Show season is nearly upon us

After all the hunting seasons are closed, what’s a guy to do? Sit around and drink lattes and get fat? No! The show season is upon us, so get out and hit some of the outdoor shows.

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


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

And of course in January and February, I’ll be conducting a lot of seminars at the shows. January will be a busy month for me. The first week, I had two seminars at the Dallas Safari Club Convention and Sporting Expo. Jan. 20-24 is the SHOT Show, which is the largest outdoor show in the world (I’ll write an article on that show in the near future) and I’ll have three seminars there. On Feb. 6, the Safari Club International Convention in Reno kicks off, and I’ll have four seminars there. So I’ll be swamped.


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

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


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

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


If you’ve been wanting to hire a guide to hunt or fish this is a great place to meet them. At the Boise show, I see some of the guides that I know from up in Alaska.

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

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

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

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

Be crystal clear on what is provided and what isn’t. Do they handle the shipping back of your trophies? Get all of the necessary tags, etc.? There can be a lot of hidden costs that they take for granted that you never knew about.

And you even have a gun show in La Grande in February. I always find stuff I can’t live without at every gun show I hit. Don’t you? Let the shows begin!

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

Ice fishing 101

This article is going to be geared toward the ice fisherman with no knowledge to help you jump into it. To begin, if you aren’t geared for the cold you won’t even get a hook below the ice. I remember one ice fishing trip to a high mountain lake in Colorado that was rough. We took out before daylight and drug everything out on the ice. My buddy had a collapsible hut he was setting up. Before he could drive down the 1st stake a big mountain wind kicked up and he would of taken off across the lake but we all grabbed the sides while he was stuck inside.

In the meantime, unnoticed, our 5-gallon buckets with all of our gear had blown all the way across the lake. The only thing that saved them from being blown out of Colorado was a barbed wire fence on the other side of the lake. A little humorous-A company had given me a big sausage tray for Christmas. Scattered all the way across the lake were slices of sausage and frozen cherry tomatoes.

If you’re new to ice fishing then you probably won’t have a hut so take a 5-gallon bucket to carry your gear and a chair. Wear base layers, your warmest boots, gloves, etc. Take hand warmers.

I’ve never fallen through the ice but am always nervous about it. I carry all of my gear out in a sled, which can also be used to get someone out of a hole. It disperses your weight. Take a thick rope so you can throw it to someone. Tie a foot-long stick to the end so you can throw it out to them and they have something to grab.

P.S. When you throw it, don’t hit them in the head! Take a thermos of hot coffee and food to keep you warm.


You don’t want to just randomly go out on a lake and drill a hole and set there all day. You don’t fish like that in your boat do you? When fishing in a boat or on foot you can easily move around. Not so with ice fishing, every time you move, you have to drill new holes. So do your research on the lake before you go and see where the hotspots are. Or, like all fishing, follow the crowds.


To begin, you probably don’t want to invest in a power auger so buy a decent hand auger but if you get into ice fishing, you’ll want a gas auger. Before drilling, kick all the snow away. You’ll want a dipper so you can dip out the crushed ice and also to keep the hole from freezing up. If you discover the ice is less than 4-inches thick — SCATTER!

One time on a little sandhills lake in Nebraska Mike Helzer, my pastor’s kid and I were slaughtering the fish. The only problem, the snow was melting on top and we were standing in slushy water. If we got a hit and all three of us ran to the hole the sheet of ice would start dropping down and water would run out of the hole. Not smart. That would be the time to leave!

For rods, you’ll want something short. There are the old tip-up rods and they also make miniature rod/reel combos for ice fishing. You need to get some actual ice fishing set-ups and not try to use your regular rods. They’re too long to function.

So what lures/bait do you use? Like all fishing it varies lake to lake and hour to hour but here are some popular set-ups. They make little ice fishing jigs that everyone uses. In the old days we’d hook on a wax worm and drop it down and fish it a foot off the bottom. Now I use regular earth worms. You can also jig little Kast masters.

To help prompt a bite and to help them find your jig use scents. I use Pautzke Fireballs. Fish don’t feed in the winter as much or as aggressively as they do in the summer so you need every help you can get.

Due to the cold-water fish will be slower moving so don’t work your jig as fast as normal. A lot of the fishing is on the bottom but still, you need to work the water column to determine where the school is. If you’ve ever fished high mountain lakes in the summer then you’ve noticed that trout cruise the bank in search of food, they almost look like a shark on patrol. So I picture them moving around like that under the ice.

Perch though, they’re a big-time schooling fish so you need to find a school. I’ve seen them in shallow water in the summer where if you drop your bait there will be 15 to 20 small ones hitting it. So I usually fish for perch down right off the bottom.

The good deal about ice fishing, you don’t have to worry about your catch spoiling, just throw them in a pile of snow as you catch them. They are being drug out of cold, crystal-clear water so they should be superb eating. Have fun and be safe out there.

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

Crow hunting

I’d been traveling and upon arriving back home I sat down to catch up on reading my pile of newspapers. Right on the front page of one of the newspapers was a notice of a national emergency (well, kind of an emergency)! It sounds like the crows had migrated in big time over in the Nampa/Caldwell area. While they might not quite as plentiful over in the Pocatello area, you might still be able to kick up enough to make it fun. Besides, it’s winter. What are you doing to do? Sit in the house and rot?

But before you think you can just run out blasting and be successful, beware: Crows have to be close to the smartest birds in the world, but if you do it right you can shoot large numbers of them with the proper set-up. Here’s how I like to do it. If you can find a thick clump of cedar trees not over 10 to 15 feet tall, that’s perfect. If you’re in a grove of trees too tall, the crows will almost be out of range when the come gliding in.

Your tendency is to set up where you can see what is coming. Don’t do that. You want to be buried right in the midst of the brush. If they come flying in and see you, then they’ll flare off and spook. You have to be totally hidden. If you don’t have perfect cover then at least get in under the shadows.

You’ll want to use an electronic call. Set it a little bit away from you so when they come in, they’re not focusing right on you. You’ll want a call with a remote control. That way you can change sounds without running out to switch the call every time.

I always start off with a hawk fighting crow call or an owl fighting crow call. Then you can switch it up some: wounded crow call, crows fighting call, etc. Many times, you hear them coming but just as many times they’ll glide in silently. You’ve got to always be ready. After the shot, they’ll hit the after burners and dip and dive outta there.

You’ll want to be camo’d to the max. Use a face mask or net to conceal your shiny face. Since your hands are the source of 90 percent of your movement make sure and wear camo gloves or at least the old Army wool gloves. Wear camo on top for sure, and pants as well don’t hurt.

Just like on all calling, decoys help immensely. I like to have one if not two Mojo decoys. They’re the ones that have the battery-operated rotating wings. Set them up out in the open and the Mojo boys tell me they work better if they’re set up higher off the ground. Use stationary crow decoys as well if you have some, and an owl or hawk decoy will be good, too.

Also use an attractor decoy. You ask what? Yep. I started noticing a few years ago that right at daylight every morning while calling coyotes that crows are the first varmint to show up. It took a minute or two to register but then it hit me. Why not use a waggler type of attractant decoy on crows? They come in all the time to them while I’m coyote hunting.

On good hunts, it can be fast and furious, so I like using a semi-automatic 12-gauge with a modified Trulock choke and 6-shot. Crows are not good neighbors. They harass a lot of game birds and eat the eggs of ground birds (quail, sage grouse etc.), so it does the environment good to thin them out. Have fun.

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

So you have some Christmas gift money burning a hole in your pocket

If you’re lucky, you got some Christmas money or a gift card for a present. If so, you now face the decision as to what to spend it on. It seems like that we can’t be successful unless we have the newest, latest, greatest gizmo — or at least that’s what the outdoor marketers would have us believe. But I guess I’m a willing victim to their marketing schemes, and, no doubt, there are a lot of cool new items that can increase our odds. So whether it’s a do-or-die item or an item to make your hunt more enjoyable or rich, there are plenty of items on the market. Well, let’s get started.

  • MyTopoMaps make the best maps in the country. I order all of my maps from them.
  • SneakyHunter BootLamps. These are a really cool new invention. They’re like a headlight for your feet.
  • Smith’s 6-inch Fine Diamond stone
  • Smith’s 6.3-inch Edgesport Boning knife. Until now, there was no real boning knife on the market for us outdoorsmen.
  • Knives of Alaska Pronghorn or Elk Hunter knife
  • Diamond Blade “Surge” skinning knife
  • Frogg Togg rain gear for fishing
  • Northern Lite snowshoes
  • Lodge 8-quart Dutch oven
  • Lodge black skillet
  • Klymit sleeping pad
  • Bushka’s Kitchen freeze-dried meals
  • Irish Setter Vapr Trek 8-inch boots
  • XGO base layers
  • Hi Mountain Seasoning. Hi-Mountain has the best sausage blends on the market. They also just came out with a bacon blend. I’m going to make some deer sausage this afternoon with Hi-Mountain seasoning.
  • Adventure Medical Kits own the market on first-aid gear for the outdoorsman. I always have AMK moleskin in my pack.
  • Birchwood Casey targets
  • ASP rechargeable flashlight
  • You have a survival kit for yourself; you also need one for your truck. Make sure you have a chain, a Handyman jack, a shovel and an air compressor that plugs into your cigarette lighter. These three items can get you out of a lot of jams.
  • NRA membership. They’re the only ones protecting our Second Amendment rights.


  • Pautzke Crappie Fireballs
  • Cotton Cordell Pencil Poppers
  • Flies from
  • Compass
  • Of course, my e-books on Amazon Kindle: “Knife Sharpening” or “Survival Tips For The Outdoorsman.”


  • Riton Optics binoculars
  • Henry’s .22 Magnum
  • A guided fishing trip with Plummer’s Artic Lodges. Me and my daughter had a blast fishing up there this summer.
  • A Diamond Blade knife
  • Sig Sauer has come out with two cool new airguns. The ASP20 break action or the MCX Virtus PCP airguns. I’m just about to start testing both of them.
  • Air Venturi’s Nomad II air compressor for your PCP airguns

Well, good luck shopping and hope you survive shopping with the masses. Merry Christmas!

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

Hunting for the disabled

Shortly after I was born, I became sick with pneumonia. I recovered from the pneumonia, but it stripped me of most of my hearing and made many of the adults in my extended family out of sorts with me because they thought I was just ignoring them until …

The reasons I hunt

From time to time I am asked by someone why I hunt. If you were to ask a few hunters why they hunt you would probably get a lot of different answers to the question. However, I think it is a fair question, so I hope most hunters would take the time to give an honest answer.

One of the reasons I hunt is because the meat from wild big game is leaner than store bought meat. Three ounces of venison has about 130 calories compared to 247 calories in 3 ounces of beef.

Another reason I hunt is because hunting skills have been handed down from father to son for generations in my family. My youth was filled with hunting trips to the mountains of the Little Lost River country, Sulpher Canyon by Soda Springs, the Fish Creek area between Lava Hot Springs and Wide Hollow, as well as other places in Idaho, Utah and Texas. Hunting is part of who I am and how I define myself. To not hunt each year would require me to give up something that is truly important to me and intrinsic to my character.

Someone recently suggested that hunters could do their hunting with a camera and not kill anything. My answer to that suggestion is that a photographer is an observer of wild life, while a hunter is a participant and a part of nature. I want to be able to be fully absorbed in a quieter, deeper and older world with its rugged and consistent life cycle and primitive surroundings

Hunting also teaches us that we can work hard and still not achieve our goal. You win some and you lose some.

Some have said they hunt as a way to spend quality time with their families. That is a particularly good reason now that more women are getting into hunting. My son doesn’t hunt with me very often any more because of obligations commensurate with being deployed wherever the Army sends him. I do remember, though, the times we hunted together and I tried to teach him what my extended family taught me when I was younger.

Hunting also builds character, relationships, self-confidence and a healthy work ethic. You really get to know and appreciate people when you hunt with them.

Hunting also allows one to get away from civilization with its everyday distractions and stresses. It allows one to relax and enjoy nature for a few days, while being mentally prepared for the hunting experience and challenging oneself in a free, self-reliant, adventurous life.

If you prefer sitting by a campfire on a cold evening to watching the late movie; if listening to coyotes hunting in the distant darkness is your kind of music; if venison sizzling in butter over the campfire is preferable to the best Texas Roadhouse has to offer; if you prefer the silent majesty of the high country to the hustle and bustle of civilization; and if you would rather be chilled, soaking wet and excited than warm, dry and bored, hunting may appeal to you.

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

Hunters as conservationists

From time to time the anti-hunters — not to be confused with non-hunters — like to write letters to the editor of their local news papers opposing hunting and hunters for ridiculous reasons. Hunters have been accused of being blood-thirsty brutes who just can’t wait for hunting season to start so we can go kill everything in sight for a month or so each year, not to mention some species that can be killed all year long, although a hunting license is required for coyotes.

Not too long ago, a naive writer even wrote in to the Idaho State Journal complaining that there were two columns a week that promoted killing our precious wildlife. The only thing that was valid in his comments was that our wildlife is precious and should be intelligently managed and preserved.

I am almost amused by people who drive cars with leather seats, buy leather furniture, wear leather shoes, belts, hats, clothes and fur coats who then complain about hunters and hunting. It seems hypocritical to me.

I actually laughed at an individual who suggested hunters ought to go buy their meat at the grocery store so no animals would have to be killed.

The fact is that hunters are the most important group of wildlife preservationists, doing more to preserve wildlife for future generations than any other group. Let me give you a few examples of hunter’s conservation efforts.

  • In 1907, there were only 41,000 elk remaining in North America. Thanks to money and hard work spearheaded by hunters, today there are more than a million.
  • In 1900, there were only 500,000 white-tailed deer left. Today, there are more than 32 million because of conservation efforts spearheaded by hunters.
  • In 1950, only 12,000 pronghorn remained. Conservation efforts by hunters have now increased that number to more than 1.1 million.
  • Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay $796 million a year for conservation programs that have brought species such as turkeys from 100,000 in 1900 to 7 million today, and ducks from the brink of extinction in 1901 to more than 44 million today,
  • Through donations to groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, hunters add $440 million a year to conservation efforts.
  • In 1937, hunters themselves pushed for an 11 percent tax on guns, ammo, bows and arrows to help fund conservation efforts. Because of those efforts the Pittman Robertson Act was passed and has raised more than $131.2 billion for wildlife conservation.
  • All together, hunters pay more than $1.6 billion a year for conservation programs. No one else even comes close to giving a much for conservation of wildlife.
  • Hunting funds conservation and the economy, generating $38 billion a year in retail sales of all kinds of outdoor and hunting equipment, some of which aren’t taxed to support conservation efforts.
  • Hunting supports 680,000 jobs, from game wardens to waitresses and biologists to motel clerks.
  • Hunters are the money behind the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 7 million-plus acres of habitat restoration. About 95 percent of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 222,000 members are passionate hunters.
  • With funding from hunters The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has been able to restore wild elk herds in seven states and Canadian provinces.

As society loses its ties to wildlife and conservation, the bonds with nature developed by hunters will be the greatest hope for creating the next generation of true conservationists.

I could have described more reasons that hunters are the most important wildlife conservationists in the country and are the model for wildlife conservation efforts in other countries around the world, but I think I have made my point. If you would like to know more, I encourage you to stop in at the local Fish and Game office and talk to them about hunting and conservation, or you can look up the Idaho Fish and Game Department online and read about all the conservation projects that hunters are involved in here in Idaho and across the nation.

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

Being a responsible hunter

While growing up on my father’s horse ranch, I was in charge of eliminating all the dogs that came on to the ranch and chased the horses, trying to bite into their fetlocks and cripple them. Unfortunately, those dogs were driven out on the old Bannock Highway and abandoned along the road. By the time we saw them, they had grown into larger dogs and had formed a pack that sometimes came on to our ranch. They were vicious if approached, and my 12-gauge shotgun was generally the last thing they saw or heard. It was a job I didn’t enjoy because, like most boys, I liked dogs. However, my dad raised show horses and had a breeding program that he needed to protect.

My father also volunteered my .22 rifle and I to help the farmers in Blackfoot and Wapello, where he was born, shoot the jackrabbits that tried to feed on their crops. I actually liked the jackrabbit hunts because it was a challenge to find them in the sagebrush and then hit them while they ran through the brush.

In both cases, shooting dogs that no one owned that were chasing the horses and shooting rabbits that were eating the farmer’s crops, my father and I were eliminating vermin that were eating crops and endangering domestic animals. I imagine it might seem cruel to some people, but I doubt if those people have ever watched while their crops were being destroyed or a horse was crippled and rendered useless after the muscles and tendons in their fetlocks had been torn out.

We also had a problem from time to time with mountain lions coming down off the mountain as they followed deer that came down into the valley. In the case of mountain lions, they normally didn’t go after the horses because of the human presence on the farms and the farmer’s dogs, which sounded the alarm that the large cats were near by. If we called Fish and Game, they would come out and trap the mountain lions and try to relocate them.

I have a distant relative who owns a pretty large cattle ranch at the foot of the Ruby Mountains in the area around Elko and Spring Creek, Nevada. He invited my son and I to visit the ranch and shoot as many coyotes as we could. We haven’t done it yet, but evidently the coyotes are attacking his cattle and causing quite a bit of damage and costing him a substantial amount of money. No license is required to shoot them as they are considered vermin by the state of Nevada.

As a hunter, I had always been taught not to harm any animal that I didn’t intend to eat unless that animal presented an unacceptable danger to our animals or to people and their property. Killing an animal simply to kill it, or for target practice, or because it was there and I had my rifle with me was against the code, if you want to call it a code, that my father had taught me to follow. I simply do not understand why some have no hesitation to kill any animal that is not causing a problem.

In Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada, there is no limit to the number of coyotes one can kill, or any restrictions on the time of year one can kill coyotes. In Nevada and Wyoming, no license is required to kill coyotes, while in Idaho one must still have a hunting license and permission from the landowner and state is required to hunt coyotes at night.

Wyoming allows killing coyotes by any means including poisoning, shooting, incinerating or chasing them until they are exhausted and then running over them with all terrain vehicles or snowmobiles until they are dead.

When management of wolves was turned over to the state of Wyoming, legislators in Cheyenne immediately classified wolves as predators, which puts them in the same class as coyotes and the same unrestricted killing of coyotes now also applies to wolves in Wyoming.

The only places in Wyoming where killing wolves and coyotes is prohibited is Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

Another thing that bothers me is a recent report that someone killed two elk in Southeast Idaho, quartered them and then dumped the meat rather than keep it or donate it to friends or Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Two elk were killed and the meat was just left to waste.

I believe such wanton disregard for animals that are not threatening livestock or people and their property or killing of elk or deer and then leaving the carcass and meat to spoil will ultimately bring a backlash on the hunting community by the general public and hunters themselves, who have been taught to respect the animals we hunt.

As responsible hunters, I believe we need to stand up and oppose the indiscriminate killing of any wildlife, or we are going to see more species added to the list of animals that can be killed any time, any place, with no limits or license required

I personally want my grandchildren to have the same experience I have had of camping out in the back country and going to sleep to the sound of coyotes hunting as a group during the night. The gray wolf was extinct in Idaho as I was growing up, so I never heard one in Idaho during hunting trips or camping trips into the back country. They reintroduced to Idaho about the time I returned after I retired. So far, I still haven’t seen or heard one in the wild in Idaho, but it is on my bucket list.

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