Crow hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Dot Sights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those deadly shopping carts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoking salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show season is almost upon us

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the shows begin! Have a merry Christmas.

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

Growing up to be a hunter

When I was born, World War II was a couple of months from ending. My father was stationed at Barksdale Field outside of Bossier City, Louisiana, as a high-altitude physiologist and trainer of B-26 bomber crews on the oxygen systems in the airplane.

When the war was over, he immediately was accepted into the University of Utah Medical School. After medical school, he then spent two more years specializing as an intern in general surgery for the Coast Guard in Staten Island, New York, and then the Wellborn Clinic in Evansville, Indiana.

By the time we finally got back to Idaho and settled in Pocatello, I was 7 years old and in the second grade. Normally, the children in my grandfather Merkley’s family were taught firearm safety and instructed in principles of marksmanship and to handle firearms, specifically rifles, before 7 years of age. I got a late start in that instruction, so my father and his brothers made sure I was brought up to speed as quickly as possible.

My Uncle Floyd and my Grandmother Merkley’s brother had farms in Blackfoot and Wapello, Idaho, where we could shoot firearms and ride horses. Within a few years, my father bought some farm property off the old Bannock Highway where we could shoot firearms as well as ride our own horses.

By the time I was 10 years old, I had a Savage Model 5 .22 rim-fire rifle and my father was taking me to the Arco Desert to hunt jackrabbits in the sage brush between the highway and some farms whose owners knew the Merkley family and had given my dad permission to hunt the rabbits that constantly saw the farms as an ideal place for food. That preliminary training with a .22 rifle ingrained the basics of firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting into me.

At first it was quite a challenge to try to line up the sights on moving rabbits and hit them, but constant practice began to pay off. I eventually was able to quickly line up the sights, fire and hit my target in one smooth fluid motion. I also started to became more aware of my surroundings and saw more rabbits than I had when I first started learning to hunt them. I still own that .22 rim-fire rifle, although I came to favor my dad’s Winchester Model 62 .22 pump rifle.

Those first lessons in firearm safety in the field, hunting and awareness of my surroundings served me well when at 11 years of age I received a high-powered rifle for Christmas in preparation for deer hunting with my father and Uncle Veral during the next fall deer season.

My father loved jackrabbit hunting, but wasn’t particularly fond of hunting deer, elk, pronghorn, mountain sheep or birds. He did, however, feel he had a responsibility to train me the way his father and older brothers had trained him, because there wasn’t a state hunter safety program at that time.

Big game hunting was a great adventure for me. It was a time my father gave up some of his time to camp and hunt with his brothers and me for a few days while another doctor covered for him and looked after his patients.

Early on, I realized that I wanted a rifle that would reach out and hit with more authority than the one I received for my 11th Christmas. When I was 16, a friend of my father asked to go hunting with us. He brought a .300 Weatherby Magnum Mark V as his hunting rifle. He got his deer at about 500 yards with one shot. The deer dropped as if he had been pole axed. Late that afternoon after we returned to camp, he noticed me looking at his rifle and asked if I would like to shoot it. I said I would and he set up a can full of water at about 100 yards for me to shoot at. At the shot, the can full of water exploded, the but of the rifle hit my shoulder hard, and rose upward, hitting me in the jaw hard enough to make me check to be sure my jaw was OK. I handed the rifle back to him and said, “Wow, I gotta get me one of these.” My father said that was OK, but I had to buy it myself since he was through buying firearms for me. To this day, I hunt deer with my father’s Remington Model 721 in .30-06 Springfield and I bought my own .300 Weatherby Magnum to hunt larger ungulates and even deer or pronghorn if I think I will be shooting at 300 yards or more. I also learned to shoot it without hurting myself. I now consider the recoil of a .300 Weatherby pretty tolerable and my grandsons who are 16 or older are comfortable shooting it also.

However, I think those jackrabbit hunts with .22 rim-fire rifles with my dad were some of the best hunting memories I have.

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

So you’ve spent too much time hunting this year

I know you’re out there. Yep, you. You spent to much time in the woods this season. Hunting was hot, but now mama is hotter. Don’t worry, I’m an expert at getting things cooled down since I’ve had a lot of experience in this realm. But don’t get me wrong, we need to panic and do some damage control fast.

Forget the chocolate and flowers. This is a time for some massive damage control. We’re talking about all-out marriage-saving warfare. All-hands-on deck stuff. Pull all stops. This means we’re taking her to Baker City, Oregon, and staying in the historic Geiser Grand Hotel. Sometimes it’s good to get out of town for some new scenery, and the timing is perfect. There are a lot of fun activities going on in Baker City right now — in fact a barrage of marriage-saving events. Below are just a few of the ones that I know of.

  • The historic Geiser Grand has several events planned in December. The hotel’s elves launch the festivities Friday, when guests can expect fresh-baked cookies and cold milk delivered free of charge to their rooms each evening through Dec. 30.
  • Holiday High Tea will be held Saturday and Dec. 22 at 2:30 p.m. The Victorians called it High Tea. Really, it’s a delicious lunch. Inspired by actual historic menus, enjoy an elegant experience with white linen and silver service at a table next to the tall Christmas tree under the stained glass ceiling. The day begins at 2:30 p.m., followed by the historic tour at 3:30 p.m.
  • Christmas Opera is Dec. 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. Embrace the holiday spirit with opera arias, Christmas carols and good cheer from Opera Elect, free of charge with dinner reservations. Enjoy drinks or a meal right next to the Christmas tree in the Palm Court.
  • Sleigh rides are Saturdays starting Dec. 15 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Laugh at Ole Man Winter as you tour the Baker City Historic District. Katy and I did the sleigh ride for a tour of the town a couple of years ago. It was fun.
  • Christmas Feast is on Christmas Day. Start with a crisp green salad, fresh fruit or gourmet, from-scratch soup. Then choose from five wonderful entrees. Then for dessert, choose from extravagant gourmet creations.
  • On Dec. 31, kick off 2019 with a memorable New Year’s Eve dinner in the Palm Court. Reservations are available from 5 to 9 p.m.

The Geiser Grand first opened on Main Street in Baker City in 1889. The New York Times said the Geiser Grand is “something out of a time-machine tale … a sparkling symbol of the gold-mining boom that had enriched this sagebrush-covered corner of eastern Oregon.” The hotel features an exquisite stained-glass ceiling, mahogany detailing and crystal chandeliers — and offers house-made cuisine, luxurious suites and five meeting rooms.

And just in case you can’t handle setting around town, why not go snowshoe the Wallowa and Blue mountains! Great for all ages and athletic condition. No classes needed.

Katy and I did this one year. They have snow shoe rentals at the Geiser, as well as snow park permits, maps and advice. We had a great time. To tell you how cool it is, the National Geographic named this area one of the top five places to cross country in the entire North American continent.

Then on top of all the above, even on a normal weekend, Baker City is a good getaway. The food at the Geiser Grand is great, but there are also a lot of other options, too.

For instance, across the street is a chocolate shop. Alyssa trained to be a chocolatier in — I believe she told me — Belgium. They even have sipping chocolate, which I had never heard of.

Wow, maybe I’m on the wrong career path. I should have gone into the marriage-salvaging business. After taking her to all of the above activities, your woman will be secretly thrilled if you stay in the mountains a little too long again next year, in hopes that you will again overwhelm her with a barrage of spoiling-your-woman activities.

P.S. Now you may just be wondering, did a conniving wife hack into my account and write this article? Or did they all just take up a pool and pay me to write this so you’d spoil your woman? Well, I am suddenly driving a new truck.

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.

Winter activities abound in Southeast Idaho

For those of you who took advantage of the archery, any weapon seasons and controlled hunts — some that lasted into November — hopefully you were successful in harvesting the game you hunted and had a good time with family and friends.

There are still some opportunities for white-tailed deer in the panhandle units of the state and elk hunting with muzzle loaders, as well as archery hunting into late December. Check your Idaho Big Game 2017-18 Seasons and Rules Handbook available at most sporting goods stores and Fish and Game offices if you want to legally hunt for another month.

For those who think winter puts a damper on outdoor recreation, you couldn’t be more mistaken. After this past snowfall that left quite a bit of snow in the valley and a lot of snow in the mountains, there is a lot to look forward to. Pebble Creek Ski Area in Inkom as well as other ski areas around Idaho are encouraged by the snow fall and some may open earlier than they normally do this winter. I believe Grand Targhee Ski Resort, just up the road from Driggs, has already opened. Pebble Creek was open this past weekend and will open again Friday, when it plans to open for the whole season. The East Fork Mink Creek Nordic Center outside of Pocatello is now open as well.

Idaho State University maintains a series of yurts that sleep up to six people in the mountains east of Inkom that folks can snowshoe or cross-country ski into and spend the night. The yurts are equipped with a log-fueled stove for warmth as well as a smaller Coleman-type stove for cooking.

The Catamount Yurt may be the easiest to access for those who aren’t used to snowshoeing or cross-country skiing most of the day. It is only about 2 miles southeast of McNabb Road, but in the winter the road isn’t plowed up to the sheep pens, so you might have to add an additional mile of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. There is quite a bit of privately owned land around the Catamount Yurt, which is situated on Bureau of Land Management land. Most of that land has a no trespassing signs posted on it, so be sure to ask at the ISU Outdoor Adventure Center how they want people to travel to the yurt.

There is also a yurt up Inman Canyon for those who are in good condition and want a longer more scenic route through the mountains before getting to the yurt. The ISU Outdoor Adventure Center and equipment rental office can supply you with maps showing you how to get to the various yurts and should be able to answer any questions about the routes into and out of the yurts.

Sledding is a popular winter sport and there are numerous places around Pocatello to go sledding, particularly in — but not restricted to — the mountains in the Mink Creek area.

If you own a snowmobile, you have access to a lot of BLM and U.S. Forest Service land, but make sure you know where you can and can’t ride and don’t enter or cross private property without permission.

Ice fishing is popular in Idaho. I have never tried it because I keep worrying about falling through the ice. but I see a lot of people at Devils Creek Reservoir and other lakes and ponds happily sitting outside or in ice fishing huts during most of the winter months.

Another idea that might appeal to some is going to Yellowstone National Park and snowmobiling to Old Faithful to see it erupt in the winter. There is also a snow coach that leaves the Stage Coach Inn in West Yellowstone early in the morning and takes people to Old Faithful. When you are dropped off back at the inn later in the day, you can eat at any of West Yellowstone’s fine restaurants and then soak in the hot tub area at the inn. West Yellowstone is an interesting city and the park is gorgeous during the winter months.

Ice skating is a lot of fun and there are a couple of places in Pocatello where they try to have ice skating rinks when the temperature is low enough. I’m wondering if the new recreation center in Pocatello might try to provide an ice skating rink.

If you haven’t soaked in the hot pots at Lava Hot Springs during the winter months, try it. You just might become addicted to cold weather and hot pots for soothing all the muscle aches that come from skiing and other activities.

So get outdoors and enjoy the winter this year. Don’t be a couch potato and sit around and watch football and basketball all winter while your physical conditioning deteriorates.

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

Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry turns surplus big game meat into food for the needy

For several years I have wanted to meet Jeff Schroeder from Jerome, who is the president and executive director of Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Unfortunately our paths have yet to cross. Whenever I have been in the vicinity of Twin Falls and Jerome, I have been pressed for time on what usually is a 13-hour journey to the Oregon coast. I have got to just find a time to go to Jerome and meet him.

For those who have not heard of Jeff, he and his wife took over the Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry program in 2009. Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry (IHFH) was organized into seven regions with cooperating food pantries in each region. It took a while to get food pantries in each region working with IHFH to provide donated wildlife meat to the needy in each region. In 2016, IHFH finally obtained a processor and pantry in the Southeast Region.

Chad Giesbrect of Del Monte Meats in Pocatello said hunters can either pay for the processing of their big game and tell Del Monte how much of the meat they want donated to the pantry — which in the Gate City is First Baptist Church at 408 N. Arthur Ave. — or they can pay for the meat they are keeping and have Del Monte invoice the pantry and IHFH for the portion they are donating to the needy.

Here is how the program normally works: Hunters donate meat to cooperating food processors. The processors call and invoice the local IFHF food pantry, who then submit the invoice to IHFH for processing. Once delivered to the food banks and pantries, they distribute the meat to families and individuals in need.

Hunters can pay for the processing and donate the meat to the food banks and pantries, but they should check with IHFH to make sure all regulations are met for the donations. Donated meat must be processed professionally — so, not in your garage — for the food banks and pantries to distribute it to the needy.

There may be some wildlife meat the processors and pantries cannot accept for donation to the needy, such as bear. Be sure to check with IHFH as to what they are allowed to process and donate to those in need.

IHFH estimates that one in seven Idahoans are hungry and need assistance. The need for donations is very real and appreciated by the pantries and food banks in the area.

The people in Idaho have a history of being charitable toward those who need help getting back on their feet through religious organizations and the many programs that exist in most communities to help those in need. Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry and their cooperating processors, food banks and pantries are making it possible for hunters to have their surplus wildlife meat professionally processed and distributed to those who need it most.

Please consider helping IHFH achieve their goal of “Transforming Idaho’s wild surplus big game meat into nutritious food for the hungry.” They have a website at

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