The best big game rifle for Idahoans

Discussing the best big game rifle could cause a civil war. This is a topic more serious than politics. There’s be a better chance of seeing Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump holding hands walking down Main Street drinking a latte than for an ardent 30-06 lover to set down and have a civil talk with a .270 fanatic.

Why is this such a touchy subject, the non-hunter may ask? I’ll tell you why: Not only are there arguments as to which is the best rifle manufacturer, but also as to what type of actions. Bolt-actions, lever-actions, pumps or semi-automatics. And for sure the most vehement arguments will be about the best caliber.

A lot of your choices will be strictly sentimental. Your dad or uncle used this rifle and you bought a rifle just like theirs and killed your first deer with it. It would almost be sacrilegious to change your beliefs.

So everyone will have their own rationale as to the best caliber. It may be for sentimental reasons as stated above. It may be because you saw John Wayne use such and such rifle or you may scientifically decide that this rifle has the fastest feet per second, knock-down power or whatever. And even among the scientific thinkers, they can err. Do you really think it matters if a bullet is zipping along at 2,800 feet per second as compared with brand X that only flies along at 2,700 feet per second?

And then a lot of it can be because of marketing. Here’s what I mean by that. How come the rifle that last year was advertised as the absolute best rifle ever designed is suddenly outdated? In one year! Because they have to advertise and breed contempt or you’ll buy one rifle and keep it for the rest of your life, pass it on to your kids and then it will be passed along to your grandkids. That’s not good for business.

I had to ditch my old Remington 742 I bought when I was 12 years old with my paper route earnings. Everyone knows bolt-actions are more accurate, so I bought a new Remington 700 .338 Win Mag — and missed the first bull I saw. Hold on — wait a minute. I thought they were the ultimate. I’d shot turkeys in the head at 60 yards with my old 742 and made dozens of head shots on deer with it. I’d been hoodwinked.

I say all of the above to show that people make up their minds as to which rifle/caliber is the best based on a lot of sub-standard reasoning and emotions. Or it may just be preferences. It’s like saying what is the best wife? Black haired? Blonde? Red haired? Pink, blue or orange haired? It’s a preference, not a right or wrong.

So with all of the above said, if you’re new to Idaho and trying to decide which rifle to buy, I’ll try to help you out. Forever, I used my old Remington 742 semi-automatic 30-06. It worked fine. For close shots, it was plenty accurate, but most people would agree that a bolt-action rifle is the most accurate and dependable. So I’d tell you to get a bolt-action rifle.

Years ago, to get a 1- to 1 ½-inch group, you had to get a custom rifle and reload. Now, there are a few factory rifles that are capable of getting 1 ½-inch groups with factory ammo. I’ve tested a couple of Mossbergs and been able to do this with them. So you don’t have to buy a super expensive custom-made rifle anymore to get good groups. (To tighten down your groups, you probably will need a trigger job.)

Now what about calibers? If you can only afford one rifle, I’d say get a 30-06. You can kill anything in America with it, but the .300 Winchester Magnum is better. They’ll be a little bit of an over kill on antelope and small deer, but still you’ll have a rifle that you can hunt everything in North America with. Then you have all of the other popular rounds, .308s, .270s, .243s, etc. Too many to list. Then, of course, right now everyone is in love with the 6.5 Creedmoor. But if you’re new to Idaho, I’d say get a 30-06 or more likely a .300 Winchester Magnum. I have a .338 Win. Mag. but wish I had of gotten a .300.

Almost as big of a factor as which caliber you choose is which ammo you use. I test a lot of ammo and am constantly amazed at how accuracy varies from ammo to ammo in my rifle. Just as important is how it performs when it hits an animal.

For years, I used the old Remington Core-Lokt ammo. As a kid, it only cost $10/box, so I couldn’t see paying $40 to $50 per box for the higher priced stuff. But it’d perform great on 10 to 15 deer in a row and then suddenly it wouldn’t. I remember one year I had to shoot a deer three times to drop it and an antelope twice all in the same year. That got me checking out better performing ammo.

Well, we are way out of room and have barely gotten started. Hopefully this short article will get you started. Or you maybe want to play it safe and just buy one of every caliber!

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.

We have our differences

Contrary to what some people think, all firearm owners are not of the same mind when it comes to shooting and hunting. Many firearm owners don’t hunt and the reasons they don’t are almost as varied as the people who own and shoot firearms, and do hunt. Some have firearms for self defense because of a perceived rise in violent crime including assault and the increased awareness of home burglaries. That also seems to be the reason that firearm ownership is increasing in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Some people really enjoy target shooting and socializing with other target shooters at the shooting range, while some people enjoy collecting firearms, but rarely shoot those firearms.

Texas A&M University where I taught for 25 years has one of the most impressive gun collections in the United States. The collection includes MatchIocks, Flintlocks, Percussion rifles and pistols as well as more modern firearms that use smokeless powder ammunition. One of my favorite rifles in that collection is an old, black-powder, four-bore elephant gun. I’m just amazed anyone would carry a rifle that big and heavy across Africa hunting the “Big Five,” for which Africa is famous. I suspect that because that rifle had to be reloaded with powder, patch and ball as well as putting powder in the pan, between shots, the hunter got trounced by one of the Big Five as often as the first shot ended the hunt.

Those of us that hunt in North America are also a varied group in what we like to hunt, the calibers we use and our particular hunting ethics. I think most of us agree on a basic list of ethical hunting practices, but some of us are trophy hunters and won’t shoot unless the game fits our requirements of antler points, general size and whatever else we think is important.

We also don’t all use the same caliber of rifle or the same type of bullet for deer, elk, moose, pronghorn and other game. For example, I hunt coyotes with a 55- to 63-grain bullet in .223/5.56 caliber, deer with a .30-30 Winchester lever action, .30-06, or a .300 Weatherby Magnum in bolt action depending on terrain, tree and brush cover, and distance at which I might have to shoot. I usually load the .30-30 with Hornady 160-grain LEVERevelution ammunition, and 180-grain bullets in both the .30-06 Springfield and the .300 Weatherby.

When choosing ammunition for the .30-06, I generally use Remington Core-Lokt ammunition. I load my own 180-grain bullets in front of 80 grains of Reloader 22, for my .300 Weatherby or I use Weatherby’s 180-grain Spire Point bullets.

I am a little old school, and don’t trust polymer tips on bullets to not start deforming from the heat generated by the magnum calibers with muzzle velocities over 3000 feet per second. However, there are many hunters who will gladly sing the praises of polymer tip bullets such as the “Ballistic Tip” bullets in the Weatherby line of ammunition and Hornady’s polymer tips.

We don’t all agree on the best caliber and bullet weight for the game we hunt either. Jose Sarber, a game warden out of Saint Petersburg, Alaska, never used anything bigger that a .30-6 on Alaska brown bear. His favorite bear load was the now obsolete 172 grain Western Tool and Copper Company open-point bullet with enough powder behind it to move it along at 2,750 to 2,800 feet per second. Jack O’ Conner, a well known hunting writer also liked the .30- 06 for the Alaskan Brownies, but opted for 180- and 220-grain bullets for the big bears.

Today many hunters have decided that the .270 Winchester and the .30-06 just aren’t up to really large North American game, even though they were most hunter’s favorite big-game calibers until the late 1950s when the big-bore magnum rooting section started trying to convince us that the 30-caliber magnums and up were the only calibers a real man or woman would use on anything over 700 pounds.

Some of us talk back to the magnum crowd, reminding them that it doesn’t matter how big a cannon one uses, if you can’t place the shot in the vitals, the big stuff won’t go down. If you can place the shot in the vitals, .270s and .30-06s do a really good job at the distance they were designed for. I didn’t purchase a .300 Weatherby as much for the particular type of game I hunt, as for the distance I think I will have to shoot whatever I am hunting.

I and one other of the guys I hunt with carry single-action pistols in .45 Colt and .357 mag. The rest carry their rifle and no side arm.

I am an ambush hunter. I like to get up early and get settled in a spot overlooking a game trail where I have seen game while scouting the area before the season opens. Most of the others in our group can’t sit anywhere more than five minutes and like to move quietly through the area using the tree line or any cover they can find. I probably cover close to the same amount ground they do by starting out early to reach the spot where I want to be, but once I’m there I don’t move very much. I’ve even had hunters who are moving around, spook game right into my area.

So we have our differences, but we all enjoy hunting, shooting and gun collecting on our own terms.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at

Ice fishing — brrr!

Why would anyone want to go ice fishing? It can be bitter cold — and windy. I’ll tell you why: Because if they’re biting it can be fun, and you can have fresh fish in the winter! Plus, don’t you ever get cabin fever and just have to get outdoors and do something?

Ice fishing is a huge sport in Minnesota, Michigan and some of those states. They drive their trucks with their campers out on the lakes and the whole bit. Sorry, hate to be a little wimp, but I’d be scared of dropping through on this one.

Speaking of dropping through — that scares me, too. The ice creaks while out ice fishing and makes weird harmonic sounds as it cracks and shifts. Wonnnnkkkkkk as it cracks and runs between you and your buddies. To deal with this danger, many people tell you to carry a long rope to throw to someone if they fall in and a sled to disperse your weight so you can get to them.

One time I was ice fishing with Mike Helzer in Nebraska, and it was warming up and had melted the snow on top of the ice. If we caught a fish and three of us ran to the hole, the ice sheet would start dipping down. But enough on this or you’ll never go ice fishing.

The gear is really pretty simple. You’ll need an ice auger to drill holes so you can fish. The more holes you drill the better or you’re stuck in one spot. You don’t just fish in one spot in the summer, do you? No, you move around. The problem with ice fishing is that to move around, you have to drill a hole every time. For this reason, many people prefer a gas-powered auger.

You can have as many holes as you want, but they can’t be over 10-inches in diameter to prevent people from falling in if snow drifts over the hole. And ice fishing, you can use up to five rods and each rod can have five hooks on it.

You’ll also want an ice ladle. As ice starts to form in your hole you’ll want to scoop it out. You’ll also want a ladle to scoop out the slush you made when drilling the hole.


Ice fishing rods are shorter than your normal rods so you can maneuver fishing in the hole. They make short ones that look like a miniature crappie fishing rig, only about a third as long. A cheaper option that most people use is tip-ups. They’re a small rod with a spool for a reel.

In the winter, fish will be more lethargic so you can handle them on the smaller ice fishing rods. Because they are lethargic, you’ll want to move your jigs a little slower.


A lot of people put a meal worm on a small ice fishing jig. Some drop larger jigs and pick them up and drop them slowly down the water column. You can also use regular worms on a hook or jig. Perch like cut bait, so cut a piece of skin off of a fish.

I catch my perch about a foot off the bottom. Try trout a little higher up. But you’ll want to fish up and down the water column to find out where they’re feeding and then fish there. Try for perch in about 20 to 25-feet of water.

You don’t need to worry about a stringer and keeping them alive. Just throw them in the snow on the ice. Five-gallon buckets work great to carry them in.


Needless to say, it can get cold, so wear plenty of layers. Wear heavy boots and some good Browning Wool Socks. Hand warmers are nice. Take a chair or bucket to set on so you’re comfortable.


I don’t have an ice hut, but there are some nice portable ones on the market. Back East, you see pics of ones that people make that look like big outhouses. They’ll even have floors and holes in the floor to fish through. They’ll have heaters and the whole bit. I carry a tent heater, or you can build a fire.

It works well to throw all of your gear into a sled and drag it out to where you’re going to fish. 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.

Thoughts on predator hunting

I have always used the winter months from January to the end of April to ski and maintain all my firearms and make sure they are cleaned, repaired if necessary, and in good working order for the target shooting, sighting in and the scouting for game I do from May to the end of July. During August, I begin to get ready for the hunting season, which for archery season opens about the end of August and goes through September. I then have 10 days to get ready for any-weapon season, which usually starts on Oct. 10. If I haven’t harvested any game by the end of October, there are still some hunts available for elk in November. So far in my life, I haven’t done much hunting in December except for jackrabbits on the Arco Desert back in the 1950s and early ’60s with my father who loved jackrabbit hunting.

At the first of January this year, I received an email from Fish and Game suggesting I renew my hunting license. While I was considering the pros and cons of renewing my hunting license now, instead of in April when I am getting ready to scout for game in three different areas, I got another email from a local sporting goods store telling me that I could hunt predators this winter and spring bear hunting was coming up.

The second email from the local sporting goods store reminded me that all hunters are not of the same mind when it comes to what we hunt and which hunting seasons we take advantage of during the year. For example, I don’t hunt bear. I don’t have a problem with those hunters that do, and I understand that in this day and age we have to manage the game and habitat carefully to ensure that there will be enough wild places and animals for future generations to enjoy. Hunting is certainly an important tool for wildlife management, and hunting seasons have been established for each species of wildlife. I just have never hunted bear because I have no justifiable reason to kill one unless it was in self defense. So far, when I have run into bears in the wild, both grizzlies and black bears, they have never given me any reason to think I was in any danger, nor were they threatening any livestock my father or anyone else owned.

The same is true concerning wolves and mountain lions. I don’t eat their meat, and I am not in the fur business, and so far I have never felt threatened by them, and they have seemed to not want to have anything to do with me. Many years ago, a mountain lion and her offspring took up residence close enough to my father’s horse ranch that we were concerned that they might cause a problem. A call to Idaho Fish and Game resulted in a relocation operation that proved to be successful. I was pretty happy Fish and Game had the equipment and resources to relocate them without having to injure or kill them.

Coyotes are a little different. I have no reason to hunt them unless they are threatening me or livestock. We did have a few coyotes come around the horse ranch, but they scattered and disappeared when we showed up with our shotguns. We never had a coyote attack any of the foals or mature horses on the ranch. A relative of mine who has a cattle ranch near Spring Creek, Nevada, has a real problem with coyotes and has invited my son and I to come with our AR-15s and rid the place of the coyotes. We may take him up on the offer as soon as we check with Nevada Department of Wildlife and make sure what our parameters are. We have been told by my relative that we don’t need a license if we just leave the coyotes where we shoot them and inform the department where to pick up the carcasses, which they will collect. Sounds great to me, but I want to verify that with Nevada Department of Wildlife to be sure we haven’t been misinformed.

In Idaho, there is no coyote season. They can be hunted year around, but one must have a hunting license.

Nonresidents can hunt coyotes with an Idaho three-day small game license that costs $35.50. Spot lighting for coyotes is an issue that can be taken up with Idaho Fish and Game and requires permission.

In my case, if I don’t plan to eat it, or donate it to Idaho Hunters Feeding The Hungry, and it isn’t a threat to me or livestock, I probably won’t hunt or shoot it. Even the jackrabbits my father and I hunted were at the invitation of farmers whose crops the rabbits were feeding on.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at

Crow hunting

To me, crows are the smartest birds in the world. As a kid, I never could outsmart them. I had a hand call but didn’t really know what I was doing. Years later, I finally learned the system. Like I said, crows are smart. But if you learn to call properly, you can smoke them.

With all of the recent crow problems in Nampa, I thought this might be a timely article. In fact, you may have seen me lately standing in front of the local grocery store holding the sign “WILL SHOOT CROWS FOR AMMO.”

Here’s how I like to hunt crows. Hide behind a super thick clump of cedars. You don’t want them to be able to see you until they’re within 20 yards or less. If they see you, they’re going to scatter.

You want to only have an opening above you. Being this well concealed makes it tough to always get a shot but if you’re exposed, they spook. So in the perfect set-up you’ll only have a hole above you. If you don’t have a perfect set-up, at least sit back in the shadows.

It’s best to be in a short clump of trees. If the trees are too tall, when they fly in skimming over the trees, they’ll almost be out of range even if they’re straight over the top of you.

You’ll also want to be camouflaged. Especially your hands and face. I wear a net over my face and at least some green army gloves. They can see your bare face if it’s not hidden and your hands are the source of most of your movement.

Like I said, I’ve used a hand call a lot, but an electronic call is by far the best. With a hand call, there’s only one of you; my electronic call sounds like there’s a whole Army of them swarming something.

I place the call about 20 yards from me in a clump of brush. I like to start off with a hawk whistle or an owl hooting. Then go to a crow/owl/hawk fight and then into your crows calling. Many times, they’ll be cawing when they come in, but a lot of times they’ll come in silently.

I also like to use a MOJO Crow decoy with the spinner wings. It comes with a 3- or 4-foot stake but it’s better to hang it up higher, so they see it better. It has a hook on it so you can tie up on a branch.

As long as they don’t see you and you don’t miss them, they’ll keep coming in. And if you happen to wound one, they’ll really come in.

So where should you set up? I don’t want to state the obvious but wherever you’re seeing crows. Find some good brush, set up and call. If you park and hear some off in the distance, you’re more than likely to have them zip right over.

So how far should you move between set-ups? I had one 50-acre spot and I did two or three set-ups on it. You can get on the north side of the place and point your speakers north and then go to the south side and point your speakers south to cover new turf.

What do you use for a gun and shells? I like my Mossberg 12-gauge semi-automatic. Crows aren’t exceptionally hard to kill and your shots will be semi close so I used Aquila low-base 6-shot.

I favor electronic calls, but how many times have you had a malfunction? Or your batteries died? So I carry a Quaker Boy hand call as a backup. Plus, it’s easy to throw one in your pocket if you’re out doing some kind of other hunting in case you run across some crows.

It seems like every time right at daylight when I’m calling varmints, crows come in. I never shoot them because I don’t want to booger up my setup, but obviously calling with a varmint call at daylight works.

So if you want to enjoy a little shooting in the off season and at the same time help the wildlife environment, grab your shotgun and go blast a few crows. They are not good neighbors. They’re death on ground birds (quail, chukars, grouse etc.). They eat their eggs.

And for the life of me I can’t figure out why Idaho protects ravens. There sure isn’t a shortage of them and they’re really bad neighbors! If we’re so worried about sage-grouse, why don’t we manage ravens? Go down in the Owyhees and look around. There’s a raven every 100 yards. It’s a miracle that one sage-grouse nest even survives.

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.

Red Dot Sights

When we teach marksmanship with rifles, we always stress focusing on the front sight and placing one’s cheek in exactly the same place on the stock each time we shoot. It’s not that we don’t use the rear sight, we do, but our focus is always on the front sight with our cheek in exactly the same place on the stock. If we focus on the front sight from exactly the same cheek position that we taught ourselves to use when aligning the front and rear sights, the rear sight becomes a reference point more than something we consciously look at when shooting, at least at short distances from 25 to 100 yards.

People who are good at point shooting with a pistol use a similar focus on the front sight that Massad Ayoob — a well-known and highly respected police marksmanship instructor introduced in his excellent book “StressFire” — calls “point index shooting.” When I taught the state-mandated concealed carry course in Texas, I introduced my students to point index shooting, but simply called it index shooting because I didn’t want my students to confuse the principle with the many different ideas about point shooting.

However, what if there were a sighting system that took point index shooting to the next level and only used a 1X, 20 to 30 mm window with a single two MOA red, or green, circular dot that the shooter placed on the target and fired.

Our military asked the same question, and a company called EOTech produced the one the military now uses. There are now quite a few companies that manufacture what has become generally known as Red Dot Sights.

These sights are of varying quality depending on price, but if you are willing to put down $130 to $600 for one, you can get a very accurate sight that has elevation and windage adjustments that requires both eyes to stay open for peripheral vision, that will place your shot accurately out to 100 yards. You can also get a telescopic optic that fits in front of the Red Dot sight for shots at greater distances.

Unlike front and rear sights that you are familiar with, eye relief is not an issue, and the angle you are looking through the sight is not an issue. If you can see the red or green dot, just place it on the target and shoot. You will hit the target.

The original Red Dot Sights were designed for the AR-15 and military M-16 rifles to be fast on target sights. They are now also used by coyote hunters and pest control shooters as well as target shooters.

I really like Red Dot Sights, but don’t want to pay much over $200 to put one on my new AR-15. That means that the original EOTech sight is way over my budget. I just want a really good Red Dot sight with a 2-MOA dot, that fits in my budget of $ 200 or a little less.

So what can one get for $200 when shopping for a Red Dot Sight? A pretty darn good sight with a excellent lifetime warranty if one really looks at what is available and takes advantage of sales that pop up on Amazon, Midway, and other internet sales companies. Some features you should look for are: 2-MOA red or green dot, unlimited eye relief, 8 daytime illumination settings, elevation adjustment of -/+ 40 MOA, windage adjustment of -/+ 40 MOA, water proof to 1meter immersion, and fog proof, 1913 Picatinny low mount and 1.41 riser mount, and motion-activated illumination of sight.

One of the best warranty’s on a red dot sight for budget minded buyers comes with a 4-MOA Red Dot Sight if you don’t insist on a smaller 2-MOA dot. Others can be powered by a single CR 2032 battery or a single AAA if you would like to use batteries that are inexpensive and readily available.

My suggestion is to start by looking up EOTech on the internet and viewing the features or specs sheets of the EOTechs so you know what is offered. Then look up the less expensive sights by Sig Saur, leupold, Vortex, True Glow, Aimpoint, Bushnell, Holosun, Sightmark and others to compare features or spec sheets to determine what is most important to you. I think you will be surprised at the quality of many of the less expensive models between $130 and $20.

I think I have my selection down to three, but every now and then there is some kind of special deal on a Red Dot Sight that I have to learn more about. I’m hoping to make a decision in the next few weeks, which could stretch into April, but hopefully not next Christmas.

I need to thank Don Cluff, the manager of the Pocatello Sportsmen’s Warehouse, and the guys at the gun counter for letting me take a picture of two of their Red Dot Sights. They have always been very accommodating when I have asked to take pictures of items I don’t own myself.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at

Those deadly shopping carts

The day all started off innocent enough. My wife, Katy, taught school at Nampa Christian Schools, and my two daughters went to school there. Well, it just so happened that I got off work early one day, so I thought I’d go pick up the kids, go get some ice cream and have a fun daddy-daughter afternoon.

As I was about to leave with the kids, Katy informed me that she had to stay late for a teacher’s meeting and one of her teaching buddies, Mrs. Schierman, wanted to know if I’d take her kids home so they didn’t have to sit around school waiting on her. I said, “Sure, no problem,” but that I had to stop by the grocery store to grab a few things first if they didn’t mind the stop.

(I remembered the time I was walking home from grade school and a classmate, Nancy Spiller, drove by with her mom and said they’d give me a ride home. As we were driving home, suddenly Nancy’s mom remembered that they had to run downtown right fast to her husband’s sign shop. By the time I got home, I had lost 20 minutes of football playing time with my neighborhood buddies. I’ve been traumatized ever since.)

Mrs. Schierman said that’d be fine — it’d still be better than them sitting at school by themselves for two hours. I told her I’d get everyone a treat.

Well, we got to the grocery store, and as we were going up and down the aisles shopping, I suddenly got the urge to take out hauling and then jump up on the grocery cart and coast down the aisle. But every time I’d halfway get going, some old person would totter out in the way and I’d have to hit the brakes.

It was like they had bused every nursing home to the store that day. I’d barely get going, and every 15 feet someone would step out in front of me. So keep that picture in your mind for a minute and we’ll come back to it.

We grabbed whatever vital items I had to get and went out to the car. I put the kids in the car, unloaded the groceries and then turned to push the cart to the cart rack. Suddenly I had a magnificent brainstorm. There were no old people or crowds out here in the parking lot to impede my runs. I had it all to myself! And the cart was empty. I could run as fast as I wanted to. What good fortune had befallen me.

I had put all four kids in the Suburban, shut the door and at that moment was when my Baja 500 plan actually developed. Out in front of my car 50 yards away was the cart rack.

Immediately, I took off at full blast pushing the cart. Very few sprinters in the Olympics could of blown off the starting blocks as fast as I took off. When I was peaked out, I jumped onto the back of the cart to enjoy my ride all the way to the cart rack.

But suddenly everything went awry — like with a lot of my adventures. One second, I’m standing on the cart going 20 mph, the envy of all of the shoppers. Then in the flash of the eye — quick as lightning — the front of the cart tilted straight up. And, of course, I did a head stand inside the cart. After that, it was all a blur. The best I could tell, I went head over heels in a hot second, flipping end over end who knows how many times.

It finally all came to a sudden stop with me flipping onto my back on the asphalt as a grand finale. I had so many knots all over me I didn’t know which ones to rub first. Finally my wobbling vision came back into focus as I gingerly tried to get up into a setting position. The first thing that came into focus was four kids with their chins dropped on the dash of the Suburban, and eight eyeballs, wide open looking out the front window at me.

It was like an Evel Knievel jump gone bad. With all the kids watching, I couldn’t even lay there and lick my wounds. I had to get up and act like nothing had happened.

One of the Schierman kids said, “Wow! This is a lot more fun grocery shopping with your dad than with my mom. Does he always do this?” Kolby, eyes still big as silver dollars said, “No, this one was kinda wild even for my dad.”

And that was the last time I ever took the Schierman kids home after school again. It’d just be too hard trying to top that entertainment session!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.

Christmas 2018

This year my wife and I decided not to give each other Christmas gifts with the exception of a traditional gift that my father-in-law gave each of his daughters every Christmas as they were growing up, and I have tried to continue since his death.

Besides, we had to replace our furnace and ended up replacing the water heater also and getting a new air conditioning unit this past year.

My brother decided to come get his gun vault that he kept in our house and gave it to his son along with his rifles and shot gun. I had been keeping a couple of my rifles in that gun vault also, so I had to buy a second gun vault for my own rifles.

We just decided that we each had bought ourselves enough stuff this year that we could count those things as our Christmas presents purchased early out of necessity.

All the brothers and sisters in both my wife’s and my family decided several years ago to just send each other Christmas cards since all our families were growing and the expense of sending gifts to our children and grandchildren was high enough, especially when you have to mail those gifts to places all over the country. In some cases, we have just sent cash to the grandchildren so they can buy whatever they want as long as the amount we sent will cover the cost.

We did Have a Christmas Eve dinner at Mandarin House with my sister’s family, and a family dinner at my sister’s house on Christmas Day with her daughter’s husband and children from Las Vegas.

Getting our two families together for Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner is a tradition also. We have a program where everyone participates, and I tell a Christmas story about miners, cowboys or others in the old West during the mid to late 1800s. Usually I’m asked to tell the story about the gold miner’s having Santa Claus visit them at the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. After all the funny stuff, my niece’s husband — who is the serious member of the family — reads the Christmas story to remind us what Christmas is really about.

This year, we were treated to my sister’s oldest son playing “Silent Night” on a mini kazoo, my sister’s niece doing a circular presentation of being cooked in a micro wave oven, my sister reciting a poem, my niece reading a story about a toboggan running over a bobcat, which was presumed dead and waking up at exactly the wrong moment. Funny stuff.

It is fun to get together with family and learn of each others talents. I had never heard “Silent Night” played on a mini kazoo, and I’m not sure I want to have that experience again. At the time, I was disappointed that he only played one verse, but it was probably for the best. I also learned that portraying a chicken being roasted in a micro wave oven is an art form.

We decided not to stay for the Muppet Christmas movie, as we had a couple of dogs at the house and we needed to get home and see what they had been up to.

The snow we woke up to on Christmas morning was a welcome sight. My wife had been praying for a white Christmas but with no snow by late Monday night, it didn’t look like a white Christmas would happen this year. Before I could get dressed and shovel our drive way and sidewalk, the youth in the neighborhood beat me to it. That was a nice surprise. My only worry was that they do that primarily for the old folks who aren’t able to shovel their own driveways and sidewalks and might slip and fall. Are those kids trying to tell us something?

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at

Smoking salmon

There was definitely a miracle on 34th Street or whatever street the Claycomb house is on the night before Christmas Eve. While digging through the freezer to find something or the other, I found one last package of salmon fillets. It was a fillet of silvers from two years ago while fishing with Alaska Expedition. The Claycomb girls were rejoicing — which brings up the topic of this week’s article: How to smoke salmon.

There are a lot of good ways to cook salmon but the two favorite methods in my house are blackened and smoked.

Blackening is not hard. Skin the salmon. I like to use a pair of needle-nose pliers and pull out all of the bones. Next, melt a little butter in a Lodge cast iron skillet. Drop the fillet in the butter and then flip. Pull it out and sprinkle on heavily some Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish spices. The butter will cause the spices to stick to the fillet.

Add a little butter to the skillet and turn up the heat. The Cajuns say to do this outside because you want the skillet smoking. I don’t cook it quite that hot, but you do want it to semi-burn a crust on the outside pretty fast. If the heat is too low, it will cook the fish throughout and be dry. You want to get a blackened crust on the outside, but the inside of the fillet should be almost rare or at least moist. Salmon is great blackened.

But the way that my girls like it best is smoked. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today. Here’s how I do it. Leave the skin on (I’ll explain why later). Pull the bones with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

Mix 3 to 4 cups of warm water with ¾ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup white sugar, salt, little pepper, ginger and stir. You can marinate your fillet in a cake pan or it works nice to put it in a plastic bag. Squeeze the air out of the bag so the marinade and bag are semi-tight against the fillet.

Marinating fish or jerky in a bag is nice because every hour you can massage it and not even get your hands dirty. On fish, I just flip it, which will help ensure that all surface areas are being marinated.

I like to let my salmon marinate at least four hours. In the old days, I’d smoke it on my smoker or grill on a piece of foil, skin side down. But that holds in the moisture so it tastes broiled instead of smoked. Here’s the best way. Smoke your salmon on a board, skin side down. The skin will stick to the board but no big deal because you aren’t going to eat the skin anyway.

The Native Americans will tell you to use a cedar plank but an oak cutting board or whatever will work fine. I soak my board in water before smoking to prevent it from burning, but most of my smoking boards are all charred on bottom.

For ease and consistency, I use a Camp Chef wood pellet grill. That way I can regulate the heat to a T, and it still has a good smoke flavor. I suppose any flavor of wood is good, but on fish I prefer apple.

Smoking on a wood plank lets the moisture run off so you get a dried fillet instead of a water-logged, broiled-tasting piece of fish.

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.

Show season is almost upon us

If you’ve peeked out the window lately, then you are painfully aware that winter has hit. After all the hunting seasons are closed, what’s a guy to do? Sit around and drink lattes and get fat? No! The show season is nearly upon us, so get out and hit some of the outdoor shows.

I like going to outdoor shows for a lot of reasons — besides the obvious reason that it’s usually cold and the weather is miserable by then and I’m bored stiff. Here’s a few other reasons that I enjoy them.


I love hitting the shows and attending the seminars. At every seminar that I’ve ever been to, I’ve learned something. The bigger the shows, usually the better the speakers. Although I must throw out a disclaimer. Sometimes at smaller shows you’ll have a gung-ho young local guy and he’ll share everything that he knows and not hold back like some of the older dogs.

And of course, I like doing seminars at the shows. January will be a busy month for me. The first week, I’ll have four seminars at the SCI Convention in Reno, the next week four seminars at the Dallas Safari Club Convention in Dallas, and then the last week four at the SHOT Show in Vegas. So I’ll be swamped.


If you are in need of new gear, hit the shows. Many times manufacturers will have booths set up and be offering show specials. Plus, you’ll see a lot of new gear not offered in the big box stores. I see a lot of creative hunters and fishermen who invented new little knick-knacks and are trying to make a go of it. You’ll see gear you’ve never seen before.

A buddy told me to get your product into Cabela’s, you have to let them list it on their internet sales for two years. Then if it does good, they’ll offer it in the store. Gee, you could have a great product and go broke before you ever got to put it in front of a customer. That’s where shows have helped jump start many struggling little companies. So you’re likely to see gear you’ve never seen before.


Then in addition to all new products discussed above, there’ll also be a lot of booths with old gear. By “old” I don’t mean old but, rather, what you will find in the stores. There may be show specials. For instance, if you’re in the market for a backpack, this may be a good spot to find one.

But, please, Look around. People drive me nuts with their impulsive shopping habits. I remember one year, I had eight seminars at a show. A buddy of mine worked for one of the top backpacks in the country and they had a booth in back. I don’t know how many people I saw that walked in the front door and walked straight to the first booth and bought a backpack. I know for sure that Robert had much better packs in back. Look around and then buy.


If you’ve been wanting to hire a guide to hunt or fish in some out-of-state area, this is a great place to meet them. At the Boise show, I see some of the guides that I know from up in Alaska. In fact, one guides’ son was the fish cleaner on the dock, working his way through college.

And if you want to go on an exotic safari, SCI and DSC are the two shows to hit. You can sign up for all manner of big game, bird hunting or fishing adventures. It’s almost painful to walk the aisles and see all of the cool hunts they are offering if you’re on a peon’s salary.

Most of the time you can tell by talking to a guide if he is any good or not. But for sure, check references. You don’t want to waste 10 days and $25,000 on a bad deal.

And to get even deeper, you need to determine if their set-up is for you. You need to be honest with yourself. What is your main goal? To some people, it is important that they are back to the lodge by dusk and served a great dinner cooked by a chef, and to sit around the proverbial camp fire and drink until midnight.

To other outdoorsmen, the whole objective is to hit it hardcore and be successful. Different guides specialize in different flavors. Make sure you pick the right flavor or you’ll be disappointed.

Be crystal clear on what is provided and what isn’t. Do they handle the shipping back of your trophies? Get all of the necessary tags, etc.? There can be a lot of hidden costs that they take for granted but you didn’t have a clue.

Let the shows begin! Have a merry Christmas.

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.