Pennsylvania Gunsmith School offers alternative career option

At the 2020 SHOT Show, Ron Spomer introduced me to Robert Thacker and Jamey Wojtaszek. Robert owns the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School and Jayme works there. PGS is doing fine but they’re concerned about the dropping numbers of students across the country in the majority of the gunsmithing schools.

Due to this concern they’re encouraging young people to choose gunsmithing as a career. I hear similar concerns among the gun experts that the numbers of hunters/shooters are dropping and the current ones are an aging group.

So as not to start off as a Negative Nancy, here’s some encouraging news. I attended a seminar at the SHOT Show put on by Safe Shoot, which is an Israeli company. One of the speakers said that actually, shooting is the No. 2 sport in America, even ahead of golf. That surprised me.

If that is the case, then it’s alarming that the number of kids going to gunsmithing schools is dropping because there will obviously be a need for more, not fewer gunsmiths on the not too distant horizon.

I’m about to say something that up until the last few years I was on the opposite side of the aisle. In the past, I encouraged kids if at all possible to go to college. If they couldn’t afford that then at least work and attend a junior college and get an associate’s degree. I no longer hold that stance. Let me explain.

Higher learning institutions have lost their compass. Their goal is no longer to teach kids to graduate work ready. They now have too many hidden social changing agendas. Kids go off to college conservatives and return as socialists. The colleges spend way too much time teaching/pushing these agendas. Many kids no longer graduate with useful skills.

I used to hire a lot of college kids when I was the director of quality control for Con Agra. I had five large beef plants and a cooked plant under me so I had a large QC staff and hired a lot of college kids. Even back then the colleges thought that they knew more what the kids needed to be taught than the industry did. I only had one professor inquire what skills their graduates were lacking in. Is that not bizarre? Would any business survive if it didn’t do customer service audits? Investigate open markets?

Due to my ignorance, I thought trade schools were for kids like in my high school that would have dropped out but due to shop classes they hung in and graduated (Yes, this was all nearly 50 years ago).

Then 15 years ago I started learning what some of the skilled workers were making. Such as linemen, electricians, dental assistants, etc. It costs an arm and a leg to hire a good maintenance man — if you can even find one. So now, if a kid can’t afford college, I recommend they go to a reputable trade school. They may graduate right off the bat $200,000 ahead of the normal college graduate because of no student loans and have an extra two and a half years of wages already in the bank by the time their college buddies graduate.

So, let’s play this out. They could work for an established gunsmith after school and learn the ropes.

After four or five years they could then open their own shop while their college graduate counterpart is still in some menial job barely getting by with no hope in sight and a huge student loan hanging over their head.

So what I’m saying is, if a kid is a hustler but for whatever the reason doesn’t have the option of going to college, I don’t see him/her as being handicapped. There are a million options. Go to beauty school. Same scenario. Work for someone else, learn the ropes and then in a few years open your own shop. When you have a few employees then you are making money off of them as well as your own labors.

Before you think I’m nuts, think about it for a minute. A high percentage of kids go to a four-year school and graduate with a degree that is not in demand and come out with huge debt. On the other hand, a kid could go to somewhere like the PGS and graduate in 16 months. With a part time job, they may be lucky enough to graduate with no/low debt.

It takes four semesters to graduate. Students of any skill level can expect to complete the program. Every student starts at the same spot and being a course hour program, they typically finish at the same time. They have graduates in all 50 states and 18 countries.

I’ve never been to the school but here’s what I’d loosely suggest if you attend the PGS school or another trade school. Get a part-time job so you’re not racking up loans. After you graduate, get a job with a reputable gunsmith that you can learn from. Work for him a few years and learn the ropes instead of opening your own business right off and making costly mistakes at your expense. Then in a few years when you’re comfortable open your own shop.

I stand to gain nothing if you go to the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School or not. If gunsmithing isn’t for you, find what you like to do and be the best you can at it. The moral to the story is don’t feel like a second-class citizen if you can’t afford or have no desire to go to college. Be a hustler and sharpen your skills and you may actually end up better off.

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.

Scooter’s Youth Hunting Camp always a blast

In 2005, my wife Katy, who is a school teacher, came home from school one day and told me that there were two kids in her school and their dad had been put in prison. She told me that she’d signed them up for some youth hunting camp named the Scooter’s Youth Hunting Camp, and she wanted me to take them to the camp and then take them both deer hunting.

What? I don’t want to sound self-centered, but the camp is held the first Saturday in May. Spring in Idaho is a flurry of outdoor activities. It’s the ultimate for the outdoorsman. Bear hunting is hot, turkey hunting is on, crappie are going ballistic, whistle pigs are coming out in the droves and the morels are popping up. I about died.

Well, I was stuck. The day came and we headed up to the little mountain town of Emmett, Idaho, where the camp was being held. Whoa, this was going to be a big event. The kids were divided into six groups and rotate to the six different stations. In between stations, seminars are conducted. This camp was awesome. I had to help with this deal.

Fast forward 15 years. The camp has grown and we had to go to an online registration. Last year, it filled up with 260 kids in 47 seconds. In a nutshell, here’s how it runs. The kids show up and even though they’re preregistered, they still sign in. They’re given a bracelet that signifies which one of the six groups that they’re in and given a bag filled with goodies donated by various companies. For instance, Swab-ITS gives them some gun cleaning swabs, MyTopoMaps gives them coupons for maps and Blue Lizard gives them a package of sun screen.

The Pledge of Allegiance is said, many times led by an enlisted serviceman about to head out for duty. A prayer is then given by a local pastor and it’s off to the races. Group one starts at the shotgun station, group two at the .22 range, group three at the blackpowder range, group four at the archery range, group five at the knife-sharpening/gun-cleaning station and group six at the survival station.

After the allotted time for that session is over, they gather in the commons area for a seminar put on by a pro-staff member. The seminars are excellent. There are some top-notch presenters like Rockie Jacobsen the owner of Rocky Mountain Game Calls who puts on the elk & turkeys calling seminars and Fowl Weather Custom Calls puts on a waterfowl calling seminar.

After the seminar they rotate to their next station. At noon, volunteers serve lunch to the kids. Due to local donations and volunteer help the kids eat free and have snacks throughout the day. A local donut shop, HeBrews Coffee sets up a donut trailer. I love their sugar/cinnamon donuts.

There’s a raffle table set up that helps fund the camp. At the end of the day is the kid’s drawing. Every kid wins a prize. And I don’t mean a rinky dink Chinese finger pulling gizmo. Last year there were 25 guns, 10 bows, backpacks, knives, etc., given away.

I hesitate to list the generous sponsors since there is no way that I can include them all. Riton Optics, Knives of Alaska, Smith’s Consumer Products, Spyderco, Otis, Swab-It’s, Birchwood Casey, Adventure Medical Kits, MyTopoMaps, Buck Knives, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Blue Lizard and the list goes on and on.

I know it’s business and companies do it for advertisement, but I’m touched by the generosity of the outdoor world. The kids get to attend this all-day camp for free due to the generosity of all the volunteers and sponsors.

Some of the lucky kids draw a hunt. Volunteers take them elk, deer and duck hunting. Where was SYHC when I was a kid?

I finally figured out why Scott McGann aka Scooter is so passionate and developed this camp. If it hadn’t of been for his grandad, him and his brother probably would have never ended up being the sportsmen that they are today. He originally drew up the camp to help single mom’s but couldn’t very well disallow kids with two parents to attend.

I do 50 to 60 seminars and shows per year from Texas to Vegas on up to Alaska. This is the coolest event I participate in all year.

It might be a five-hour drive but you ought to think about enrolling your kid in the camp. Registration is April 1, and you can register here: scootersyouthhunting.camp. Your kid would love 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.

What’s the fuss about airguns? Part 2

Last week, we did an introductory article on airguns. This week, let’s go a little deeper and assume that you’re interested and want to get into airguns and see what it is all about. If you listen to me, I’ll talk you into buying one of everything! But everyone has some kind of budget that they have to live within so, here’s what I’d recommend to get started.

Buy a decent break barrel to get started. They’re relatively inexpensive, at least as compared to a decent PCP (precharged pneumatic) and way less expensive to operate than a CO2 or a PCP. One word of caution, though: Don’t buy a cheap piece of junk spring-action from China, or you’re just going to get frustrated with its inaccuracy and give up on airguns. I know that about happened to me. You can spend as much as you want, but you should be able to get a decent one for around $225.

Actually, I have two words of caution: Of the airguns that I’ve tested, many of them come with a cheap piece of junk for a scope. I understand their reasoning. Companies are trying to keep the price point down so people buy their airguns, but if it is a super cheap scope on your gun, you’re going to get frustrated and not have fun. It is a dilemma. You don’t want to spend $1,000 on an airgun scope but at least buy a functional one. My Sig Sauer and Crosman/Benjamin have all come with good scopes. If yours doesn’t come with a good one, then check out the Riton Optics Primal X1 3-9×40 or, better yet, their Primal X1 4-16×44. But whatever scope you buy, make sure that it is airgun compatible because a lot of scopes aren’t.

Next topic: Pellets. We all know that it is important to buy not only good ammo but also exact ammo to get good groups and have the ultimate performance out of big game rifles. It is just as important to do the same when selecting pellets.

Some airgun companies are trying to make them cheap pellets so they’re affordable, but many are lightweight and flimsy and impossible to get a good group with. I don’t usually rag on companies because everyone is trying to make a living, but one popular airgun company makes horrible pellets. You might as well throw rocks at your target. The best is made by JSB, but Sig Sauer and Crosman also make good pellets. And then I am about to start testing pellets for two companies out South America: Rifle Ammo and Air Boss. To adequately cover pellets will be a whole article in and of itself, so for now let’s move on.

So what are the opportunities to use airguns? Limitless. I see a lot of options. Let’s list out a few.

Airguns are a great avenue to get your kids into hunting if they’re non-hunters. If they don’t want to hunt, just shoot, then airguns are a great place to start. They’re real guns so kids need to be taught gun safety rules because they can hurt or kill you, but hopefully if they make a mistake it won’t be as dangerous as with a big caliber gun. The good deal about starting out kids on airguns is that they don’t kick and don’t make a loud report. So they’re less intimidating.

You’ll need something to shoot. Sig Sauer makes a lot of cool airgun targets, but if you’re a kid on a paper route budget, don’t forget the all-time favorite: tin cans! Or bottles filled with water.

Hunting options abound. Groundhog hunting is about to hit full speed ahead, and opportunities to shoot pigeons in agricultural settings abound. All farmers and ranchers need them thinned out. They poop in their barns, on their equipment and in their livestock feed bunks and spread diseases.

I saw a video of an airgun guide in Africa and they hunted rats at night while spotlighting. That’d be a blast in a barn, wouldn’t it?

Also, now that a lot of people are buying ranchettes out in the country, there are always varmints to thin out. Starlings, pigeons, rats, etc. It is probably not prudent to blast around your neighbors with your ole 30-06, so why not use an airgun?

Well, once again those pesky editors are limiting my word count so I had better shut down, but you can see why airguns are so popular. Plus, some companies are making some cool ones that your kids would love. Sig Sauer makes some cool modern sporting rifles on the AR platform. Ruger made one that mimics their ever popular 10/22, and Springfield made one that mimics the old .30 M1 Carbine.

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.

What’s the fuss about airguns? Part 2

Last week, we did an introductory article on airguns. This week, let’s go a little deeper and assume that you’re interested and want to get into airguns and see what it is all about. If you listen to me, I’ll talk you into buying one of everything! But everyone has some kind of budget that they have to live within so, here’s what I’d recommend to get started.

Buy a decent break barrel to get started. They’re relatively inexpensive, at least as compared to a decent PCP (precharged pneumatic) and way less expensive to operate than a CO2 or a PCP. One word of caution, though: Don’t buy a cheap piece of junk spring-action from China, or you’re just going to get frustrated with its inaccuracy and give up on airguns. I know that about happened to me. You can spend as much as you want, but you should be able to get a decent one for around $225.

Actually, I have two words of caution: Of the airguns that I’ve tested, many of them come with a cheap piece of junk for a scope. I understand their reasoning. Companies are trying to keep the price point down so people buy their airguns, but if it is a super cheap scope on your gun, you’re going to get frustrated and not have fun. It is a dilemma. You don’t want to spend $1,000 on an airgun scope but at least buy a functional one. My Sig Sauer and Crosman/Benjamin have all come with good scopes. If yours doesn’t come with a good one, then check out the Riton Optics Primal X1 3-9×40 or, better yet, their Primal X1 4-16×44. But whatever scope you buy, make sure that it is airgun compatible because a lot of scopes aren’t.

Next topic: Pellets. We all know that it is important to buy not only good ammo but also exact ammo to get good groups and have the ultimate performance out of big game rifles. It is just as important to do the same when selecting pellets.

Some airgun companies are trying to make them cheap pellets so they’re affordable, but many are lightweight and flimsy and impossible to get a good group with. I don’t usually rag on companies because everyone is trying to make a living, but one popular airgun company makes horrible pellets. You might as well throw rocks at your target. The best is made by JSB, but Sig Sauer and Crosman also make good pellets. And then I am about to start testing pellets for two companies out South America: Rifle Ammo and Air Boss. To adequately cover pellets will be a whole article in and of itself, so for now let’s move on.

So what are the opportunities to use airguns? Limitless. I see a lot of options. Let’s list out a few.

Airguns are a great avenue to get your kids into hunting if they’re non-hunters. If they don’t want to hunt, just shoot, then airguns are a great place to start. They’re real guns so kids need to be taught gun safety rules because they can hurt or kill you, but hopefully if they make a mistake it won’t be as dangerous as with a big caliber gun. The good deal about starting out kids on airguns is that they don’t kick and don’t make a loud report. So they’re less intimidating.

You’ll need something to shoot. Sig Sauer makes a lot of cool airgun targets, but if you’re a kid on a paper route budget, don’t forget the all-time favorite: tin cans! Or bottles filled with water.

Hunting options abound. Groundhog hunting is about to hit full speed ahead, and opportunities to shoot pigeons in agricultural settings abound. All farmers and ranchers need them thinned out. They poop in their barns, on their equipment and in their livestock feed bunks and spread diseases.

I saw a video of an airgun guide in Africa and they hunted rats at night while spotlighting. That’d be a blast in a barn, wouldn’t it?

Also, now that a lot of people are buying ranchettes out in the country, there are always varmints to thin out. Starlings, pigeons, rats, etc. It is probably not prudent to blast around your neighbors with your ole 30-06, so why not use an airgun?

Well, once again those pesky editors are limiting my word count so I had better shut down, but you can see why airguns are so popular. Plus, some companies are making some cool ones that your kids would love. Sig Sauer makes some cool modern sporting rifles on the AR platform. Ruger made one that mimics their ever popular 10/22, and Springfield made one that mimics the old .30 M1 Carbine.

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.

What’s the fuss about airguns? Part 1

You may have noticed a lot of articles written about airguns by grown men recently. And if you’re like me, your first thought was that you had outgrown airguns when you were 9 or 10 years old and had graduated to the real gun club.

That’s the boat that I was in. When my brother-in-law proudly whipped out a break-action pellet gun, I thought that he’d lost it. Why would a grown man digress back to his early grade school days?

Then I got into them. Let me cover that process. I was at a Professional Outdoor Media Association Convention in Columbia, South Carolina, years ago and met Susan, the marketing guru for Winchester airguns. I’d been hearing a lot about airguns and thought that it’d be a good topic to cover. I publish about 325 articles a year, so I’m always scrambling for new topics.

But I had a rocky start with airguns. With my first one, I could only get a 1 ½-inch group at 15 yards. Since we hunt small game with airguns that have a small kill zone, it’s imperative that they be accurate. So it’s a miracle that I even stuck with them. But for some reason I did.

Then in 2014, I got invited to the first GAMO Squirrel Master Classic. I didn’t have much better results there or in their 2015 event. Then I started testing other airguns. Walthers, Ruger, Springfield, Umarex, Benjamin, Crosman and a plethora of other manufacturers.

Because of their inaccuracies I about gave up on airguns numerous times. Then I went on Prostaff with Crosman. I got introduced to some decent break actions and some super accurate PCPs. By now I was all in.

Since then I’ve tested most of the new Sig Sauer airguns. More to come on Sigs later. For this first airgun article I want to cover the basics. So let’s start at the beginning. There are various models available but here are the top three designs.

CO2 AIRGUNS

Sig Sauer makes the coolest CO2 airguns. I think they were smart in that they made airguns that mimic their real guns. They have the same features and are the same weight as their real guns so they’re great training tools. I think this was ingenious.

The Sig airguns are also super cool looking. They have pistols and ARs that your kids would love. I had two “Hunting Small Game with Airguns” seminars in Reno the other day and the young people loved the AR replicas that Sig makes.

If you’re wanting to get your kids into hunting, airguns are a great avenue. I say that they’re great because there is no recoil and they aren’t loud. They are especially great for introducing little girls into hunting. The downside of CO2s is that they aren’t very powerful so they are not really good for hunting small game.

But Sig makes some super cool targets — spinners, box flippers, etc. — which further enhance a kid’s enjoyment in shooting airguns. Or it is fun to shoot the old tried and true tin cans. And CO2s are semi-automatic, so that’s fun. The CO2 pistols are great if you want to run off pest and not kill them.

BREAK ACTIONS

These are the most popular models. Some of the manufacturers boast speeds of up to 1,450 feet per second. Remember, your trusty ole .22 only spits out bullets at 1,250 feet per second, so they’re powerful enough to hunt small game with.

Break actions get their power by compressing a spring or a gas chamber, usually nitrogen. While these may spit out pellets fast, some of the cheaper ones aren’t very accurate. And to me, accuracy trumps all. We’re hunting small game with pellet guns with small kill zones so it is super important to be accurate.

Break actions have a unique recoil system. They kick forward and backwards. Because of their unique recoil, they will destroy a normal rifle scope so you only want to use scopes that are airgun compatible.

Because of their unique recoil, you need to use the artillery hold. Here’s how that works. Hold your right hand tight but with your left hand, cup the forestock loosely and let it slide back/forwards. It’s important to hold the forestock in the exact same spot or it will change the point of impact. Trust me, shoot it in this manner and your groups will tighten.

PRECHARGE PNEUMATICS (PCP)

These are my most favorite because they are the most accurate. These operate by using a charge of air. The rifle will have a tank that will hold 3,000 PSI — that’s right, 3,000 PSI, not 30 PSI like your car tires. The bad deal is, you’ll need an air tank to re-charge your rifle.

So where can you fill your air tanks? You’ll have to go to a skin-diving shop. Or Air Venturi came out with two compressors. One is a plug-in model or recently they came out with a portable model that hooks onto your truck battery so you can fill your tank while out in the field.

Ugh, I can’t believe it but we’re out of room and have hardly gotten started. Standby; there’ll be more upcoming articles on airguns.

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

What’s the fuss about airguns? Part 1

You may have noticed a lot of articles written about airguns by grown men recently. And if you’re like me, your first thought was that you had outgrown airguns when you were 9 or 10 years old and had graduated to the real gun club.

That’s the boat that I was in. When my brother-in-law proudly whipped out a break-action pellet gun, I thought that he’d lost it. Why would a grown man digress back to his early grade school days?

Then I got into them. Let me cover that process. I was at a Professional Outdoor Media Association Convention in Columbia, South Carolina, years ago and met Susan, the marketing guru for Winchester airguns. I’d been hearing a lot about airguns and thought that it’d be a good topic to cover. I publish about 325 articles a year, so I’m always scrambling for new topics.

But I had a rocky start with airguns. With my first one, I could only get a 1 ½-inch group at 15 yards. Since we hunt small game with airguns that have a small kill zone, it’s imperative that they be accurate. So it’s a miracle that I even stuck with them. But for some reason I did.

Then in 2014, I got invited to the first GAMO Squirrel Master Classic. I didn’t have much better results there or in their 2015 event. Then I started testing other airguns. Walthers, Ruger, Springfield, Umarex, Benjamin, Crosman and a plethora of other manufacturers.

Because of their inaccuracies I about gave up on airguns numerous times. Then I went on Prostaff with Crosman. I got introduced to some decent break actions and some super accurate PCPs. By now I was all in.

Since then I’ve tested most of the new Sig Sauer airguns. More to come on Sigs later. For this first airgun article I want to cover the basics. So let’s start at the beginning. There are various models available but here are the top three designs.

CO2 AIRGUNS

Sig Sauer makes the coolest CO2 airguns. I think they were smart in that they made airguns that mimic their real guns. They have the same features and are the same weight as their real guns so they’re great training tools. I think this was ingenious.

The Sig airguns are also super cool looking. They have pistols and ARs that your kids would love. I had two “Hunting Small Game with Airguns” seminars in Reno the other day and the young people loved the AR replicas that Sig makes.

If you’re wanting to get your kids into hunting, airguns are a great avenue. I say that they’re great because there is no recoil and they aren’t loud. They are especially great for introducing little girls into hunting. The downside of CO2s is that they aren’t very powerful so they are not really good for hunting small game.

But Sig makes some super cool targets — spinners, box flippers, etc. — which further enhance a kid’s enjoyment in shooting airguns. Or it is fun to shoot the old tried and true tin cans. And CO2s are semi-automatic, so that’s fun. The CO2 pistols are great if you want to run off pest and not kill them.

BREAK ACTIONS

These are the most popular models. Some of the manufacturers boast speeds of up to 1,450 feet per second. Remember, your trusty ole .22 only spits out bullets at 1,250 feet per second, so they’re powerful enough to hunt small game with.

Break actions get their power by compressing a spring or a gas chamber, usually nitrogen. While these may spit out pellets fast, some of the cheaper ones aren’t very accurate. And to me, accuracy trumps all. We’re hunting small game with pellet guns with small kill zones so it is super important to be accurate.

Break actions have a unique recoil system. They kick forward and backwards. Because of their unique recoil, they will destroy a normal rifle scope so you only want to use scopes that are airgun compatible.

Because of their unique recoil, you need to use the artillery hold. Here’s how that works. Hold your right hand tight but with your left hand, cup the forestock loosely and let it slide back/forwards. It’s important to hold the forestock in the exact same spot or it will change the point of impact. Trust me, shoot it in this manner and your groups will tighten.

PRECHARGE PNEUMATICS (PCP)

These are my most favorite because they are the most accurate. These operate by using a charge of air. The rifle will have a tank that will hold 3,000 PSI — that’s right, 3,000 PSI, not 30 PSI like your car tires. The bad deal is, you’ll need an air tank to re-charge your rifle.

So where can you fill your air tanks? You’ll have to go to a skin-diving shop. Or Air Venturi came out with two compressors. One is a plug-in model or recently they came out with a portable model that hooks onto your truck battery so you can fill your tank while out in the field.

Ugh, I can’t believe it but we’re out of room and have hardly gotten started. Standby; there’ll be more upcoming articles on airguns.

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

Unique to Idaho: Wild game feeds

This time of year is slow for outdoorsmen. Well, as slow as it ever gets. There is still ice fishing, cougar hunting, trapping, snowshoeing — and varmint hunting is in full swing. In fact, I just ordered a new FoxPro X2 electronic call and can’t wait for it to get here.

But there are some other fun outdoor-related activities going on January through March. It is the show season. I just got back from the Dallas Safari Club Convention in Dallas, SHOT Show in Vegas and the Safari Club International Convention in Reno. And then as far as I can tell nearly every state puts on a big show (or multiple shows).

But there is something unique to Idaho, or at least I haven’t noticed it anywhere else, and that is our wild game feeds. I’ve never seen them in any other state like we have here. And that’s a shame because they’re a blast.

If you’ve never heard of a wild game feed, here’s how they’re run. A lot of local churches put on one as an outreach project. Also, a lot of clubs have one. For instance, years ago I attended one in Emmett put on by the Black Canyon Bowhunters Association. I’ve been to ones put on by a local SCI chapter, Idaho Varmint Hunters Association, Gem State Flyfishing Club and numerous other groups. There are multiple organizations that put them on. But the format somewhat follows the same guidelines.

The menu will be a potluck. You have to bring a wild game dish. If you’re not a hunter but still want to attend, no problem-o, just bring a salad, dessert or run down to the grocery store and buy a salmon and fake it. Usually the group will supply paper plates, utensils and coffee/water/tea.

Many of the wild game feeds will have what I call preliminary events. For instance, many times you’ll see Jim Combe, a local gunsmith who will set up an old Winchester display along with some old bear traps. Or Jim Fox will set up an archery display of some recurves/longbows that he has made. Sometimes they’ll have vendors set up tables, such as a call company, etc. These are always fun to check out before the event kicks off. SCI has a cool game trailer I’ve seen at some events.

Then the actual event will kick off. It will begin with everyone lining up for the potluck dinner. Near the tail end of the dinner, they will introduce the guest speaker.

What the speaker talks about can cover a wide range of topics. I’ve heard speakers give bear hunting seminars, give calling seminars and so forth. The Black Canyon Bowhunters Club did something unique. Everyone who wanted to, got up and told that year’s hunting story. That was an interesting twist. So what you do for a speaker or main event can vary greatly. Usually the speaker will be someone local but I’ve attended wild game feeds where they flew in a celebrity speaker.

Then a big majority of them will have a raffle table to raise money for their club or purpose. They’ll get local companies to donate items to raffle off. I always enjoy these raffles. Of course the more tickets you buy, the better your odds of winning.

If you’ve never attended one, I’d encourage you to do so. You’ll have a good time.

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.

ShockStraps are the ultimate strap

While conducting seminars at the Dallas Safari Club Expo last year, between seminars I was walking the aisles at the show and noticed a booth that had some stout looking straps called ShockStraps. Everyone in the outdoor world uses straps, don’t they? Whether it’s strapping down our four-wheelers, snowmobiles, boats or a load of firewood.

My wife calls me the eternal tightwad. I tell her I’m not tight, I’m just thrifty, but I learned a long time ago that you don’t want to scrimp on the quality of your straps. Too much bad stuff can happen if they malfunction. What if a load of firewood or a four-wheeler flipped out of the back of your truck into oncoming traffic? Someone is going to get hurt or die. You don’t want that. So don’t buy cheap straps.

When I saw the ShockStrap booth and looked at their product, I knew that I had found the ultimate strap. Over the years, I’ve gravitated from buying cheap gear to better/more durable gear. Not only does cheap gear not last, it will also malfunction and leave you stranded.

I don’t know how many times I’ve lost a strap while hauling my four-wheeler. I always strap it down with four straps but nearly always lose one so I got in the habit of tying the tail off to the trailer.

ShockStrap incorporated what they call a safety strap, which helps tie your load down tight. It has two purposes:

  • If an accident happens and the ShockStrap breaks, the Safety Strap will keep the tie in place.
  • The Safety Strap acts as a limiter so you don’t over tighten and warp what you’re securing.

The breaking strength is over 3,000 pounds. The military-grade ratchet has an outside release for ease of use even with gloves on. It is bolted on so you can replace it in the future if you wear out your straps. I like this feature. On many of the cheaper straps, it is a race to see if the straps or the ratchet part wears out first. It also has a two-year warranty, which is higher than any other tie downs that I have ever purchased.

On the end of the tail of the strap past the hook is a loop. This lets you use the soft loop when the hook won’t fit around your desired tie off point so that you can wrap the strap around a corner post or piece of equipment and place the loop in the hook to tie it off. Ingenious idea. The hooks also have retention clips to keep the hooks from coming off.

The ShockStrap maintains constant pressure on the strap so when hitting bumps or having side pressure applied to it. You won’t be pulling over every 50 miles to retighten your straps.

Amazingly for a heavy-duty tie down made in America, the MSRP is only $45.99.

For more information, visit shockstrap.com.

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

What to expect at a gun show

I have attended numerous gun shows and never seen a hint of all of the mayhem and wickedness that some claim is happening at them. I just see a lot of older people, young kids, etc., having a good time. So, from my naive perspective, let’s look at what to expect when you go to a local gun show. But realize every gun show will have its own flavor.

I never thought about it until just now, but I don’t think that I’ve ever actually bought a gun at a gun show. I’ve sold some guns but never bought one so I guess, really, I just go to buy accessories and cool stuff. As I’m typing this article, I’m visiting South Dakota. I noticed that there was a gun show going on in the town that I am staying in so me and a buddy decided to hit it. It was not unlike most shows.

FORMAT

Vendors will rent tables to set up their wares. They can rent from one table on up to I guess as many as they want, but usually it will be one to three with a handful of the bigger vendors renting four to maybe six.

There will be a handful of vendors selling new guns. More than likely these will be a local gun dealer.

Then there will be quite a few tables with used guns. These are set up by guys that appear to hit all of the local gun shows. If you talk to them it sounds like they hit the Nampa, Caldwell, Marshing, Ontario, La Grande and Pendleton shows. To me, it seems like a lot of this group do gun shows almost as a hobby.

I don’t really see them selling too much. I think they like to hang around that group of people and hope to make enough to support their lifestyle.

Then there will be a few that specialize in brass. Most of these guys are into shooting and not really hunting. They just love to shoot, tweak their rifles and spend a lot of time at the gun range. This explains why gun shows can have a semi-high attendance even during hunting season when normal people ought to be up in the mountains hunting!

I couldn’t believe it but at a meeting at the SHOT Show last week, one of the speakers said that shooting is the No. 2 sport in America, ahead of golf.

KNIVES

And of course knives are always a big item. I write a weekly knife product review for AmmolandShootingSportsNews, which is the largest Outdoor website in America so as you can imagine, I love knives. Yes, half of the knife tables will have cheap imports but there will also usually be a few quality knives at every show.

And there will be a few tables with some old-school knives. I never tire at looking at them — like the old Case leather handle knives, etc. I met a guy last year in La Grande and he had a table full of knives made in Finland. The sheaths were made of reindeer leather and some of the handles out of their antlers. It’s always cool to find some new twist like this. I got a few and am testing them and will do some product reviews on them sometime in the future. It’s fun to find something new like that.

Then something that is cool to the old timers is that there is always two to three tables that have some World War II knives, bayonets (If you’re young and don’t know what a bayonet is, it is a knife that can be attached to the muzzle of your rifle for hand-to-hand combat in the trenches), rifles and pistols.

Some guy here today had a whole table of German Lugers which was cool. I’d love to own one of them. And while on old military gear, there will be one to two guys that has some old military clothing for sale.

AMMO

There will be a lot of ammo for sale. At every gun show I can find at least a few vendors that have a good deal on ammo. So, I always end up buying a few boxes to go plink with. If you’re looking to buy in bulk, a gun show is a good place to check out.

So, as we wrap up, if you’re in town when one of the (semi) local gun shows is going on, you might want to check one out. Who knows, you might become a gun show groupie!

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

Varmint hunting: Part 2

Last week we tackled part 1 of varmint hunting. This week, I want to follow up with part 2.

Varmint hunting has a cult-like following so I won’t be able to do it justice in two short articles, but hopefully it’s enough info to help get you jump started. This week, let’s try to cover the loose ends.

Last week, I briefly said that night hunting was magical, and it is. That’s a varmint’s primo feeding time.

If you plan on hunting varmints at night in multiple states, check each state’s regs as they can vary wildly.

There are a million options now for lights. In the old days, we’d call and then the spotter would run a strong flashlight/spotlight beam in a circle around your feet and try to pick up the glint of any approaching eyes. You can also run it on the skyline.

If there are any eyes, the shooter gets ready and then tells the light man to drop the light. You’ll have a couple seconds to take a shot before he bolts. Bobcats will many times close their eyes and you can lose them.

Years ago, hunters discovered that a red or green light is not as visible to animals so many started using colored spotting lights. Which is why SneakyHunter BootLamps uses colored lights on their BootLamps.

There is now available a plethora of lights for spotlighting. Most are some variation of a flashlight that attaches to your rifle or shotgun. Some have a cord with a button and some you just have to hit the switch just like on any flashlight.

Some of the coolest ones are the Crimson Trace laser lights. I’ve got a few of them and if I remember correctly, the beam can reach out something like 200 to 250 yards. CT sells 50 percent of all laser sights sold.

The best way to mount your night lighting system is to use a Picatinny rail — which most ARs have and you can add on additional ones.

But the most awesome way to hunt at night is with thermal-imaging gear. Last spring, Texas Outdoor Journal publisher Bill Olson and I hog hunted with Clifford of Third Coast Thermal in Texas.

I’m sure that you have watched sniper war movies where the sniper is looking through a thermal imaging scope and it looks like the terrorists are green goblins coming in. That is exactly how it is. There are two kinds of night lighting that most people clump in this family. They are actually different, though.

You have thermal imaging that picks up heat, and light-gathering scopes that pick up all of the light.

Here’s the cool thing that I love about thermal imaging. I dropped two hogs back to back and even with them laying in some semi-tall grass, I could see them because of their body heat. I put down the rifle and picked up my Riton Optics binoculars and even though they were out by a Slow Glow lighting system, I couldn’t see them due to them being in the grass but with the thermal imaging I could.

If you have the money, thermal imaging is awesome.

Clifford loaned me one of his .308s with a suppressor, which allowed for fast follow-up shots. That kind of hunting could quickly become addictive.

If you want to get a super-cool pelt, then you need to harvest a bobcat. Their pelts are strikingly beautiful. Calling at night is the best time to call cats, but on a trip once, Bill and I called in two cats in the daylight and only one at night. So you can for sure call them in the day; it’s just usually better at night.

Cats like a lot of busy noises like chirping birds. They also like a lot of busy movement light a waggler type of attractant decoy. You don’t have to worry about covering your smell like you do when calling coyotes but you do need to conceal your movement.

Another fun animal to call is raccoons. They’ll usually come in pretty easy and many times multiple ones at once. A .22 mag works fine on them. I want to take my Henry’s lever action .22 mag spotlighting some night. That’d be cool. And foxes come in easily as well.

So just because we’re in the dead of winter it doesn’t mean that all is lost in the hunting world. In fact, right now is primo varmint-hunting time. Get out and have a little fun and at the same time help the antelope, deer and elk herds.

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