What season is it — backpacking? Crappie fishing? Nope, it’s berry season

This week I was having a hard time trying to decide whether to write a Backpacking 101 article followed up by an article on Kolby’s and mine backpacking trip last week or Katy’s and my crappie fishing trip. But then while Kolby and I were backpacking we stumbled into a gold mine of berries.

This is the best berry season that I’ve ever seen. The huckleberries were thick. We had backpacked into the backcountry to fly fish but who can just walk by a loaded down huckleberry bush? A handful of huckleberries can spruce up the blandest bowl of morning oatmeal, can’t it? Or you can throw a small handful in your water bottle to make a real fruit flavored drink. A few huckleberries sprinkled on a peanut butter sandwich raises a peanut butter sandwich to an elite sandwich level.

What do we do now? I’d packed in way too much gear and about died on the pack in. But how do you just nonchalantly stroll by a bush heavily laden down with huckleberries? So, we gorged for a while and picked a couple of bottles full for our oatmeal the next morning and enough to take home to make some homemade ice cream and then it was back to fly fishing.

But then matters got more serious. Kolby stumbled onto some raspberries. Fishing was done for the moment. Finally, she got her fill and I was able to coax her on down the trail to fish the next hole.

So with the above said, we’ll talk about backpacking and crappie fishing in the next three articles but for today, it’s berry picking! Berry season is in full swing right now and you need to drop everything and scramble up to the mountains with a handful of empty buckets.

Every year after gobbling down the first handful I’m reminded of how much I love huckleberries.

They’re the best berry in the world with wild raspberries trailing right behind them. I know your first question will be, where do I find them? I found mine at about 4,500 to 5,000 feet elevation. As we were headed home, we found a bunch more up high near the passes but only a couple of their berries were ripe. 95% of them were green as a gourd and maybe only 1/16-inch big. So up at the higher elevations, they were a long way off from being ripe. If you go up this weekend, I’d advise you start at 5,000 feet.

If you’re not familiar with huckleberries they’re a small bush. I’ve never measured them but I’d say that they’re about 28 inches tall on the average. They grow a small purple berry that is maybe 1/4-inch in diameter and some will be smaller. I find most of mine on hillsides. I’ve never seen them down low in flat areas.

You’ll find them on the side hills of trails and roads but of course it’s easy access to the ones along roads so they’ll get picked fast by everyone. That’s the area they seem to like. We find our raspberries intermixed in the same type of terrain.

But we also find a lot of randomly placed raspberry bushes when we walk off a trail down to our fishing holes in the rock/boulder slides. It almost seems that they do best in the worst possible spots. But granted, we still find a high percentage of them along the trails interspersed with the huckleberries.

If you want to go out this week you should find them anywhere from Smith’s Ferry on north. Once in a while I hear people say that they picked 2-4 gallons of huckleberries the past weekend. I don’t know.

I’ve never picked that many in one setting. Maybe they’re talking about how many their whole church family picked. Or maybe I’m just an amateur berry picker. But regardless, instead of taking 5-gallon buckets I’d suggest taking a large mouth water bottle to put them in while picking and then as you go you can transfer them to a bigger bucket at the truck.

I remember one year Katy and I hit our spot at Smith’s Ferry. When we pulled up and parked I killed the truck and we had a thermos of coffee. We poured a cup before we got out to pick. We were setting in the truck shooting the bull and Katy says whoa! I’m not getting out. It sounded like a light hail storm due to all of the mosquitoes hitting the sides of the truck. Carry mosquito protection because on some years they can be horrendous.

So if you don’t have anything to do this weekend, grab the wife and kids, pack a picnic and go up picking berries. But you and the wife ought to be sure to carry a pistol. You might just be picking in a popular bear eating area.

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.

How to turn every trip into an outdoor adventure

We’re in the peak of vacation season. But what if the vacation schedule is some boring urbanite list of drudgeries? Or what if you’re traveling on a business trip? Attending a seminar in another town or state?

This article will apply to all of the above scenarios.

I remember one time my daughter, grandson and I flew down to see mom for a week. I had one striper fishing trip lined up with my brother, but other than that, we were just going to mess around and see the family.

My daughter is super creative and lined up two to three fun activities. I was raised around there and didn’t even know about these possibilities. My point is that what I learned from her is don’t trust the locals to know about all of the local attractions. Granted, I love visiting locales and the locals showing cool stuff I would of never discovered but sometimes they take for granted their surroundings.

It’s easy now to explore beforehand your destination due to the advent of the internet. Another idea, when the kids were small and we were visiting an area, we’d buy a book about rocks that could be found locally and try to find some of each.

If (which is usually the case) you only have a couple of free half-days, hire a fishing guide. He’ll have the boat, fishing gear, know where to go etc. Otherwise, you could stumble around for a month figuring out the system.

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to hire a guide anyway. Used to be, I’d fly home for Christmas and hire a striper guide for a day. Then my brother would come home the next day with his boat and we’d know where to go and what they were hitting.

Usually on any trip, visiting in-laws, business trip, going somewhere for a wedding or maybe a family vacation you’ll have one to two free afternoons. Instead of wasting precious vacation time setting around doodling why not get outdoors? It may be exploring, hiking, fishing, visiting a local gun range or outdoor shop.

All of the above is fresh on my mind. I’m over in South Dakota as I type this article doing a consulting deal. I fly home this Friday. But Saturday I didn’t have to work. I had a ton of articles to get in. I have a nine-part airgun series for RonSpomerOutdoors.com, a self-defense in the outdoors article for gunpowdermagazine.com, something like six to eight product reviews for Ammoland Shooting Sports News and this article. No way that I was going to be able to get them all written until I get home and can write solid for a week but some (like this article) are due right now.

So, Friday night I typed until nearly midnight and when I woke up Saturday I started pounding the keyboard again. But with the thoughts above in my mind I told a buddy that we ought to go fishing for a couple of hours Saturday at about 7:30. So I worked on getting all of the articles whipped out that I could and then grabbed my buddy and his wife and off we went.

South Dakota is world-renowned for walleyes. But mainly in the spring. Summer is tough. Last weekend Katy was here and we jumped in with a guy with a boat Sunday after church but like I said above, walleye fishing is slow right now. But as the saying goes, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Well, Jeff, Kate and I went to a local lake 15 miles from where I was working. Sundown it cools off a little and the walleyes get active. We were bank fishing so it’d be tough but still, refer to the above saying.

I hung one small walleye and lost him. Kate is from Russia and I don’t think that she has ever fished.

She hung one small walleye but he got off before I could get over to where she was. Then in a bit she hung a hog.

I coached her on holding her rod tip up etc. He was taking a little line and Jeff reached over to tighten her drag. I quickly said nooooo, but it was too late. The hog snapped her line in a hot second.

A little later I saw where a big fish boiled out about 20-30 feet. I flipped out a jig with a Mister Twister tail. Nada. I cast again. Nada. He boiled again right below the surface feeding on something. The fourth cast he engulfed the jig.

I had a medium weight set-up with 8-pound test so I had my drag set semi slack. I was afraid he was going to snap off so I loosened it a little more. This was going to be a huge walleye! Probably pushing 10 pounds! I fought him for a good while. I’d lift the rod tip slowly and reel back down. Then he’d take another run and peel off line. I played him slow for 10 to 15 minutes then started getting more serious.

After 20 minutes I thought I’d better tighten my drag a little or this fight would go on all night but the deal that had just happened with Kate scared me so I didn’t dare touch it. Finally, after 25 minutes I started gently increasing the drag just a hair.

I still could not make any headway so to speak but he was a little closer to shore. Now the next big problem. We didn’t have a dip net and he was a big fish. The fight was now pushing 30 minutes and I was getting him almost close enough to net … if you had a long net … but then he’d charge and go out deeper.

Jeff took off his shoes and socks to wade out and wrestle him in. I cautioned him not to touch the line and to put his socks on his hands so he could grip the fish and to grasp him behind the head and flip him up in the rocks.

I asked are you ready? Jeff said yes. I cruised him in and Jeff did a great job grabbing him and getting him in. He redeemed himself after snapping off Kate’s big one. Don’t worry. We didn’t rag on him too bad.

Turns up my big walleye was big a fat channel cat. It had a huge belly so I figured it was spawning three to four months late or had just eaten an 11-inch crappie. Turns up it was packed with seaweeds. Have you ever heard of catfish eating seaweeds?

Well, by now it was well after dark. We went back to the apartment complex where Jeff lives, cleaned the big cat and had a fish fry and got to bed at 1:45 a.m. That’s a whole lot better than setting around watching the boob tube, isn’t it?

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.

Can you fish off the bank?

Are you severely handicapped as a fisherman if you don’t have a boat? Should you just have a garage sale, sell all of your fishing gear and burn what doesn’t sell? Give up on fishing, buy a set of golf clubs and become a regular suburbanite?

Back away from the cliff and let’s try to talk you through this one. In some cases, fishing off the bank is actually more successful, so don’t feel like a second-class citizen if you don’t have a boat. In fact, just last weekend I was reminded of how successful you can be off of the bank.

For July Fourth, Katy and I were over in South Dakota. I just caught a decent walleye off the bank and we had him for dinner. In fact, the biggest walleye that I’ve ever caught was off of the bank.

Now no doubt, overall it’s best to have a boat but it doesn’t cripple you if you don’t have one.

Let me give a few examples. One time we were crappie fishing over at Lake Owyhee. After a few hours I went down the bank fishing and caught quite a few bass. In a while a tournament bass fisherman came by and we got talking. It sounded like if I had of been entered in the tournament I could of won it.

Years ago, Katy and I were northern pike fishing over at a wildlife refuge in Nebraska. We caught a 16-, two 8-, three 6- and three 4-pounders. All of these were off the bank and wading.

And if you’re a bow fisherman, you should know I’ve shot truckloads of carp and gar wading. Sure, it’s nice to have a flat-bottomed boat and lights for night fishing but at times you can get tons of shots wading. One time at Lake Lowell they were on the bank side of the willows spawning. There were so many logs washed in that I couldn’t get in to them with my little Jon boat. You had to wade. The only gear you need is a pair of cut-offs, tennis shoes and your bow.

And what about fly fishing? Sure, it’s nice to float the river behind the dam at Anderson Ranch or on the Rio Grande where most of the banks are brush covered but I’ve only floated rivers a few times — 99.9 percent of my fly fishing is on foot.

Not that high mountain lakes are usually that deep but they usually have silt bottoms. So you may not be in two feet of water but you’re sunk down one to one and a half feet into the silt. Float tubes do help on high mountain lakes so you can get out to where the water is a little deeper.

Also, where Katy and I used to northern fish a lot you had to wade out past the cattails to be able to fish. It was deep enough so the water was about to come over the top of your waders. And then of course with the muddy bottom you were trying to stand on your tiptoes. So like I say, sometimes no doubt a boat is beneficial.

Sometimes if you’re able to fish it, I think in shallow waters being on foot is best. Banging around in a boat can spook fish. I’ve for sure seen this with northerns. They just drop down and disappear into the weeds.

So, do boats help? Are they necessary? Yes, but if you can’t afford one, don’t give up on fishing. Sure, I own a little jon boat and am going to buy another big boat next spring, but without a boat, you can still catch fish. One time I pulled up to the boat ramp and there was a lady by herself setting in a lawn chair in one and a half feet of water. I thought, “Poor girl. I ought to give her a few fish.” I asked her if she was having any luck. She grinned and pulled up a stringer that I bet had 50 to 75 crappie on it. Gee! I about asked her for some fish. She’d caught them fishing at the boat ramp while I was out all day chasing them around.

As we’re getting into the middle of summer, get out and fish. Along the bank, you’ll probably do best early morning and late evening. The catfish seem to move in and feed in the shallows at sundown. 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.

Getting outdoors on a budget

OK, it’s pretty simple. You only have X amount of dollars you can blow. The more you scrimp, the more outdoor adventures you can partake in. Right? So, this week let’s go a little deeper than we did last week. I could sum up this whole article in two words: Go cheap. But don’t be over-the-top cheap or it’s no fun. As Katy would say, “You don’t want to be tight to a fright.”

So how do you do that? Tent camp. One time I took the girls to the coast. We’d camp one or two nights and then get a motel so we could all clean up. That was a great trip. When camping on a beach you don’t really even need sleeping pads, the sand is soft. But, what if the girls balk? Maybe you have to break down and buy a camper. Everyone’s situation is a little different.

According to where you’re going, but as a general rule, it’s going to be a lot cheaper to buy your groceries at home. And usually, you’ll be in spots where there’s nothing available anyway. For sure you always want to take enough clothes and gear. They will always cost you more on the road.

COOKING AHEAD

Sometimes it’s smart to cook at least two meals ahead of time. For instance, when elk hunting. On a hard week of elk hunting at least a couple of nights you’re not going to get back to camp until way after dark. You’ll be so ragged out that you don’t even have enough energy to cook.

For the above scenario I’ll make a pot of stew and freeze it and a pot of chili and freeze it. Frozen it will serve the dual purpose of acting as ice in your cooler. Drag into camp, throw it in a pan over the fire, heat and eat and go to bed. My buddy Shawn pre-makes burritos, which heat up nicely. Or you can take cans of chili.

One time years ago, I took a buddy to one of my secret fishing holes. I cooked dinner and he whipped out paper plates and plastic silverware. I always used a camp set. He said I came to fish, not waste time washing dishes three times per day. There’s some truth to his reasoning.

CAMP BOXES

Some day I’ll write a whole article on this subject: Camp boxes. Every since high school I’ve had a camp box. I always use a wood box but some people use a big plastic container. You have to have a camp box or invariably you’ll forget to pack something every trip. A can opener, a skillet or something.

To stock up a camp box can be inexpensive. Go to Goodwill and buy six plastic plates, stackable glasses and coffee cups. Same with silverware, spatulas, pans, skillets and a coffee pot. And don’t forget to stock your box up with spices. Motel coffee packs work great for making coffee and are compact.

Some things you don’t want to buy used. For instance, lanterns and stoves. They’re key items and if they don’t work, they can spoil a trip. I like the old-school lanterns but I’ve got to admit, battery-operated ones are sweet for using in your tent. Who hasn’t knocked over a lantern in a tent and the hot lantern burned a hole in the tent?

ONE WORD OF WARNING!

Be careful if you run a lantern, stove or tent heater in your tent. They can burn up all of the oxygen and kill you.

Always take two spares — tires, that is. Once while moose hunting over by Yellowstone I woke up three mornings in a row with flats. First off, it’s a pain running to town to get it fixed and secondly, it’s probably going to be higher than at home. Go to the junkyard to get one or two extras.

Splurge a night or two and eat something nice. And really, it doesn’t have to cost much. In fact, for $2 to $3 you can make some awesome brownies or dump cake in a Dutch Oven. And for one night it’s sweet to cook steaks.

One big money waster for most families is when they make a pit stop at the 7-Eleven to fill up on gas on the way out of town. Suddenly everyone remembers that they have forgotten their sunglasses, needs a soft drink and a piece of candy. Buy all of those items at a real store before you leave.

Well, there’s a few more ways to stretch out the budget so you camp more often. This will allow you to go more often but if well planned it will be just as enjoyable as blowing a fortune like you normally do. Plus, you can now go three times as much.

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.

Family fun outdoors

Today I want to talk about using the outdoors as your family recreational fun. Everyone is on a budget, granted some people may have a bigger budget than you but still, everyone has a budget. So with that said, why save all year and go on a trip to Mexico or Hawaii? Why not hit the outdoors right here in little ol’ Idaho or at least some of our neighboring states?

It’s for sure a lot cheaper than buying plane tickets, motels, eating out three times per day and paying exorbitant prices for entertainment in some glitzy big city. Think of some of the options:

1. Family camping trip.

2. Family fishing trip.

3. Visit some cool spots like Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone or hit the coast.

4. Hit some of the dude ranches. In two weeks Katy and I are going to visit The Silvies Ranch over in Seneca, Oregon. At most dude ranches you can ride horses, fish, hike or just use for a base camp.

5. Float/raft some of our rivers.

6. Camp and go on four-wheeling trips. If you can’t afford four-wheelers for the whole family you can rent some which may be cheaper if you only use them 1-2 times per year.

If you are the dad and mom of a growing family I understand, money is tight but when the kids are small is when you want to be making memories. Here’s some ways to get by on a shoestring budget.

I remember once me and the girls headed over to the coast. We’d camp out one night and then the next we’d get a motel so everyone could clean up. We went down the coast camping on the beach and the next night staying in some little motel. One night we camped in the Redwoods in a cool campground. Your three biggest expenses will be food, gas and lodging. Cooking over a campfire drops the food bill and camping is free.

Another time we did the same when we hit Yellowstone. We had a great time. We camped out while driving over and during our stay. Same on a trip to the Black Hills when we hit Mount Rushmore. Katy’s family went there every summer when she was a kid so she already knew all of the hot spots. Bear Country USA, the Reptile Gardens, of course Mount Rushmore has some natural hot springs with a huge swimming pool and we camped at the Flintstones Bedrock City.

If you don’t know the area, Google it to discover the local attractions that your family would be interested in. If you visit a unique spot splurge a night or two and eat some of the local food. Especially if you go fishing in South Louisiana. You have to try the Cajun food.

Then of course you may want to eventually buy a boat so the family can fish and ski. I’d advise not to buy a bass boat. They’re only comfortable for two people. Get a V bottomed 17-18 foot boat that can comfortably hold the whole family.So, as we start to wrap up, I’d encourage you to make this summer special. There’s something special about being in the outdoors with people that you love. We live in Idaho. People all over America would die to be able to partake in what we have right here at our fingertips.

I understand if you’ve got a young family and are trying to hustle and make a living. I get up at 5 a.m. and usually work until 9 p.m. But life is short. Sure, as a parent you have to support your family but I was recently reminded of how short life is. I just flew back late last night from burying mom.

Us kids were cleaning the house after the funeral. There were a few items that I cherished but the thing that took hours and hours to go through were her boxes of pictures. If I died right now and you went through my earthly possessions unfortunately you’d say hmm, looks like he was pretty self-centered. All of his pictures were hunting and fishing pics.

Mom’s pics? Scads of pics of her kids and grandkids. I already knew by the way that she lived her life but after sorting through her belongings it was crystal clear what was important to mom. God and her family. As I thought over my childhood, I literally couldn’t think of one selfish thing that mom ever did. She went all out for us kids. I need to reprioritize.

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.

Father’s Day gift guide for the outdoorsman

It is almost Father’s Day. I don’t know about you but my father was always hard to buy a gift for — not that he was picky; he just didn’t really need anything. So I always ended up buying him a pair of leather gloves to use for building fence and working our cattle. Looking back, maybe I should have been a more creative shopper because him and mom bought a trailer in their later years and traveled around a bit. So I guess I could of bought him some camping gear.

But before you jump off the cliff, if your dad is an outdoorsman, there are a million gifts that you can buy him. And if you shop wisely you don’t have to spend that much. So let’s go over some of the items you might want to consider for dad.

CAMPING

— Tents. Check out Alps Mountaineering tents.

— Propane camp stove

— Cooking gear. Cast iron skillets, utensils, plates etc.

— Camp Tables. We always are short of tables.

— Cooking setups. They make cool multi-level tables to cook on and hold your cooking supplies.

— Lantern, flashlights. I’ve been testing some Blackfire lights this year that are awesome.

— Tarp(s)

HUNTING

— Knives of Alaska Professional Boning Knife

— Ammo. Ha, if you can find any.

— UMAREX Synergis .22 cal. airgun

— UMAREX .25 cal. Gauntlet

— Knives. Outdoorsmen love knives. Smith’s Consumer Products offers some economical folders.

— Knives of Alaska has some well-designed, high-quality hunting/fishing knives.

— Knife sharpening stones. Smith’s Consumer Products owns the market. Get him a fine diamond stone.

— Calls Turkey (4Play), varmint (FOXPRO), crow, elk and duck calls.

— GRIPSHIELD. Keeps your hands dry for competition shooting.

— Compass

— GPS

— Ruger 10/22 rifle. The 10/22 is the most popular .22 rifle ever made.

— MYTOPO Maps

— Riton 10×42 binoculars

FISHING

Fishing equipment can be very specific, depending on what species that he likes to fish for, where he fishes and what time of year. So ask him what he desires or inquire what is popular at a local outdoor store.

— Jigs

— Plastics. Mr. Twister makes good ones.

— Flies. I get mine cheap from flydealflies.com.

— Fishing rod/reel or a fly rod/reel. Ask him what kind he prefers or he might not like it.

— Dip net

— Rat-L-Trap fishing lures

— Frogg Togg rain gear

CLOTHING

Outdoor clothing is a big market and there are some good products on the market.

— HAELEUM Shirts. They offer a multitude of t-shirts that repel ticks & mosquitos. About to start testing them.

— 5.11 tactical pants. They offer a lot of models.

— Heybo fishing shirts. They have cool ones.

— Irish Setter boots. Irish Setter offers lightweight hiking boots on up to tall heavy duty leather winter boots. They also have some nice offerings for wearing in town.

— Hiking socks

— Kryptek. I’ve just started testing their gear but love it. I’ve got a couple of their Sonora Hoodies. They’re like a base layer with a hood.

— XGO base layers

BACKPACKING

— Backpacks. Alps Mountaineering offers a big line of packs.

— Alps backpacking tents

— Alps sleeping bags and pads

— Fire-starting gear

— Aquamira filtered straws and filtered water bottles

— Benchmade Claymore folding knife

— Backpacking chair like the Alps Dash

— Bushnell solar panels

— Backpacking meals

— Adventure Medical Kits

And if you don’t have any money (or even if you do) the all-time best gift that you could ever give him is three free passes that you will go fishing, hunting, camping or backpacking with him. I guarantee you that would be the best gift that you could ever give him.

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.

A note from Captain Safety

OK, I don’t write many safety articles. In fact, hardly ever. I live a little wild around the edges so I’ve had my fair share of visits to the local emergency rooms. Or as my daughter would say, “Daddy, you’ve never been known as Captain Safety.” So, if I’m writing about safety then let’s just say that the subject matter must be pretty obvious.

So, let’s jump into today’s article. A few weeks ago a reader wrote in about the ground squirrel hunting article and had some comments on gun safety, a topic that I haven’t written too many articles on but it got me thinking. I do see some unsafe acts now and then and wanted to throw out a few words of caution.

There are a few basic rules that if you follow, hopefully you never accidently shoot anyone.

  • Never point a gun at anyone
  • Be aware of your backstop
  • Treat all guns as if they’re loaded
  • Be aware of your target
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re about to shoot
  • It’s smart to carry a pistol in a holster ESPECIALLY Glocks etc. that don’t have safeties

Now let’s expound on a couple of items. I can’t remember all of the details but my nephew had just gotten back from a tour in Afghanistan and/or Iraq and had re-upped. On the way to Washington he stopped by to stay with us for a few days so we went whistle pig hunting.

We were having a big day and had been shooting in the same spot for a good 30 minutes. Suddenly dust started kicking up all around us. Some kid was right over the rise shooting right at us. We hollered for him to stop. After talking to him it all came out. He was shooting from a slight low spot at whistle pigs setting on the top of the rise. Never ever shoot at something on the top of the horizon. He acted amazed that the bullets traveled through the grass and about hit us.

It constantly amazes me how many times I’ll be set up shooting and someone obviously sees you and drives up ¼ mile away and stops and sets up off to left or right basically right in front of me. Don’t think it is safe to shoot if someone is off to the side of your point of impact even 300-400 yards.

Here’s why I say the above. One time two deer were looking at me. They were standing sideways and looking at me with one about 12 to 20 inches behind the other one. The closest doe was about 30 inches forward of the other one. I did a headshot on the closet one and they both dropped. My brother said wow! You got both of them.

I said wait until you see the shot. I knew he thought that I’d done a heart shot and the bullet had passed through and hit the other one but I’d done a head shot and the back doe’s head was 30 inches to the right of the one I’d shot.

After looking at the situation here’s what happened. I shot the front doe and the bullet had hit the jaw bone and bounced off to the right and made a perfect head shot on the second doe. After that I have been scared to take a shot at something I don’t care how far off to the right or left something is in the background. So if someone sets up in front of you just move.

Don’t shoot at anything on a rise or hilltop. You don’t know what is over the hill. You want to set up your targets against a mound or dirt hill so they can’t ricochet off into the wild blue yonder.

The reader that contacted me suggested using fragmenting bullets which is a good idea. But if you’re using solid core bullets beware that they are more likely to skip. Also, if a bullet hits water it can skip as of course if it hits a rock.

Hunting and shooting is a blast but if you ever made a mistake and shot or God forbid killed someone, I can’t even imagine how bad you would feel. We hunt and fish with people we love. It would devastate you for life. I’ve heard second or third hand of people that have shot someone and it screwed them up for life.

As we close, remember the old Winchester saying. “All the pheasants ever bred cannot repay for one man dead.” Have fun but be careful.

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.

How to clean, store and cook morel mushrooms

Two weeks ago, we talked about mushroom hunting. (A non-hunter may say mushroom picking but to a hunter everything is about hunting. I go to the store to hunt for a pair of boots. Non-hunter, I go shopping. You get my drift.) I said I’d follow up the next week with an article on cooking mushrooms. But those rascally little whistle pigs barged in on the scene and got me side tracked. So, this week, I’ll take back up on the mushroom scene.

But, before we can cook them, we have to clean and process them, right? Morels, and mushrooms in general are fragile so you must be gentle when handling them. That’s why I semi favor carrying a bucket when picking (er, hunting) them even though real mushroom hunters use a mesh bag to let the spores fall out.

When I get home, I gently wash them to remove the dirt and bugs. Then slice them in half from top to bottom and put in a pan of salty water to kill the remaining bugs. Leave them in the bowl over night in the fridge. But this I not a hard fast rule set in stone along with the Ten Commandments. Because I can guarantee you that my girls are going to make me fry up a mess right when we get home. And more than likely their friends will mysteriously show up on cue as well.

To cook if they were soaked overnight as described above, drain off the water. Wait a few minutes and drain again. You don’t really want them waterlogged. Or, if you just got home and have a mess rinsed and split, either way the next step to cook will be the same.

Crack a few eggs in a bowl. Pour in a little milk. Beat with a fork. If you’ve never cooked, don’t actually “beat” the eggs with a fork. Stir them. (Had to throw in a little humor). Sprinkle flour on a plate. Dip the morels into the egg batter and then roll in the flour.

Now throw the morels into a skillet with medium hot grease. You want it hot enough so they bubble when you throw them in but not sizzling hot. Everything fries better in a black iron skillet. Black iron skillets disperses the heat better than a thin-walled skillet.

I think things season better if seasoned while cooking so while frying I sprinkle on regular Tony Chachere’s seasoning. Tony’s is the perfect blend of salt and spices. It is my go-to spice for everything. Fry to a golden brown and remove and lay on a plate lined with paper towels.

Eat while warm. Morels are the best food in the world. Our old friend Jack Sweet used to tell us that morels are the best fungi in the world, second only to the truffle in England. I’ve never tasted a truffle so I’ll have to have that statement proved to me before I concede that there is anything better than a morel.

Fried is the best way in the world to cook them but my old bear/turkey/mushroom hunting buddy Roger Ross mixed some in with scrambled eggs once when we were bear hunting and that was great too. I’ve also had them in cream gravy and that was excellent too.

But what if you get lucky and find more than you can eat in a few days? I don’t know what the exact shelf life is that you can keep them in your fridge but I’ve never kept them fresh for too long. Does anyone know a recommended fresh shelf life?

Jack Sweet said there are a few ways to store them but nothing beats eating them fresh. One year Katy and I got a million and I froze a lot of them. That makes them mushy and is not the best option. The method most people use is to dry them.

You can lay them out on racks to dry in the sun. Or I’ve run a needle and thread through them and hung them up to dry. The buyers lay them out on racks in the sun to dry so of course they’re the professionals.

So drying in the sun is the best method that I know of to store them if you get lucky and find quite a few. Rehydrate them when you’re ready to fry up a mess. Well, happy hunting.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

I love spring in Idaho

Recently, Katy and I were running to buy a pair of boots and then I was going to take her out to dinner. I was thinking about how magical Idaho is in the spring (I know, I know, I say that every spring).

Suddenly, I was singing: “It’s the most wonderful ti-i-ime of the year. There’ll be whistle pigs flipping, the crappie will be nipping, the mushrooms will be growing and the turks will be crowing, it’s the most wonderful ti-i-ime of the year!!!!!”

OK, I’m not a songwriter but springtime is magical in Idaho and less we get tied up mushroom hunting, turkey hunting, bear hunting and crappie fishing don’t forget — whistle pig hunting. It’s one of the highlights of the year. It provides for high-speed shooting and is a great hunt to break kids in on.

There are plenty of them and they are in no danger of being over hunted. They’ve been shot for centuries and are doing fine. In fact, if they are thinned out, they’ll do better because the plague won’t run through their colonies as fast and wipe them out. Farmers will gladly welcome you because they devastate crops. They can wipe out a field of alfalfa in a short amount of time.

So, what is a whistle pig? They are a unique animal. Their official name is Townsend ground squirrel. The subspecies south of us are the Urocitellus Townsendii Idahoensis. They emerge and mate in January/February. Although everyone thinks of them as appearing in mid-April, I’ve had good hunts in early March, according to the weather. But when it gets warm, they are out in full force.

Gestation is only 24 days and they’ll have six to 10 young in April. Their eyes open in 19 to 22 days and are weaned muy pronto. This seems to be their system to me. As stated above, they come out in late January/February and go on a breeding frenzy. Then they go on a feeding frenzy until the end of May/June when it gets hot and the grass dries up. Then they go back underground and that’s the last that you see of them for the year.

Some people think that they go underground and eat plant roots for the next seven to eight months. Some people think that they hibernate. What they actually do is called “estivation.” Sort of a summer hibernation.

You may be fooled into thinking that they are cute little furry creatures but make no mistake, they are a prairie rat. Adult squirrels have been known to cannibalize unweaned young. And while hunting you’ll frequently see them run out and eat their fallen comrades.

Enough of the scientific angle. What will you need to hunt them? Some people use a .223 but most people use the lowly .22. Most shots will be within 100 yards so a .22 is the perfect gun. And the Ruger 10/22 is the most popular model. Since they are small, you’ll need to use a scope. I put a Riton Optics 4-16x on my 10/22 and a Timney Trigger and a Boyds’ Stock to make it super classy. But the .17 HMR is also a popular rifle. It is faster, has better results and reaches out a little further.

But the last 10 years I’ve mostly been using airguns. They’re a lot cheaper to shoot and with ammo being so scarce airguns might be the only option for you. Plus, since they’re quieter they pop back up faster.

I’ve been using the Umarex .25-caliber Gauntlet and the .22-caliber Synergis. They are both super-good choices in the airgun realm. For pellets use JSB Dome pellets if you want supreme accuracy. But JSB just came out with a pellet named the Knockout pellet that looks like a good hunting option. I went out shooting yesterday but the wind was blowing so bad that I can’t testify one way or another as to their accuracy. You’ll also want a good pair of binoculars to find the little elusive creatures. I use a pair of Riton Optics 10×42 binoculars.

I think that the high deserts are beautiful in their own forlorn way. Hunting whistle pigs gives you a good excuse to go out and see them. Plus, there will be unique wildlife viewing opportunities. You’ll see badgers, which I think are beautiful (but the kings of bad attitudes). Once I shot a whistle pig and suddenly a badger ran out, grabbed it and ran back to his hole. Another time my old buddy Roy Snethen shot one. He flipped twice and I said “You got him!” Suddenly a hawk swept down and grabbed him and I said “You had him!”

So, before they go underground for the year you better grab a kid and run out and have some fun!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at smileya7@aol.com.

On mushroom hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.