Want to get away from the city? Check out Wild Skies

Last week, my wife, Katy, and I ran over to northwest Colorado to check out the Wild Skies Flat Tops Cabin, which is a couple of hours southeast of Craig. If you want to be off the grid, you ought to check them out. They do have Wi-Fi, but everything is solar charged. There are no electrical lines running back there.

Thirty years ago, I blackpowder hunted a lot north of there but never in this particular area. Proprietors’ Chip and Lisa Bennet claim that the Flat Tops are home to the largest herd of elk in America. I’m trying to figure out how I can go back archery elk hunting in a couple of weeks, but I have gotten slammed with projects worse than ever. It’s a scary world when you have a hard time fitting in an elk hunt!

When Katy and I arrived, we were greeted by Lisa and her family. They have three delightful, well-mannered kids who were a joy to be around. We unloaded and then sat around the table strategizing for a bit. Then I whipped out some rib-eyes that I’d brought, and we grilled them with corn on the cob, and Lisa heated up a pan of yams. We had a great meal and a pleasant evening.

Their family is very much into working with ways to preserve the wild mustangs, and they shared a lot of those ideas with us. Lisa is in hopes that Bass Pro Shops will build a store in Craig and preserve the local museum and incorporate it with a mustang project.

It soon got dark and they had to head home and back to their lives. The next morning, Katy and I dropped down to the river below the cabin. Even though it is a pretty large river, like a lot of mountain creeks and rivers, it was brushy and you had to mainly fish the holes. I was wanting to teach Katy how to fly fish, but it would have been a tough river to learn on.

So we soon decided to hike up the mountain and look for signs of elk. We hiked around a while and then decided to go exploring. We headed up the road through the Routt National Forest, and I assume towards the Flat Tops, but I didn’t have a map so I’m not sure.

We had a great day just being together in the high country. I’ve been gone a lot lately, and it looks like it’s going to get worse, so it was good to get away with my little bride. We didn’t get to stay near as long as we would have liked to have.

I had ordered some Bushka’s Kitchen freeze-dried meals for lunches while we were hiking, but they didn’t make it in before we left. I’ve got a backpacking trip lined up in a few weeks, so we’ll test them out then. It’s good to see another backpacking meal company hit the market.

There are a lot of high mountain lakes, rivers and creeks I’d like to have fished. To adequately fish the high mountain lakes, you need a canoe or small jon boat. Or what else works great are float tubes. It is hard to wade a lot of the lakes because they have a soft silty bottom and you sink down pretty deep before you can get out very far.

Then there are a million trails to hike, mountains to scout and all of the high mountain adventures to hit. I took my Riton Optics binoculars and got to do a little glassing but not near as much as I wanted to. I was hoping to be able to do some serious scouting for elk but we just ran out of time.

If you want to take your family on a getaway to a super nice lodge you ought to check out Wild Skies. More information can be found at wildskies.com. The Flat Tops Cabin can sleep up to 14 people. It’d be a great cabin for family vacations, snowmobiling, fishing or elk hunting. It is a super nice cabin and a great place to use as a base camp.

To elk hunt, it would be a self-guided hunt. I think the smart thing would be to do a family vacation in July or August and combine it as an elk scouting trip. Then run back to elk hunt.

Well, our time soon ran out, and we loaded up and had to run over to Malad and visit Ron and Betsy Spomer for a few days on their Dancing Springs Ranch. That was a fun, kicked-back time to see our old friends. We did some shooting, filming and doodling. Then it was time to head back home and pound on the keyboard and crank out some articles. Don’t let the summer slip away before you do one more backcountry trip.

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

Feel lost hunting? Maybe reach out to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association

I have never hunted with a licensed outfitter or guide in Idaho because I grew up hunting with my father and two of his brothers: my uncle Floyd and uncle Veral. My uncle Floyd owned a sporting goods store in Blackfoot when I was growing up in the mid-1950s and early ’60s. My father bought our .22 rifles and our big game hunting rifles as well as our 12-gauge shotguns from uncle Floyd’s shop.

My father and uncles hauled me all over Idaho hunting different areas each year. One of the most important things I learned was the need to scout possible hunting areas during the months before hunting season arrived so I knew where game could be found and where I wanted to set up a camp.

My favorite trips during those years were generally to the central mountain regions of Idaho. In the years since, I have scouted and hunted areas in south and Southeast Idaho also, using the skills that were taught to me by my father and uncles, who learned the skills from my grandfather Merkley.

Today it seems that many hunters feel too busy to spend time scouting, so they get what information they can from other hunters, many of whom haven’t scouted either, but remember seeing deer somewhere. They then head for their chosen area and hope they will luck into a deer or elk. Some may very well get lucky, but my impression is many come home disappointed.

If that sounds anything like your experience, maybe hunting with a outfitter and one or two of the guides that work for the concession is just the thing you need to find and fill your hunting tag.

If so, you should look up the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association website and get a list of outfitters and guides that work in the area or unit you want to hunt.

With the most square miles of wilderness hunting in the lower United States, Idaho has more public land for hunting than any other state except for Alaska.

IOGA has registered outfitters in every part of Idaho who have been guiding people from all over the United States and many foreign countries on big game hunting trips. They can certainly do the same for busy Idaho hunters also.

IOGA member outfitters will provide all equipment necessary for getting into the hunting area, food during the trip, tents or shelter, as well as guides that know where to find game and how to cape an animal in preparation for taxidermy services. The hunter usually provides his own rifle, ammunition or bow and arrows. What the guide won’t do is shoot your game for you. The guide’s job is to put you in a position to shoot your game yourself.

Interestingly, women make up 25 percent of the guiding industry. Most guides are white water guides, or fishing guides, with hunting guides coming in third in terms of what guides like to specialize in doing. Most guides in Idaho are full time for two to 10 years, who work six to 10 weeks a year and make 50 percent of their yearly income guiding. Two-thirds of the Idaho guides are registered Idaho residents.

In a recent survey, most guides indicated they would like more training in entertainment skills and more training in emergency medicine. In the same survey, most guides listed conservation as their top priority.

You can even join IOGA as an individual associate member for $25 even if you aren’t an outfitter or guide. The benefits are free listing in the IOGA directory, annual meeting with educational sessions, update on issues, exhibitors, fun and camaraderie, and information on IOGA activities related to state and federal agency and legislative issues, group marketing and all relevant topics.

I realize that joining IOGA won’t be of interest to many, but I thought I might as well mention it in case there was some interest.

If you would like a free full color directory of IOGA member outfitters, You can request one from their website, ioga.org, or by calling 1-800-49-IDAHO.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

Want to catch a boatload of fish? Check out Plummer’s Lodges

My daughter and I just got back from an awesome fishing trip at Plummer’s Arctic Lodges up in the Northwest Territories. Lorane Poersch introduced me to Chummy Plummer four or five years ago when I was conducting some seminars at the SCI Convention in Vegas. I liked Chummy right away. Lorane wanted me to do an interview with him and write an articles. So that’s how that I met him.

Chummy started guiding when he was 13 years old — and realize, this fishing isn’t on your friendly neighborhood crappie fishing lake. It is up in the Northwest Territories, which, as you can imagine, is some remote country.

Chummy’s granddad and dad Warren owned several businesses in Flin Flon, Manitoba. (Uniquely, my father-in-law fished north of Flin Flon for over 20 years and took my wife there every summer as a kid and later took me there as well.) Later they happened to fish on Great Slave Lake. They got there by a canoe and a 2 ½ horsepower motor. They fell in love with the spot and later built the Plummer’s Great Slave Lake Lodge, which is where we fished this week.

They’ve expanded, and now they own the Plummer’s Great Bear Lake Lodge, Plummer’s Great Slave Lake Lodge, Plummer’s Trophy Lodge, Plummer’s Tree River Outpost and the Plummer’s Artic Circle Outpost, which is a self-guided lodge. The Tree River Outpost is home to the largest Arctic char on the planet and flows into the Arctic Ocean.

So, there’s a little history and facts. Now for the fun stuff. We flew into Yellow Knife, which is the capitol of the NWT and grabbed a room. The next morning, we jumped on a plane and got to the lodge in time for a hot breakfast. We then bought fishing licenses, met our guide and took off fishing. The whole organization is super efficient, and the staff is over-the-top friendly. Kolby and I drew Darrel Smith for our guide.

Our main target was lake trout, which is what the lake is famous for, but there were plenty of graylings and you can also find some Northerns, which I love to fish for. Of course, Kolby caught the largest Northern and lake trout.

Big spoons are popular and work well up there. I took some jigs and plastics, but they weren’t big enough. We also had good luck on a lure called a Bondy.

The lake trout fishing was unbelievable. I do not know how many we caught and at least three times had double hook-ups. Needless to say, the fishing was everything we could have hoped for.

The week before, it had been cold, which you’d expect for being up near the Arctic, but for us the weather was great — in fact, we got sunburned every day! I did not expect that but was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the mornings and evenings were cool, especially when zipping out 15 miles to our fishing holes. We used Frogg Togg Pilot Pro Jackets and Pilot Pro Bibs to block the wind. Then to keep warm under the Frogg Toggs we wore XGO base layers. We had originally taken some Fish Monkey Pro 365 Guide Gloves to protect our hands while fighting and handling big fish, but a side blessing was that they also helped keep our hands warm while zipping around in the boat and protected us from getting sun burned.

Canadian shore lunches are legendary as discussed in a previous article.

They say it gets dark two hours per day this time of year, but that was long after I went to bed, so I never saw it. Needless to say, you could fish yourself to death. Some kids caught plenty of graylings off the dock. In fact, one kid was fighting a grayling and a lake trout crashed the party and spooled him.

I could talk about the trip forever. Seeing a big gray wolf on the bank that sprawled out and looked at us. Or one of the other groups saw some musk ox. But to summarize, if you want to catch a boatload of fish, check out Plummer’s Lodges. It was a great father-daughter bonding time. We discussed and solved a lot of the world’s problems!

More information can be found at plummerslodges.com.

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

Sneaky hunters might like SneakyHunter Bootlamps

I recently met with Jim and Annette Manroe, the owners of SneakyHunter Bootlamps, and am excited about testing out their new “boot lamps.” They are a unique invention and believe it or not, they produce them in Nampa. So if you like supporting homegrown businesses, look no further.

As an outdoor writer, I get to test literally hundreds of products each year, and 99 percent of the new products are a slight variation or improvement of an already existing one. Not so with SneakyHunter Bootlamps. It is a new concept altogether.

Think of them as a headlamp for your feet. Why did I not think about that? Headlamps are great, but if you hear a bear while hiking down the trail you have to focus the light on the bear and hopefully not stumble over a rock or go off the side of a mountain when you shift the focus of the light off the trail. The Bootlamp will always be focused right on the trail in front of you.

But actually, the reason that Jim and Annette invented them was because he got tired of sneaking into his favorite hunting spot before daylight and spooking the elk and deer with his wildly swinging flashlight. If he hit them in the eyes or inadvertently swept over them, they spooked.

With the advent of SneakyHunter Bootlamps, you no longer have to worry about the above scenarios occurring. Especially since it has three sight settings. 1. White light for walking. 2. Red light for walking and, as we know, a red light doesn’t spook game. That is why we use red lenses when spot lighting. 3. The violet light is used to track. This light illuminates a blood trail better than the popular UV lights.

Operating/setting them up is easy. Both units operate off of three AAA batteries. I’d recommend putting the buckle on the outside of your foot. Your buckle is on the outside on your spurs isn’t it? But if you can’t bend over very good it may be easier for you to tighten them up if the buckle is on the inside. After deciding which route you go, you might even want to use a magic marker to write an “L” on one and an “R’ on the other one so in the future you know which foot to put it on in case you’re OCD and absolutely have to have the buckle on which side you consider proper position. Normal people will probably care less!

Adjust the placement so that the Velcro strap is under your instep. There are two prongs on the front of the unit. Slip these under the boot strings. The unit is made so that it is mounted in the proper position and the light will shine where it is needed.

While backpacking and flyfishing I love to hit the evening hatch. Which means that there is a good chance that I may be down the river a good ways hitting it at dark. I wear Chaco sandals for wading in and out of the water while fishing. But will they work on my Chacos? No problem-o. I just tested it and the prongs fit under the strap and holds tightly in place.

To turn on the unit, there is a button on top. One click turns on the white light, two clicks turns on the red light and three clicks turns on the violet light. But hold on, what about walking through grass in the morning damp with dew? It has a hard foam compression pad on the lid that while it doesn’t rate it as water proof, it does rate it as water resistant.

Katy and I are headed over this weekend to Colorado to fly fish, ride horses and hike at the Wild Skies Flat Tops Cabin in northwest Colorado. We got us a pair of SneakyHunter Bootlamps just in time! Bring on the adventures.

They also make Hiker Bootlamps. These are different in that they offer white, red and green lights. Many hikers face depth perception issues when using a light source above the waist. This problem is eliminated by the Bootlamps since the light source is low to the ground. It also prevents blinding approaching hikers since it won’t hit them in the eyes.

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

The .41 Remington Magnum

in 1963, an Idaho cowboy, Elmer Keith, along with two of America’s best known Border Patrol agents and authors, Bill Jordon and Skeeter Skelton, petitioned Smith and Wesson to build a .41-caliber revolver that would fall between the .357 Remington Magnum and the .44 Remington Magnum in power. They also asked Remington and Norma to develop the ammunition. Jordon and Skelton were interested in a police round that would fire a 210-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1,230 feet per second, and would generate about 705 foot-pounds of energy and would recoil only a little more than a .357 Magnum and a lot less than a .44 Magnum.

Both Jordon and Skelton had experience being in several gun fights in their profession and wanted a harder-hitting round than the .357 Magnum, but felt that fast multiple shots were difficult to fire accurately with a .44 Magnum.

Elmer Keith, who was the primary petitioner for the intermediate .41-caliber round and revolver, agreed with Jordon and Skelton concerning the police load, but Keith was primarily a hunter and also wanted a load that wasn’t too far behind the .44 Magnum in power, but with a little less recoil, so that an experienced handgun hunter could fire it with one hand.

Keith and his good friend Skelton envisioned a .41-caliber, 200-grain bullet that left the muzzle at 900 feet per second for police use, but Keith, an avid hunter, originally wanted a 210-grain bullet that left the muzzle at 1,500 feet per second for hunting and generated 1,113 foot-pounds of energy.

Remington initially dropped the low pressure load and introduced the full power load at 1,500 feet per second in 1964. Smith and Wesson disappointed Keith when they refused to chamber the .41 Magnum in their mid size K frame revolver, but instead chambered it in their N frame size, which was the same size as the .44 Magnum. I’m not sure how big Elmer Keith’s hands were, but the grip of big heavy N frame, Smith and Wesson revolvers is difficult for people with small- to medium-sized hands to wrap around properly. I personally have to shoot N frame revolvers by cocking them single action style in order to reach the trigger with the first pad of my trigger finger.

Ruger does make their single-action Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk in .41 Magnum. The Black Hawk is a heavy, rugged revolver, and the grip on the Black Hawk or Super Black Hawk Ruger revolver is pretty comfortable in small to medium as well as large hands.

If you want the power of a .41 Magnum for a trail gun, I don’t see any disadvantage in getting it in a rugged single-action revolver such as a Ruger Black Hawk if the N frame Smith and Wesson is uncomfortable.

The decision by Remington to drop the low pressure load was probably a wise one, as most police departments weren’t interested in the .41 Magnum, and sales of the low pressure load wouldn’t have been very profitable. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Jordan and Skelton went ahead and carried .41 Magnums anyway if the Border Patrol didn’t object.

In the years since 1963, even higher loads have been developed for the .41 Remington Magnum. One can now purchase 265-grain lead flat-nose bullet that exits the muzzle at 1,400 feet per second, with 1,153 foot pounds of energy.

As far as recoil is concerned, I don’t understand completely why someone who doesn’t like the recoil of a .44 Magnum would be excited with the lower recoil of the .41 Magnum. The recoil of a .41 Magnum firing a 265-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1,400 feet per second is 17.6 foot-pounds of recoil back at the shooter. The top loads for the .44 Magnum recoil at 22 foot-pounds of energy. Although the .44 Magnum does have more recoil, I’m not sure most people would really be impressed by the difference — 17.6 foot-pounds of energy is pretty stout for a hand-held firearm that weighs a couple of pounds as opposed to a shoulder fired rifle that weighs 6 to 8 pounds.

The .41 Remington Magnum is more powerful than the .357 Magnum and about 325 foot-pounds of energy less powerful than a .44 Magnum. I think it has a legitimate place as a trail gun for those who want a hard-hitting, accurate caliber.

The .41 Magnum has enjoyed a resurgence of interest the last couple of years as more and more outdoorsmen have decided to carry a trail gun when hunting, camping and hiking in the backcountry. If you are convinced that you want a harder hitting hand gun than a .357 Magnum for travel in the backcountry, you may just like the .41 Magnum. See if you can shoot one and are comfortable with the recoil and can accurately hit your target with no flinching before you decide to purchase one.

The .41 Magnum really does have recoil commensurate with it’s power. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

Canadian shore lunches are to die for

Canadian shore lunches are legendary, and for good reason: They’re awesome! I experienced my first Canadian shore lunch 34 years ago. My father-in-law took the family to Flin Flon, Manitoba, fishing forever. The first year that Katy and I got married, he took six of us. What a great trip.

Every day at lunch, we’d pull up on the shore, build a fire and he’d fry up a great meal which fried northern pike as the main course. Let’s fast forward to last week. My daughter and I just got back from a fishing trip to the historic Plummer’s Lodges in the Northwest Territories. I’ll write an article on that trip at a later time, but right now I want to write about the shore lunches we had.

Every day, our guide, Darrel Smith, would keep back one of the smaller lake trout to cook for lunch. We were fishing on Great Slave Lake, and about noon we’d pull up on some small island or bank where there was a semi-flat spot. We’d build a fire ring with rocks and whip out a fire.

Darrel kept a big metal grate in the boat that we’d lay on the rocks. He had a tow sack that he’d keep all of his utensils and which included some big frying pans. He also had a couple of camp chairs for me and Kolby.

Next he’d fillet the fish. On this trip, we were testing out the Smith’s Consumer Products Lawai 7-inch and 9-inch knives. He’d prepare the fish in a different manner, all of which were excellent. I don’t know how many different recipes he has.

Of course, the fried fish were excellent and to die for. He had a bag of dry batter and would throw the fillets into the bag and shake it up to coat them and then throw them in a skillet of hot oil.

But first he’d fry the potatoes and slice onions. I know food always tastes better in the outdoors, and you always eat more but I’m serious — he made the best potatoes I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the seasoning or the environment, but I would have been happy with just the potatoes.

When the potatoes were done, he’d put a colander over a metal gallon bucket and pour the potatoes into the colander. Of course, the colander would catch the potatoes and the grease would drip into the metal bucket.

Then he’d pour the grease back into the pan to fry the fish. He’d open a can of beans and a can of corn and set them on the side of the grill to begin heating up. When it was all done, he’d set out the spread on a big rock, and we’d have a buffet fit for kings. We’d eat until we were about to die.

But we didn’t eat fried fish every day (although we could have, and I would have been happy). One day he did a baker. On a big sheet of foil, he poured a tub of salsa and then laid in the fillets. He then wrapped it up and baked it on the grill. When it was about done, he poured a pound of grated cheese on top and refolded the foil and let it melt. Kolby really liked the baker.

After lunch, Kolby asked him if he’d ever had teriyaki fish. He replied, “Do you want teriyaki tomorrow?” She said, “I’m good with whatever.” The next day, he spoiled us with a teriyaki shore lunch. It was to die for.

I was amazed at how organized and fast he whipped out a shore lunch. He was super efficient and has a good system down. The fishing was unbelievable, but the shore lunches alone almost made it worth going on the trip.

After the trip, I got wondering. Why don’t we do shore lunches in Idaho? Even Huckleberry Finn and Jim knew that fresh fish was the ultimate.

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

Scouting before hunting season

In September 2016 the former outdoors editor of the Idaho State Journal wrote an article titled, “The 4 best places to hunt for deer in Southeast Idaho in 2016.” He identified Unit 70 near Pocatello, Unit 73 in the Malad area, Unit 76 in the Diamond Creek area, and Unit 78 in the Bear Lake area. The good news is that those areas remain pretty good for deer hunting. The bad news is they are draw areas, and if you haven’t successfully drawn for one of those areas, you would be foolish to hunt there.

When people ask me where to find deer and elk, I usually tell them that is exactly what I’m trying to learn when I take a couple of days, grab my binoculars, compass, topographic maps, pen and notebook and scout areas that I think I might like to hunt. My scouting trips determine where I decide to hunt, even though I have been hunting for a lot of years and have some areas that I generally prefer. Scouting for game also gives me a chance to formulate a hunting strategy for the area.

Even my old haunts change from year to year in terms of amount of game and how they are moving through the area. Little things that I may not be aware of can make game change what trails they are using, where they bed down and where they forage or drink.

I don’t stop hunting when the season ends, but I don’t hunt illegally. Most of the year I scout possible hunting areas, weather permitting. Normally, when I am scouting I don’t carry a rifle, but I do like to carry a .357 Smith and Wesson revolver or a little bigger as a precaution. However, topographic maps, pen, note book and binoculars are the tools of scouting for game.

I generally start my scouting trips as early as April if possible, but the end of May, or first part of June is more likely. I like to get into the back country as much a possible and just observe what has changed and what is still pretty much the same.

The most important notations I make in my notebook concern signs. The primary signs I look for are droppings, tracks, game trails, feed areas, beds , rubs and scrapes.

The amount of droppings one sees indicates whether deer or elk are using the area and fresh droppings indicate whether the area is currently being used. Extremely large clumps of droppings may indicate that a large deer or elk is using the area.

Tracks can also be telling. If a track is dry and eroded, it was made several day before. If it is fresh and well defined, the track may be very recent or only hours old. Does usually travel in groups, so if one finds a single set of tracks, it may be a mature buck. When walking, a buck should have a little longer stride between tracks. The more you study tracks the better you will become at using them to determine where you want to hunt.

The best game trails usually lead to thick bedding cover and dense escape routes.

Night time game trails normally are open and accessible and the game will not use them during day light hours.

If you find an area where the vegetation is pressed down, you have probably found a bedding area. Don’t spend much time there, but find a spot where you can intercept game as they move into or out of their bedding area.

Rubs are a major sign of game in the area. Several rubs may show you which direction the game is moving. Pick a spot where you can clearly see any rubs and you may get your deer or elk if it returns to the rub. A rub where the tree is ripped to shreds usually indicates a mature buck. Game generally rub the side of the tree from which they approach.

Scrapes are areas on the ground where bucks have been pawing out leaves and urinating to attract does in heat. The best are damp with a tree branch bent down and scent left on the branch.

Mature bucks will usually leave several scrapes along a corridor they actively check. If you find such an area, setting up down wind where you have a good view just may be worth while.

I like to scout for game several times during the summer, but the most important trip is about a week before the season opens. After that I leave the area undisturbed until the season opens.

However, you won’t know where to look for game during hunting season if you haven’t done any scouting before hand. Remember to mark everything you find on your topographic map. then when you return during opening day of hunting season, or the night before, you will be ready with a knowledge of the area and where to find game.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.

Learning to fish for kokanee

While conducting seminars at The Great Northwest Outdoor Expo, I met Kory Richardson, the owner of Lucky Tackle Co. Of course, you know what happens when two gung-ho fishermen get together! We were soon lining up a fishing trip. Gee, I’ve had seminars, hunting and fishing trips nonstop since the expo, so it took us over a month to finally be able to nail down a date.

I met him before daylight, threw my gear in his truck and off we went. I love fishing and hunting with someone who is passionate about what they pursue. Even on a tough day, you learn so much from them. On the drive, he caught me up on the basics. It may sound strange, but I’ve never gotten to fish for kokanee salmon, so it was a whole new world for me. As stated above, Kory is very knowledgeable, so much so that he owns a kokanee lure company. Someday soon, I want to interview him. I’ll pick his brain and we’ll all learn from that article.

If you’re a salmon fisherman, then you know that there are five kinds of Pacific salmon, and they all have two names.

  • Chinook: Kings
  • Silvers: Cohos
  • Dog salmon: Chum
  • Sockeye: Reds
  • Pink: Humpies

To my understanding, there are three lakes in Idaho where you can fish for kokanee: Deadwood Reservoir, Arrow Rock and Anderson Ranch. A kokanee is a land-locked sockeye. The sockeye is the most desired eating fish to a lot of people.

We arrived at the lake, and it was a beautiful day. Wow, we’re lucky to live in Idaho. With the spring rains, we’re having an exceptionally green summer, so things were green on the drive up, and then of course how can you not love fishing in the mountains? The scenery was beautiful.

If you’ve never trolled for kokanee, the tackle is unique. First, Kory tied on an attractant spinner, which looks like a big spoon and is called a dodger.

Then he tied a leader to the dodger with one of his flies on the end. Kokanee feed on plankton, so they don’t hit your fly because they’re eating — they hit because they’re mad at it.

One thing that Kory is fanatic about is his scent. After fishing with him, I want to experiment in all aspects of my fishing adventures. He uses rubber gloves when he is handling his flies or hooking on bait. He swears by how important it is to keep bad scents off your flies. Think about it. How can a Chinook know which river to turn up while heading back to their birthplace? The experts say by the scents of the minerals out of the rivers.

I’ve only the last few years started using bait on my crappie jigs, and it helps for sure. This year, I’ve started using Pautzke Crappie Fireballs. I may experiment on controlling and using scents on all of my fishing adventures. What about flies even in the backcountry? Soon I’m jumping on a plane to the historic Plummer’s Lodge in The Northwest Territories. I think I’ll pack a bottle of Pautzke’s Crappie Fire Balls. It will be interesting to test.

The next thing that hit me as weird was how flimsy of rods Kory used. They were as light weight and flimsy as crappie rods. He explained that they have super soft mouths so don’t horse them like you do a bass and sure don’t set the hook. He said the best method is to just lift the rod tip and start reeling, just like you do on crappie of you’ll rip the hook out.

He uses down riggers to get down deeper in the water column. Of course to find where they were, we had all of the lines at varying depths. There is so much more to cover, but we are about out of room. We’ll get in deeper detail when I do an interview with Kory.

Not long after starting, we had a big hit. We thought we had a lunker, and we did. A lunker pikeminnow, that is. We hit it hard, but it was a tough day. We only ended up netting one. But hey, that’s fishing. It happens sometimes.

In case you wonder why I am making such a big deal about kokanee fishing, it’s only because you haven’t eaten one. Brine them for three to five hours and smoke them on a plank. Your wife will be kicking you off the couch and telling you to go get her more kokanees. Or you may be lucky like Kory. He assured me that his girlfriend Janelle would be claiming the reason that we hadn’t caught more was because she wasn’t with us!

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

The Ox Hunting Ranch in Texas

If you have never heard the phrase that, “Texas is a whole ‘nother country,” take it from me that it is true. Where else can you hunt exotic game from around the world without leaving the United States?

While I was living in Texas, there were two exotic game ranches that I was aware of: Y.O. Ranch near Kerrville and Ox Hunting Ranch near Uvalde. Both are basically located in the hill country of Texas. Both ranches have websites you can browse through with pictures of the species of game offered for hunts at their facilities.

The Ox Hunting Ranch is the larger of the two ranches and offers more species of exotic game, but the hunting should be a great experience at either ranch.

In the interest of conserving space I’ll discuss the Ox Hunting Ranch in this column.

The Ox Ranch is a little unique in that you don’t have to be a hunter to enjoy a vacation there. They can cater bachelor parties, outdoor weddings and corporate retreats and offer hand feeding giraffes, driving and firing a World War II Sherman tank, firing a .50-caliber Barrett M82A1 semi-automatic rifle, machine gun shooting, shooting skeet, fishing, jet skiing and cave exploring, in addition to hunting 60 different species of game from around the world, including white-tailed deer and elk.

The Ox Ranch conducts hunting year around. As I understand it, the reason they can hunt all year is because they own all 18,000 acres that comprise the property of the ranch, and in Texas the game on one’s property belongs to the owner of the land. The exotic game imported by the ranch are not native to the united States, and U.S. Fish and Game laws do not apply.

If you are starting to suspect that the hunts on the Ox Ranch are canned hunts in which the client is virtually assured success once he or she puts down the money for the hunt, you would be correct for the most part. They do want you to have a good time and go home happy for the money you pay to hunt.

However, don’t expect any of the staff to shoot your trophy for you.

Speaking of cost, you might be wondering what it costs to hunt at Ox Ranch? You will be charged a fee for the particular species you want to hunt. That could be $1,000 for two turkeys to $35,000 for bongo (antelope) or elk that score 500-plus points, Safari Club International Score (SCI). The cost of your hunt could be the same or more than an African safari depending on how many different species of game you want to include in your hunt. You also have the option of hunting with a bow or firearm.

Accommodations include The OX Lodge, Pavilion and cabins, as well as a dining area, so you don’t have to find off-site lodging or dining.

For those who have their own private planes or business jet or have a good friend who has one and is willing to take you along, there is an on-site runway for your convenience.

Many who were brought up in Idaho, including myself, may look down on game ranch type hunting as unsporting, but before you become too critical, there are a few things you might want to consider about Texas and The Ox Ranch.

Texas has very little public land compared with privately owned land. The exotic game ranches are owned by hunters who have hunted all over the world and decided to bring that type of hunting to their home state of Texas. They have gone to a great deal of expense to stock the ranch with exotic game species.

Several wealthy Texans who have their own ranches have stocked them with some exotic game for themselves and friends to hunt when they can get away from the business they own. Texas really is a whole ‘nother country, and Texans don’t care if others approve or not. That brings to mind another popular phrase in Texas, “Don’t mess with Texas.”

If you have ever wanted to hunt African plains game or other exotic species, but couldn’t afford the cost of air fare, gratuities, a professional hunter, gun bearers, trained skinners, trackers, tags, for each species you are planning to hunt, and the professional hunters’ choice of spirits for the evening campfires, etc., the Ox Hunting Ranch might appeal to you.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at mokeydo41245@hotmail.com.