Yellowstone unveils electric, automated shuttles for summer testing

In 149 years, Yellowstone National Park has moved from horse-based transportation for visitors to the first testing of an electric shuttle capable of operating without a driver.

On Wednesday, the park launched a $360,000 public experiment into what could be the next generation of park transportation when it unveiled two eight-passenger, window-walled cubes nicknamed TEDDY (The Electric Driverless Demonstration at Yellowstone).

“This type of technology can really help us achieve some of our major sustainability goals that we’ve set here in the park,” said Cam Sholly, park superintendent, as the vehicles were unveiled to the media on Tuesday.

Such technology could be tested at any location, but Canyon Village provides a remote setting at an elevation of 7,900 feet where snow can fall any month of the year. Through Aug. 31, the vehicles will navigate the maze of Canyon Village’s parking lot to provide riders a free and quick lift to nearby lodging and campsites to demonstrate the shuttles’ capability at avoiding errant pedestrians, distracted drivers and unpredictable wildlife.

Cubed

The vehicles are cute, resembling a life-sized child’s toy. On the sides they are artfully decorated — one with the photo of a regal bull bison and the other with a wide-angle view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Springing over the tire on one is an outline of a fox.

“They are distinctly different,” said Charlie Gould, a transportation fellow with Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute. “The attraction to the public is strong.”

Named Olli by their manufacturer — Knoxville, Tennessee-based Local Motors — the vehicles were 3D printed. Inside each cube is $300,000 worth of high-end technology installed by Beep Inc. Twelve cameras mounted on each shuttle provide a 360-degree view of surroundings. Three 12-volt batteries and one large 400-volt lithium battery power operations for 40 miles, about 1.5 hours, before recharging is needed.

Thanks to GPS, laser measurements using LiDAR and radio signals from an antenna, the vehicles have accuracy up to 1 centimeter, Gould explained. Known as Real-Time Kinematic positioning, a fixed antenna interacts with the shuttle and satellite positioning information to achieve accuracy.

The nearly 7-foot wide, 13-foot long vehicles can carry 1,350 pounds. Similar vehicles have been deployed in Maryland, Italy and Berlin.

During their short ride, visitors can view a five-minute video that explains the testing program while also touching on Yellowstone’s history and the importance of giving wildlife room to roam.

“Obviously we’re not moving a lot of people,” Sholly said, but the shuttles are testing the technology to see if it works.

Future tests could expand the routes depending on what is learned this year, he added.

Partners

The test deployment is being conducted in partnership with the Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

“We’re just trying to understand the technology we have today,” said Joshua Cregger of Volpe, providing technical assistance to the National Park Service after releasing a 2018 study on automated transit.

Yellowstone may be the first national park, but Wright Brothers National Memorial had the honors of launching the first Park Service study of the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI) on April 20.

Still, Yellowstone will likely provide a more difficult and unusual testing ground for the vehicles. When the crews from Florida-based Beep Inc. arrived eight weeks ago, they encountered three-foot deep roadside snowbanks and winter-like cold.

Future

Deployment of automated electric vehicles in Yellowstone and other national parks is uncertain at this point. Right now, the partners are simply seeking more information, which will include passenger surveys.

In the same vein, the park has initiated a separate study analyzing the best ways to enjoyably move visitors through the park while also protecting the park’s unique and fragile environment. Through 2022, the transit feasibility study will focus on four of Yellowstone’s most congested areas: Old Faithful, the Upper Geyser Basin, Norris Basin and Canyon Village. The study will inform whether piloting a local transit service in Yellowstone is feasible, the Park Service said.

A 2018 survey of park visitors revealed that 80 to 90 percent of tourists in Yellowstone approve of shuttle services as long as they aren’t the ones riding them, Sholly said. Shuttles could be combined with other traffic-reducing measures, such as timed entry, to address a continually increasing number of visitors. During peak summer visitation the park’s main roads and parking areas are over capacity by about 29 percent, the Park Service said.

“Vehicular demand for roads and parking in Yellowstone is expected to exceed capacity between 2021 and 2023,” according to a 2016 study, despite the fact that the park has about 16,680 parking spots in 254 lots and pullouts. Sholly said he’s not a fan of adding more parking to address the situation.

Sholly is already predicting Yellowstone will soon top 5 million visitors in a year. The current peak year was 2016 with 4.2 million visitors. This year, he said the park could see 4.7 million tourists, accelerating the urgency for finding transportation solutions.

“We need to have reasonable actions that are well thought out,” Sholly emphasized.

Big

Because of its large size, Yellowstone presents unique transportation challenges, but the issue of traffic congestion isn’t isolated to Yellowstone. Nationwide, between 2009 and 2018, annual park visits grew from 283 million to 318 million annually, an increase of 11%, according to the National Park Service. In response to the increased visitation, parks are experimenting with alternative bus fuels, electric buses and bike share opportunities.

The shuttle testing is part of Yellowstone’s Visitor Use Management Program, which focuses on understanding and responding to increased visitation in the following areas: impacts on resource conditions; impacts on staffing, operations and infrastructure; impacts on the visitor experience; and impacts on gateway communities and partners.

Drivers

Although capable of operating on their own, the TEDDY shuttles will be staffed with a driver to make adjustments to unusual occurrences like a vehicle sticking out of a parking space as well as to ensure users feel comfortable with the automated technology.

Bob Ryner, a retired principal, signed on to be one of the six drivers who will be working in the park this summer.

“This is the reason I joined Beep, to be here,” he said.

He’s looking forward to interacting with the wide variety of visitors Yellowstone attracts, as well as the park’s world-renowned wildlife. He’s also willing to override the automated route for unique and unusual scenarios.

“If I see a bear with a deer leg in its mouth, I’m going to stop and look,” he said.

Idaho park fees rise for out-of-staters, but most state campgrounds already booked

Idaho started doubling camping fees for out-of-staters at its five most popular state parks on Thursday, as required by a new law passed by the Legislature this year, but it will be at least a year before we see if it helps Idahoans get spots in the popular parks — because all five booked up immediately for the whole summer as soon as reservations opened back in December.

“It’s kind of a scramble when the nine-month book-ahead window opens,” said state parks spokesman Craig Quintana. “It books up within the hour.”

Existing reservations are grandfathered in under the law, HB 93, and their fees won’t rise.

“The sad fact is if we could magically snap our fingers and double our inventory, we would still sell out,” Quintana said. “We need more camping, pretty much across our system.”

State lawmakers this year did approve funding for a new 50-space campground at the Billingsley Creek unit of Thousand Springs State Park in the Magic Valley near Hagerman. That’s just gone out to bid; those campsites won’t be done until next year’s camping season. Also in the works is a new 50-space campground at Eagle Island State Park in the Treasure Valley, but it’s several years out.

Freshman state Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, proposed HB 93 this year, citing his personal pet peeve that he could never get a spot for his camper at popular Farragut State Park, just 30 miles from his home, unless there was a cancellation, because that park is so popular with out-of-staters, including those traveling over from nearby Washington.

Idaho state Parks Director Susan Buxton welcomed the move, and the bill passed both houses and was signed into law March 19, taking effect immediately. However, that was too late to affect this year’s camping season, since all the most popular state park campgrounds already are booked for the summer.

“The changes will keep Idaho competitive with surrounding states, which have similar surcharges for out-of-state guests,” Buxton said in a news release. “Even with these increases, our parks are a good value given the exceptional recreational opportunities.”

At popular Ponderosa State Park, on the shores of Payette Lake in McCall, a basic campsite costs $24 per night and one with full hookups costs $32. Next year, out-of-staters will pay double; if fees remain the same next year, they’d pay $48 and $64 for the same sites.

Those same fee increases will apply at four other busy state park campgrounds: Farragut, Priest Lake and Round Lake in North Idaho; and Henry’s Lake in eastern Idaho.

HB 93 also required Idaho’s state parks to double daily park entry fees for out-of-staters at five busy state parks. The state parks department chose Bear Lake State Park in southeastern Idaho; Hells Gate State Park in north-central Idaho; and Farragut, Priest Lake and Round Lake state parks in North Idaho. Daily entry fees there for residents are $7; as of this week, out-of-staters will pay $14.

Idaho’s state parks saw huge, record use last year, despite opening for camping two months late due to the coronavirus pandemic; visitation exceeded the previous year’s mark by 1.2 million. North Idaho’s parks were especially popular with Washington residents when that state’s parks were closed during the pandemic, but Idaho’s were open.

Under terms of the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund grants that paid to acquire and develop most of Idaho’s state parks, the state can’t restrict out-of-state use or have an “Idahoans-first system,” Quintana said. But it can charge up to double in fees for non-Idaho residents.

“We think we’re still a pretty good value when you look at the destinations you get to come to,” Quintana said. “So we’re unsure whether this will have the effect that some of the lawmakers were looking for, and only time will tell.”

Idaho residents also can buy a $10 Idaho State Parks “Passport” that covers daily entry fees, but not camping fees, at all Idaho state parks for a year. The passports are vehicle stickers sold through the Department of Motor Vehicles when Idahoans renew their vehicle registrations.

There’s more information on Idaho’s state parks at the state parks website: parksandrecreation.idaho.gov.

National Forest has big summer plans for some recreation areas

Major improvements to campgrounds, trailheads, habitat and access roads are all on the docket this summer in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Four particular construction projects start in the coming weeks and are aimed at improving recreational opportunities in the northern portions of eastern Idaho.

“The benefits of recreation are astounding,” said Kaye Orme, Caribou-Targhee National Forest recreation manager. “Not only does it have health values, but studies show communities are seeing extensive economic benefits associated with recreation as well.”

Orme said the National Forest is asking visitors to “please be patient with workers as delays and access limitations may occur during construction.”

Four larger projects include one in the Cave Falls area, one at the Trail Creek Trailhead (near Dubois), a habitat improvement project in Island Park/Ashton and access road rerouting at Packsaddle Lake.

The Cave Falls project will begin July 7 and is part of a multi-year project. The campground will be closed this summer and involve hauling in and graveling the Cave Falls Road. The campground will see major renovations.

The Trail Creek Trailhead is currently closed while the access road dries out. It is anticipated to open next week. The Forest Service enlarged the site and laid down gravel for better horse trailer access and parking. New signs were installed.

“Crews are fixing water drainage issues this week with new culvert installations and hope to have everything up and running once the road dries out,” Caribou-Targhee said.

The Caribou-Targhee plans several projects to restore habitat on about 28,000 acres in the Ashton-Island Park area this summer. Plans include restoring areas for wildlife use by planting trees, rehabilitating old roadbeds to look more natural, installing natural rock barriers, and replacing or bolstering gates. The new areas will be open for non-motorized use. For more details, go online to tinyurl.com/5fb6tpbj.

The roads to the popular Packsaddle Lake west of Tetonia will get a makeover this summer. Portions of the roads and trail will be moved as well as the parking area.

“The rerouted roads and trails will meet recreation standards by reducing the steep grade and eliminating spring rain erosion and resource issues,” Caribou-Targhee said.

Find more details on these and other projects at fs.usda.gov/ctnf.

Hundreds of thousands of fish to be stocked in Idaho waterways this month

Idaho Fish and Game is stocking 300,000 catchable-sized rainbow trout throughout the state in June.

Many of the waters highlighted below are easy to access, family-friendly fishing destinations. All you need to get started is a fishing license and some basic tackle. Annual adult fishing licenses cost around $30, junior licenses (ages 14 to 17) cost $16, and youth under 14 fish for free. 

Fishing for stocked rainbow trout, particularly in community ponds, is a great way to introduce new anglers to the sport by using simple (and relatively thrifty) setups like worm/marshmallow combinations or commercial baits like PowerBait or Crave, either near the bottom or below a bobber.

Here are some of the notable stockings from the eastern part of the state.

Southeast Region

Bannock Reservoir — 3,000 rainbow trout. Located within the Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello, this community park offers good trout fishing. Multiple docks provide fishing access around the 5-acre pond.

Bear River — 3,500 rainbow trout. These fish will be stocked in the scenic Oneida Narrows reach of the river. Make it an overnight trip and set-up camp at Redpoint Campground. Ten developed sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cub River — 1,000 rainbow trout. This beautiful little river is located south of Preston. All fish will be stocked in and around the Willow Flat Campground area.

Johnson Reservoir — 1,750 rainbow trout. This 50 acre irrigation reservoir is surrounded by large cottonwood trees and offers a boat ramp, dock and restrooms. There is also a variety of warm-water game fish so bring your entire tackle box.

Montpelier Reservoir — 1,000 tiger trout. This reservoir offers angling opportunities for a variety of fish species in a peaceful rural setting.

Upper Snake Region

Birch Creek — 3,400 rainbow trout. A productive spring creek in a high desert basin, this small stream is ideal for kids and less experienced anglers. Rainbow trout are stocked heavily around access areas and wild brook trout are fairly common.

Camas Creek — 750 rainbow trout. Located near Spencer, this is one of our newer stocking locations that’s quickly become a popular fishery. 

Henrys Fork — 10,000 rainbow trout. The river is suitable for wade fishing, bank fishing and fishing from a boat.

Horseshoe Lake — 3,000 rainbow trout. This is a great place to take newer anglers to catch rainbow trout. More experienced anglers may try to catch some of the Arctic Grayling that are stocked annually.

Island Park Reservoir — 12,000 rainbow trout. There are several developed campgrounds and boat launches near this large scenic reservoir on the Henrys Fork. Fishing is best from a boat, but bank fishing can be quite good in the springtime.

Salmon Region

Bayhorse Lake — 2,000 rainbow trout. Anglers will find good catch rates at this drive-in mountain lake. Primitive campsites are available. Check out Little Bayhorse Lake (1,000 rainbow trout) while you’re in the area. The two lakes are connected by a mile-long hiking trail.

Cape Horn Lake No. 1 — 600 rainbow trout. This is the larger of two picturesque lakes endowed with fish, lily pads and frogs. Especially well-suited to float tubes or a small boat, this lake offers limited shoreline access. The area is good for wildlife viewing and is Stop 20 on the Idaho Birding Trail. Camping is available at nearby Forest Service sites. No facilities are available here.

Salmon River — Sections 5 to 8 will be stocked with a total of 8,000 rainbow trout: Section 5, O’Brien Campground to Torrey’s Hole; Section 6, Lower Stanley to Sunbeam Hot Springs; Section 7, Sunny Gulch Campground to Stanley; and Section 8, Decker Flats to Buckhorn Bridge.

Stanley Lake — 2,100 rainbow trout. This is a popular spot known for its breathtaking view of the Sawtooth Mountains. It offers great fishing and places for kids to explore nature.

Wallace Lake — 1,500 tiger trout. Kids will enjoy fishing from shore and exploring the surrounding woods. Grown-ups will appreciate this high-country fishing retreat to a beautiful mountain lake. 

Father’s Day gift guide for the outdoorsman

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

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

CAMPING

— Tents. Check out Alps Mountaineering tents.

— Propane camp stove

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

— Camp Tables. We always are short of tables.

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

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

— Tarp(s)

HUNTING

— Knives of Alaska Professional Boning Knife

— Ammo. Ha, if you can find any.

— UMAREX Synergis .22 cal. airgun

— UMAREX .25 cal. Gauntlet

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

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

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

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

— GRIPSHIELD. Keeps your hands dry for competition shooting.

— Compass

— GPS

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

— MYTOPO Maps

— Riton 10×42 binoculars

FISHING

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

— Jigs

— Plastics. Mr. Twister makes good ones.

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

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

— Dip net

— Rat-L-Trap fishing lures

— Frogg Togg rain gear

CLOTHING

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

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

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

— Heybo fishing shirts. They have cool ones.

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

— Hiking socks

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

— XGO base layers

BACKPACKING

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

— Alps backpacking tents

— Alps sleeping bags and pads

— Fire-starting gear

— Aquamira filtered straws and filtered water bottles

— Benchmade Claymore folding knife

— Backpacking chair like the Alps Dash

— Bushnell solar panels

— Backpacking meals

— Adventure Medical Kits

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

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

Simpson applauds announcement of Great American Outdoors Act projects in Idaho

Thanks to a bill signed into law last year by President Donald Trump, outdoor areas across the U.S. and Idaho will soon be getting upgrades. 

The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support, will provide $9.5 billion over five years to address a backlog of maintenance issues in America’s national parks and public lands.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who was one of 59 sponsors of the bill, praised the legislation and the announcement of Idaho’s improvement projects that will be funded by it in a recent press release.

“I’ve often said we love our national parks to death. The backlog of maintenance to both the parks and forests is overwhelming and that is why I worked hard to make the Great American Outdoors Act law,” Simpson said. “Idahoans love to get out and enjoy our public lands and it is rewarding to see the goals of GAOA come to life through these projects.”

In Idaho’s 2nd congressional district, which Simpson represents, the following projects are planned with funds provided by the Great American Outdoors Act, according to the press release.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest:

— Repairing and chip sealing 5.31 miles of road up to Scout Mountain Campground through an agreement with Bannock County

— Improving the Kinney Creek Trailhead by adding gravel, increasing parking spaces, adding kiosks and maintaining the trail

— Repaving the Cherry Springs Nature Area and making sure it complies with ABA/ADA standards

— Recontouring the Lead Draw Trailhead, removing garbage and installing new signs

— Giving portions of Scout Mountain Campground a much-needed face-lift by restoring picnic tables, installing new toilets, upgrading the water system and ensuring it complies with ABA/ADA standards

— Improving the East Fork of Mink Creek Trailhead and Trail #164 by putting in new trail bridges, refurbishing the kiosk, adding water dips and replacing culverts 

Salmon‐Challis National Forest

— Dagger Creek bridge replacement

— Boundary‐Dagger Road repair

— Central Idaho Wilderness Complex Priority Area trails maintenance

— Salmon River Road Corridor Recreation Site maintenance

— Silver Creek Road (Road Forest 60108) Repair

— Salmon‐Challis National Forest Developed Recreation Site maintenance on Sawtooth National Recreation Area satellite sites

Boise National Forest:

— Yellow Jacket, Ten Mile Ridge and Silver Creek Summit trail maintenance

— Scriver Creek priority bridge replacement

— East Fork Burnt Log Creek priority bridge replacement

— Edna Creek Campground redesign and improvements

— Toilet replacements at Buck Mountain, Penny Springs and Trout Creek campgrounds

— Idaho City Compound Water System reconstruction

— Third Fork Project Camp and Recreation Rental Cabin water system reconstruction

Tawnya Brummett, Boise National Forest supervisor, and Chuck Mark, Salmon-Challis National Forest supervisor, said in Simpson’s press release that the projects picked were ones “that reduce deferred maintenance, are ready to implement and provide the greatest immediate benefit to the public.”

In the press release, Caribou-Targhee National Forest supervisor Mel Bolling praised the Great American Outdoors Act.

“Each year, approximately 2 million individuals recreate in the forest,” Bolling said. “GAOA funding is a great opportunity to improve many of our local facilities and enhance access to these popular areas.”

The Great American Outdoors Act, which The Associated Press called “the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century,” was signed into law on Aug. 4, 2020. Afterward, then-Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt declared Aug. 4 as Great American Outdoors Act Day. Because of that, each Aug. 4, there will be no entrance fees on Department of Interior lands.

“Thanks to public input and our Forest Service employees, rural economies and communities in and around our national forests will benefit from the implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act,” Simpson said in the press release. “I look forward to getting out on our public lands and seeing these projects upon their completion.”

A note from Captain Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to clean, store and cook morel mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going outdoors? Experts say have a plan before arriving

If there’s one thing learned from 2020 about enjoying the great outdoors, especially in the busy national parks, it is: plan ahead.

Nearby national parks report countless visitors showing up at the park last year with their dogs, kids, a tent they’d never set up before, all the campgrounds full, and no backup plan.

Gone are the days when families could jump in the car and show up at the park entrance gate “figuring things out when we get there.”

Going armed with reliable information and reservations is now critical to having a good experience in this current pandemic-driven outdoor recreation frenzy, say public land officials. At certain times of day, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park roads, parking lots and other facilities are bulging at more than 100 percent capacity.

“The big message is that if you’re coming and spending the night, do you know where you’re spending the night? And if you don’t, do you have a plan B?” said Denise Germann, communications officer for Grand Teton National Park. “What we saw last year and in 2017 during the eclipse, is that when people couldn’t find a campground in the park, they went to the (National) Forest. That creates challenging conditions on the (National) Forest next door.”

This year, Grand Teton National Park switched to an all-reservation system for its campgrounds.

“Most of those sites are filled through the summer at this point,” Germann said. “We don’t allow camping outside of the designated campsites in the park.”

That policy prohibits pulling your camper van off the side of the road for the night.

The nearby Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests are a mix of reservations and first-come, first-served campgrounds. On weekends, most sites were full across the system this past summer. Another newer phenomenon is that many older campgrounds were created with smaller camp trailers in mind and don’t accommodate the behemoths of today.

Timing

Enjoying an outdoor visit on public lands can be all about timing. One repeated mantra is “go early or go late” to avoid crowds in the middle of the day and see the best the outdoors has to offer.

“Spotting wildlife is more about when than it is about where,” said Darin Skidmore in a Facebook message. “I make at least two trips a month to those two national parks. I leave home when most people are sleeping, and I am in the park long before the sun is up. I avoid the crowd by being out of the park by 9 a.m. I always see animals, always. But I don’t just drive and hope that I run into something. I am a hiker. I always have bear spray, I always have gear in case of emergencies. And I follow all of the rules.”

Coming early or coming late also works for better parking, officials say. Good timing also applies to the day of the week.

“Last year threw us such a wild card because things were filled 24/7,” said Mary Cernacek, of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “It was just constant. As things are leveling out, the middle of our week tends to be less impacted than our weekends. Folks that are showing up Tuesday morning are having more spaces to choose from, whether it’s parking, camping, choice launch lanes at a boat ramp — mid-week folks are finding a bigger range of choices.”

Yellowstone National Park staff echo the mantra of timing your visit.

“We like to tell visitors to plan on venturing into the park early or even late to beat the crowds, generally, before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.,” said Ashton Hooker, at Yellowstone’s public affairs office. “We anticipate another very busy summer season ahead of us.”

Visit the surrounding places

While the national parks are the giant visitor magnets, officials said visitors shouldn’t limit themselves to just the parks.

“There are some spectacular public lands in Idaho and Wyoming,” Germann said. “Part of it is planning ahead. People will be surprised at the number of opportunities that are there.”

Plus, outside of the national parks, the public land is dog-friendly. Inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks dogs are restricted.

“Dogs are not allowed on the trails,” Germann said. “They are allowed on leashes anywhere a car can go. If you are traveling with your pet you need to plan ahead, because what are you going to do with your dog when you are hiking in the backcountry? Last summer we saw more dogs on trails in the backcountry. We got more calls about dogs in places they shouldn’t be.”

Another current restriction is that inside all federal buildings, such as visitor centers or ranger offices, masks are still required.

National parks are not the only areas slammed with visitors.

“This year for our rivers we have an increase in the amount of folks putting in for river permits for the four rivers lottery which includes the Main and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River,” said Amy Baumer, a spokeswoman for the Salmon-Challis National Forest. “We’re seeing that trend as well.”

Baumer recommends calling ahead on campground availability if you’re planning on sleeping in that neck of the woods.

“I would encourage people to call ahead to the local ranger district office where they plan to go,” she said. “Those folks will get the reports from the recreation staff and have an idea of the use that’s going on in their district and help people plan.”

Campfires

One headache public land managers are not looking forward this summer is abandoned campfires. Last summer, the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center was reporting 60 or more abandoned campfires per weekend across the region, many causing wildfires. The same headache was plaguing land managers across the West. Some campers haven’t figured it out.

“I think that’s going to be a huge headache,” Cernacek said. “People don’t understand what abandoned campfires are. Abandoned campfires is walking away from any campfire that still has heat in it. They may have dumped water on it and walked away thinking they have done their due diligence, it not necessarily so. Abandoned campfires have to stop.”

Leave no trace

With increased visitors last summer, came increased trash. Land managers reported spending more time cleaning up after sloppy and irresponsible campers.

“If you pack it in, pack it out,” Germann said. “Those are just basic concepts about outdoor recreation that some folks have probably never been introduced to.”

Enjoy your visit

National Forest and park officials said despite unprecedented use, they still expect that most people will have an enjoyable experience in the outdoors.

“There is not a bad experience in Grand Teton National Park or the Bridger-Teton National Forest,” Germann said. “The landscape is spectacular, the hiking is spectacular, the views are incredible, the wildlife is very visible. I don’t know that there is one place better than another.”

I love spring in Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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