up a little and the snow had melted so there was a little water on top of the ice.

I’d taken my pastor’s son with us. If a fish hit at one of the holes and we all three ran over to reel him in, the ice would somewhat sink down an inch or two and water would run out of the hole onto the top of the ice and we’d slightly sink down. Again, I hate to be a wimp but that is a little disconcerting.

The fishing was pretty good, the best I remember but … . I don’t think it was good enough to have been designated as my final spot on earth.

Then after that I moved to Colorado. A couple of buddies had some death wish to go up to the mountains and ice fish all night every year on the longest day of the year. Well, I got out of that ordeal but we did go up on a lake at 10,000 feet on New Year’s Day.

We were drilling holes to fish and my buddy Mike Trautner was setting up an ice house. We were involved in drilling our holes and suddenly we heard some screaming. A stiff wind had whipped up and he was in the process of going airborne! We grabbed his ice house (with him in it) as it was sliding across the lake and rescued him.

But, all of our gear — 5-gallon buckets to set on, rods, gear AND my party trey with sausage, tomatoes and slices of cheese — had been blown away. We got Mike’s ice house staked down and then took a hike across the lake picking up gear.

But while walking across the lake there were little frozen red marbles, which I finally figured out were the little red tomatoes that were on my party tray. The slices of sausage were rolled for amazing distances like pinwheels all across the lake. My party trey was scattered to Kingdom come.

Luckily, there was a barbed wire fence on the far side of the lake, which stopped all of our gear from blowing to the Antarctic.

Then one more ice fishing horror story. Years ago, I attended a Winter Camping seminar at Sierra Trading Post put on by Brian… I can’t remember his last name. After attending his seminar, I came up with an ingenious idea. Why go winter camping with nothing else to do? Why not go winter camping on a lake and make it a joint ice fishing trip! I’m a genius. No, that’s not giving me enough credit. I’m a visionary genius. The only problem, I couldn’t find anyone dumb enough to go with me. None of my buddy’s were game. Surely Ron Spomer would go. Nope. Oh well, I’ll go by myself.

I threw my gear in a sled and on my backpack and hiked a mile or so out to an island and luckily set up my tent on the side of an island in case the wind whipped up. Which it did. It was by the grace of God that I didn’t go tumbling off but luckily, I was on (whatever it is??? The leeward side of the island). I thought my tent was going to take off rolling. The wind was howling. The next morning, I gingerly crawled out of the tent to surprisingly (not) find that all of my ice holes had frozen solid with my lines frozen in them.

Luckily, I had a tent heater and had survived the night. I caught a few fish that morning and finally gave up the ghost and headed for the truck. A guy on a snowmobile stopped by and fished with me for a while. When he was leaving, he asked if I wanted him to carry my gear to the truck. Naw. I’m fine … . I hiked to the truck and the road had drifted shut. There was a good 2 feet of snow. Luckily someone was behind me and had to help me get out or they wouldn’t have been able to leave. Gee, I love ice fishing!

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.

Packing a pistol: Tips on how to fly with firearms

Can you fly with a gun? Yes, but there are rules and regulations that you must follow. Some set by the government and some by each individual airline. We’ll cover some of the regulations … but first, if you’re new to the gun world you may ask the question: why would you want to fly with a gun?

I see three reasons right off:

1. You’re flying somewhere to hunt.

2. You’re a competitive shooter and flying to a match.

3. You want to have a gun for self-protection.

It doesn’t matter what the reason, the rules are the same. When you get to the ticket counter you have to declare that you have a firearm. They will ask you if it is unloaded and locked in a hard container. They will then have you sign and date an orange “Declaration Card” which is later taped to the gun box. In Boise, you will then be directed to go down to the left to have TSA check it out.

The firearm must be locked in a hard sided container. Many pistols come with a traveling case. For rifles, you will have to buy one. Forty something years ago Frontier Airlines would rent you a case for $20. The first time I flew with a rifle I was headed to Texas for a deer hunt. The ticket lady told me that if I didn’t bring it back that they’d keep my $20. She said if I wanted to keep it, she’d go get me a new one in a box.

Now, there are a plethora of gun cases to choose from. Most are lined with foam to protect your scoped rifles. These types of gun cases work fine but all that you can fit into them is your guns and maybe a knife or two. So you’re paying the airline for one bag that only has your guns in it.

Seven years ago I discovered a gun case made by Explorer that had no inner foam. They utilize a canvas carrying case. At first, I didn’t like it. I thought that’s stupid, it won’t protect my scope. But I used it on a trip to Alaska for a brown bear and duck hunt and fell in love with it. Here’s why.

When you go on a hunt, you have to take a ton of gear. Clothing — pants, shirts, base layers, coats, gloves, etc. etc. Then your guns, ammo, optics, knives, camera, maybe waders and the list goes on and on.

With my foamless case I could lay shirts/pants on the bottom, lay the canvas case on top with the guns in it and then lay more clothes on top. Wow. This was almost like having an extra bag of clothes. Plus, I could put my binoculars in the case and they’d be padded.

I fell in love with this concept of luggage. It is the only one like it that I’ve seen on the market. But what if you already own an expensive gun case and can’t (or don’t want to) buy another one? It just hit me while I’m sitting here typing but I guess you could remove the foam out of your existing case and be set. That’s better than flying a luggage half full of foam around the country!

So, if you go the above route, I’d recommend getting a canvas gun case to put your gun in to stick in the case. Plus, you can carry your gun around in the canvas case when hunting. For a pistol you can lock it in a smaller case and put in your unlocked suit case.

Some gun cases have holes for two locks. My Explorer case has holes for six locks which is a pain because Delta requires you to have a lock in every hole. You don’t want a real long necked lock because a thief may be able to pop open the closures on the gun case and be able to stick his hand into your case and pull something out (plus TSA will ding you).

On the other hand, I like longer necked locks to ensure that they can be locked. To alleviate any problems with TSA I carry a baggie of washers. I put a few on the backside of the neck of the lock and then lock the lock in place. Then, even if a thief opens the clasps on the case, he cannot pry open the top. I started doing this years ago.

I always carry 1-2 extra locks in case one malfunctions, which would be a disaster. I’ve never had a problem until … the other day. TSA wanted to open my case to inspect it upon arriving at their booth and for some reason the key wouldn’t work. No biggee. I let them cut the lock since I had an extra one.

What about ammo? Some airlines say ammo has to be in the original container but here is an excerpt from the TSA website:

• Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition and declared to your airline.

• Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has been packed as described above. You cannot use firearm magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition. Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be boxed or included within a hard-sided, locked case.

• Please check with your airline for quantity limits for ammunition.

You can carry your ammo in the original box but over time, a factory cardboard box starts to deteriorate. I just discovered some lightweight plastic containers called Ammo Buddy made by Clamtainer. That’s what I use now. They’re also great to carry extra ammo while backpacking or packing into elk camp. I would classify them as somewhat water resistant, at least as compared to a factory cardboard box.

As far as I can tell TSA doesn’t limit you on how much ammo you can carry but airlines seem to set their own limits. Delta allows up to 11 pounds and in the past United has told me they allow 10 pounds.

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.

Now for the gun shows

I love the show season. And if you’ve been reading any of my articles lately then you know I’ve been flying around the country hitting the Dallas Safari Club Convention & Expo, the Safari Club International Convention and the mother of them all, the SHOT Show.

Even though I love the big shows, I have to admit. I’ve been stretched out thin. Between giving seminars at all of them and working the shows from daylight to dark, maybe flying in late to one of them at 2:30 a.m. and getting up some mornings at 4 to write articles covering them — I was drained by the time I flew home from the last one on a Saturday night at midnight. Only to have to get up at 3:30 to fly out again for two and a half weeks on Wednesday morning.

But now it’s time for some more relaxing type of shows. Gun shows! I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a gun show that it didn’t have something that I couldn’t live without. Gun shows have something for everyone.

If you need a brand new rifle, shotgun or pistol have no fear, you’ll find it there. Want an old M1 Garand? Saw a collection of them today. What about cowboy pistols? Yep, you’ll see a plethora of them.

Then there’s always a few vendors with a ton of old Army gear. Then if you’re looking for knives, you’ll find a ton of them. A lot of old school leather handle knives on up to some modern ones that are good for … I just don’t think their use has been discovered as of yet.

Knives that fit into my hunting world, I usually don’t see too many of them — although today I did.

And who isn’t infatuated with old lever actions? There are always a few tables of them that I have to stop and google over. The old lever action has to be the coolest rifle ever designed, doesn’t it? They’re the gun that won the West and still win the heart of any true westerner. I shot a cinnamon bear a few years ago with a Henry’s Golden Boy 45-70. That made for a beautiful picture with the brass lever action laid on the cinnamon bear.

If you need some décor for a mountain cabin, I don’t know how you could do better than hit a gun show and grab a box full of old-school ammo boxes to set up on a shelf. I saw a guy that had a whole box of old ammo boxes for sell today.

Usually at every gun show I can find at least one deal on a couple of boxes of ammo that I need. But one word of caution. I’d advise against buying any ammo reloaded by some individual local. Years ago I bought some at a Nampa Gun Show and it nearly blew the firing pin back through the end of the bolt. It was protruding out the back of the bolt. Little Tommie’s forehead would have been the next stop. So only buy reputable ammo.

One thing that I really like to stumble upon is a unique local dealer. One year at the La Grande gun show I met a guy that sold imported knives from Finland. They were unique. The handles were made out of reindeer horns. He had a mushroom knife that had boars’ bristles on the end of the handle to brush dirt off of your mushrooms as you gathered them.

Today I met a young man named Justin that owns Dakota Prairie Ammunition. They manufacture ammo, of course. I’m going to be testing some of his ammo. I love helping guys that are just getting their feet on the ground and many times you’ll be able to meet a new fledgling company at your local show.

Some upcoming gun shows in Idaho include: The Amoureux Homedale Gun Show on Feb. 19 and 20 and The Boise Gun Show at the Ford Idaho Center on March 5 and 6.

So don’t just set around the cabin bored this winter. Get out and hit a gun show. If nothing else I always see a few old-time books that I can’t pass on. 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. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

Dark dreary winter or glorious snow heaven?

If you read any writings that are 50 years or older, anytime they wrote about winter there was a dark foreboding sinister feeling portrayed about it. There were cliches like they were entering into the winter of life and you knew they were about to die. You could almost hear the creepy music playing in the background.

As a kid, I didn’t have a lot. When I was 8 years old I’d pull on two to three pairs of socks and cram my foot into my already tight pair of cowboy boots. My toes would have zero circulation. I’d be shivering like a cartoon character.

Even up until after college I thought I was decked out if I had a set of red one-piece Union long handles. Of course they were made out of cotton and we now know that cotton doesn’t wick away moisture. In those days everyone advised wearing wool because it wicks away moisture and you’d survive even if you got wet. But the downside, wool itches.

Fast forward 50 years. Now suddenly a big percentage of people can’t wait for winter! You have to wonder, what caused this big shift in the paradigm? Here’s my explanation. Now we have a ton of fun winter outdoor activities. Skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, winter camping, sledding, ice skating, varmint hunting and who knows what else?

And I think the thing that allowed this change is the availability of new winter clothing that the market offers. Let’s list some of those items from the toes on up.

FOOTWEAR

Manufacturers offer moisture-wicking socks from medium weight on up to thick. Thirty years ago, there was a trend to wear a thin pair of polypropylene socks under your regular pair. This did two things.

1. Wicked away moisture.

2. The socks slid on each other so you didn’t get a blister.

Now there’s a design of boots to fit your every activity. As a kid, I never heard of waterproof boots, but now, nearly all of them are waterproof. (Although in a meeting with marketing guru Ethan Peck with Garmont boots last week at the SHOT Show he told me that sometimes he likes non-waterproof hiking boots because they are better at wicking away moisture. Never heard that before but it makes sense.)

You can get various heights of boots according to how much snow you’re going to encounter. You can also get varying degrees of insulation in them, according to how cold it is or how sedentary your outdoor activities will be. When snowmobiling or ice fishing you may want some Sorel Pac type of boots.

If you’re new to Idaho and haven’t used gaiters before, you need to get a pair. They’re a plastic like/canvas deal that zips up around your ankle and extends almost up to your knee. They clip onto the string on your boots and prevent snow from coming in over the top (curse of all curses).

BASE LAYERS

According to how active that you’re going to be but you can get light, medium and heavy weight base layers. Most are made out of polypropylene and some of silk. These are a must have in cold weather. Don’t get cotton. Remember the old saying, “Cotton Kills,” said because cotton gets wet and clammy.

For pants, it’s nice to have something that is water resistant. It may be cool looking in town but you don’t want your pants skin tight. You want them a little baggy. For a shirt, wool is great but I usually end up wearing some kind of a cotton shirt (flannel, etc.).

If you’re new to Idaho, you need to learn how to layer. You don’t want to wear just one jacket like an oversized Eskimo jacket. Otherwise, you get a little warm hiking and you have to tough it out or pull off your monster size jacket and freeze.

Maybe wear a decent fleece jacket and then a bigger coat over it. That way if you get warm you can just pull off your bigger outer jacket and strap it on your backpack. For a jacket you want one that goes past your waist to block the wind and contain your body heat. And talking about wind, you want one that is windproof and water resistant. And never, never buy a coat without a hood. Otherwise, wind will whip down your neck as well as snow and rain. I always wear a cap. Throw the hood over it and the bill sticks out and protects your face/glasses against the rain and snow.

A gaiter is nice to wear around your neck to keep wind from whipping down your collar. For head cover, everyone now wears some kind of sporty beanie. For extreme weather, Katy bought me one years ago that is four-layers. It’s the ultimate.

Then of course you’ll need some good waterproof/resistant gloves or mittens. You can also supplement with hand warmers to stick in your gloves or pockets.

Well, I could go on for a while but this list ought to at least be enough so you’ll live to make it back to town alive and be able write me some hate letters to the editor pointing out some item I forgot to include!

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.

Snowshoeing: Now and then

If you’ve never snowshoed, you ought to try it. In the old days when I bought my first pair of snowshoes all that they had were the old wood frame ones which had rawhide webbing. I still think that they’re the coolest.

In the old days, the trappers and American Indians made them out of branches and used rawhide strips to make the webbing. Out on open prairies and grasslands they used longer, narrower shoes. In brush and mountains everyone uses wider, shorter ones nicknamed Bear Claws.

But let’s back up to the beginning. Why would someone use snowshoes? Because in deep snow you’ll sink up to your waist and get buried. It is impossible to walk. And even in shallower snow it is a major pain if it is just slightly crusted over. You take a step and right when you’re putting weight on that foot you break through the crust and slam down into the snow. Snowshoes are the only way to go in snow other than if you’re a cross-country skier.

The bindings on snowshoes are different from those used on downhill skiing. When downhill skiing your foot is tied firmly to the ski. When snowshoeing your toe is in constant contact with the shoe but with every step your heel rises up. The bindings resemble a thick piece of rubber that your toe slips into. Of course, there are varying types of bindings but the original ones 40 years ago were all like this.

A few years ago — I don’t remember maybe 20 or 30 years ago — you started seeing aluminum framed snowshoes hit the market. They’re lightweight and relatively cheap. I still like the old wood/rawhide snowshoes the best but mine finally rotted out. It was cheaper to buy a pair of aluminum ones than to repair my old ones. So that’s what Katy and I use now.

So where should you go snowshoeing?

You don’t want to just randomly pick a mountain to hike up. You’ll want to pick a trail or old logging road to hike on. Think back to where you elk hunted last fall. Where were some good logging roads for hiking? You’ll want to pick an old logging road or trail. Or you can hike across a meadow. Or maybe even use them if you’re going ice fishing and the snow is deep on the ice.

I’ve seen a couple of backcountry yurts advertised as fun to hike to and spend the night in. I’ve never done that. When Katy and I go snowshoeing we just go up in the mountains and hit a trail. It’s a fun excuse to get up in the mountains and get a little exercise. We don’t have a big agenda. We’re just going hiking.

To have a carrot at the end of the hike I like to throw a coffee pot in my backpack. After a couple of hours of hiking we’ll build a fire and heat up a pot of hot water to make hot chocolate. You’ll want to throw a jug of water in your pack. Sure, you can melt snow but remember, 10 inches of snow melts down to 1 inch of water. By the time it heats and sizzles you don’t have much water left so you’ll use a lot of snow. But yes, I use snow. I’ll put water in the pot and supplement it with snow so I don’t have to pack as much water.

So, with the above said, heat up a pot of water and pour everyone a cup of hot water. Pull out the packs of hot chocolate and everyone is ready for a treat. It’s a big treat for everyone to warm up around the fire with a cup of hot chocolate.

A lot of the newer shoes are not quite wide enough so with some of them you’ll sink down in the snow if it is too powdery, soft and deep. I haven’t researched all of the makers so I can’t recommend which is the best shoes to buy.

So in closing, don’t sit around the house and get fat and lazy. Grab a pair of snowshoes and hit the trails.

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.

It’s varmint season!

I don’t know what makes varmint season so appealing. Maybe because our hunting seasons are all over and we feel like we cheated the system and snuck in one last hooray. Or maybe it’s just because it is flat out fun. Or maybe it’s because after a hard-core regimented big game season you can run ‘n’ gun and shoot multiple animals. Elk/deer hunting is like a chess game. Varmint hunting is like a high-speed video game!

Who knows all of the deep psychological reasons why varmint hunting is so much fun? If you’ve never varmint hunted, don’t be a deep thinker, just do it! In this article I’m going to cover techniques and gear that you’ll need. But everyone has a budget so if you’re a kid on a paper route budget don’t despair — just buy a hand call and go cheap. You can still get some shots.

First off let’s start with what gun(s) to use. Two decades ago, a good bolt action was the ticket. Now, ARs have taken over the scene and for good reason. They’re semi autos so you can get fast follow up shots. I just got an Anderson Mfg. 5.56 and tricked it out and am now ready to have at it.

I love rifle hunting but if there’s more than one of you in your hunting party, I’d recommend one of you carrying a shotgun. I kept count one year and 40 percent of my shots were close enough to use a shotgun. How many times has one busted you when you were calling? Either sneaking in and spooking at 20-30 yards or zipping in at Mach V and you didn’t even get a shot? Have one of the hunters in your group carry a shotgun for one season and I bet it will become a rule.

For shotguns I’d recommend using good quality ammo. I use Kent or HEVI-Shot. Sure, you can use leftover pheasant shells but if you want to reach out there to 50-70 yards you need to use good shells.

CALLS

When I was 5 or 6 years old, dad had an old wood call. We’d call for a minute and then wait five minutes. That philosophy has long gone out the window. Now everyone calls non-stop. That’s why electronic calls are so nice. They save you from blowing out your lungs on a hand call. After a few revolutions we’d then run a flashlight on the horizon to see if we could see any eyes.

Years later Johnny Stewart came out with cassette calls. My brother would plug one in his truck, roll down the windows and we’d stand in back of the truck. You can either run your light on the horizon or about 20 feet out from you in a circle. If you see eyes glistening the shooter gets ready and the light is dropped down on the varmint and you have about a second to shoot before they scatter. This was revolutionary.

If you buy a cheap call, you’re going to get frustrated. Buy a decent call. All the good varmint hunters I know use a FoxPro. It comes with quite a few calls and you can buy/download more. Of course mimic whatever game is in that area. Don’t use an elk in distress if you’re hunting outside of Star. Use a rabbit squeal. You get my drift.

DECOYS

Something that will tip the odds in your favor is to use a decoy. The most popular decoy is some kind of waggler. In a nutshell it is a wire attached to a motorized spinner that rotates. A white rag or piece of fur is tied to the end. You’d think a small white rag spinning around would scare them off but they love it.

Everyone has a budget. If you’re a kid on a paper route budget you get a stiff wire (3 to 4 feet long) and tie a turkey feather 2-4 inches from the end. Stick the wire in the ground at an angle and the breeze will twirl the feather around.

A decoy is important because a varmint hears the ruckus and comes running in expecting to see some action. If they don’t, that throws up a red flag. That also has them focusing on the decoy and not you.

BLINDS

You’ll need to be concealed while calling. Numerous times I’ve just hid behind a fence post or a pile of brush. A few years ago I upgraded and bought a strip of camouflaged burlap that was 3 feet by 10 feet long. I can lay this over a fence or between two bushes. Or there’s C-shaped panels that are lightweight and work great.

I don’t want to get too extravagant but it’s nice to have a chair. You don’t need a full-blown Lazy Boy. I like the Alps Mountaineering Dash Chair which is a backpacking chair. It is beneficial to have a low-profile chair for two reasons: 1. It elevates you so you can see over the grass and sage brush. 2. It’s comfortable so you will hold still longer and not spook the game.

So just because all of our hunting seasons have wound down don’t store away your rifles alongside your summer shorts just yet. There’s one more season in full swing right now — varmint season!

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.