Finding some anniversary worthy outdoor fun

Sometimes you have to endure some sour to enjoy some sweet.

That was the case with last week’s trip to some of Utah’s fun backcountry haunts. We had to pass through lots of urban sprawl to get to the wonderful outdoors.

Our excuses for driving down to Utah Valley last week where we once lived about a hundred years ago include: The weather was a bit better (at least it wasn’t snowing down there), we had friends and family to visit, there were two fun canyons filled with rock climbing routes and we had a wedding anniversary to celebrate.

At first we thought about staying at an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast or a motel, but we didn’t realize that it was graduation week at Brigham Young University and the pickin’s were slim. So being the cheap rascals that we are, we crashed at my brother’s house. It turned out to be a type of bed and breakfast after all.

The first day we drove up American Fork Canyon toward the north end of Utah Valley. This canyon features dozens of hiking trails, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and nearly 1,000 bolted rock climbing routes.

The narrow winding canyon is mostly National Forest land featuring several campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads. A fee is charged to use the facilities, similar to a national park. We avoided the fee areas and parked at a pullout alongside the road and hiked up to one of the limestone cliffs. The canyon is also popular with cyclists.

There is a guidebook for climbing in the canyon but it is not up to date. It was printed in the late 1990s and climbing route development has nearly doubled since then. The only up-to-date guide is the online information found on Mountain Project. Warning: Download the information to your phone or other device before entering the canyon because cell service is spotty once in the canyon.

Despite it being the middle of the week, and the middle of the day, we were not alone at the crags. We chalked that up to it being a rare nice spring day and the fact that, like us, Utahns would rather play than work.

Because we lacked specific info about the climbing area, we used the iffy method of finding fun rock climbs: We winged it. We walked past the routes and said, “That one looks fun, let’s give it a go.” A couple of local dudes (a technical name for rock climbers) showed up at the wall we were climbing at and climbed a nearby route they said was named “Platinum Blonde” and recommended it. In my book, platinum blonde are a bit suspicious but this route turned out to be the best climb of the day.

The second day of our Utah Valley adventure was spent in Rock Canyon. This narrow canyon winds up into the Wasatch Mountains just behind The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Provo Temple. That landmark makes it an easy canyon to locate. It features popular hiking trails and hundreds of rock climbing routes — many of which have been developed in recent years. Once again, the online Mountain Project is your best guide, unless you have a local “dude” to show you around.

We found a couple of walls to climb on not far from the trailhead to occupy us for several hours. Looking around we realized that we barely scratched the surface of things to explore in this canyon. Some climbers we met were launching into some tall, multi-pitch bolted routes in the canyon, while others, like us, were sticking to single pitch climbs.

If you go here, expect to see people. Because of two nearby universities, people have a variety of schedules allowing them to get outside at all times of the day and during the week. We noticed a steady stream of people entering the canyon during our Thursday morning visit. Plus, Utah Valley has lots of people. Expect some company.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Access vs. excess: Increasing recreation use of woods, waters raises tough questions

Better access to the outdoors was one of the top reasons people moved to Montana over the past decade, a recent study found.

The Montana State University research discovered newcomers are most often trekking to lakes and other water bodies, or taking in cultural and community activities. Along with these activities, parks, trails and campgrounds were popular places to visit.

This is no surprise to Bozeman residents who have seen their community’s population soar. With the increase in new townspeople and visitors, problems at popular recreation sites have increased, said resident Richard Lyon. He cited heavy trail use, difficulty finding parking, long lines of cars to reach the Bridger Bowl ski area on powder days and a surplus of dog poop left in the woods as examples.

This prompts the question: Are we loving our woods and waters to their detriment? If that statement is true, what is the solution to overcrowded campgrounds, fishing access sites and trails? Should we build more? Where would the funding come from? Should prices for facilities like campsites be raised, or should more people (including nonresidents) be taxed to help pay for things like boat launches? The answers can be elusive.

More

This topic was addressed in part by a three-person panel during an MSU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute talk on April 8. Participating in the discussion were: Patrick Cross, executive director of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation; Pat Doyle, marketing director at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and Alex Sienkiewicz, district ranger for the Yellowstone District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Cross started out the discussion presenting some statistics emphasizing the situation in his neck of the woods. Wilderness visits to the Custer Gallatin National Forest increased from 207,000 in 2009 to 440,000 by 2014, a 110 percent jump.

At the same time, the Forest Service nationwide has seen a 48 percent decrease in staffing since 2002 and a 27 percent decrease in appropriation dollars, adjusted for inflation.

“These are the wilderness rangers, these are the trail crews, these are the people who are there to help mitigate the impacts we’re seeing from the increased visitor use,” Cross said.

Another statistic emphasizing the growth in outdoor trips is National Park Service visitation. It has jumped from 26 million visitors in 1974 to 297 million in 2021. Nearby, Yellowstone National Park set a new attendance record last year with almost 4.9 million tourists.

At Montana State Parks, visitation jumped by almost 1 million between 2019 and 2020, according to Doyle. There was little room for increased use at campgrounds, he added, because many were already at 70 percent to 80 percent occupancy before the pandemic.

At what price point does a fee hike discourage participation and lessen competition for scarce resources like camping spots? Wouldn’t fee hikes make outdoor activities more elitist? Public lands are, after all, not just those who can afford to pay to play.

With state park facilities seeing more use, Doyle said a variety of problems have arisen such as more human waste, more garbage and parking violations, resource damage and an increase in the number of people not paying day-use fees.

“It’s an exciting time to be in outdoor recreation, not that it doesn’t have a lot of challenges,” Doyle said, but he enjoys seeing people visiting places they may have ignored until the pandemic. Now, he added, park visitors are learning more about Montana’s story.

Nothing new

Similar crowding problems prompted conservationist Aldo Leopold to pick up his pen in 1949, Sienkiewicz noted by reading a passage the author wrote.

“Recreation became a problem with a name in the days of the elder Roosevelt, when the railroads which had banished the countryside from the city began to carry city-dwellers, en masse, to the countryside,” Leopold wrote in Conservation Esthetic. “It began to be noticed that the greater the exodus, the smaller the per-capita ratio of peace, solitude, wildlife, and scenery, and the longer the migration to reach them.”

Sienkiewicz said, “This change has been occurring for a long time. I think Aldo probably thought he was pretty novel 75 years ago writing that, but it seems to have been going on for a long time. I think what we are seeing is rapid growth in use levels and volume.”

He went on to question whether the issue is one involving the number of people and crowding or if “other variables are at play.”

A recently published study in the White Mountains National Forest in New Hampshire was able to provide some answers by surveying visitors to the region during the peak of the pandemic.

“Study findings suggest visitor crowding and conflict, followed closely by visitor access and equity, should be a top priority for management and policymakers,” the researchers wrote.

They go on to write that high- and middle-income visitors are better at adapting to “pandemic related impacts” while low-income visitors are not. Also, “female visitors were significantly more susceptible to negative experiences and impacts.”

Education

To address the findings, the study’s authors suggest resource managers consider educating visitors before, during and after a recreation experience “in recreation norms, trail etiquette, (diversity, equity and inclusion), and Leave No Trace principles.” The education should focus on out-of-state visitors and residents of adjacent communities, they added.

Old truisms still make sense, such as: If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave only footprints, take only photographs. But what’s the best way to reach people, especially those new to outdoor activities who may know the least? Is a social media blitz across a multitude of platforms in order? Who will pay for these public service announcements?

At Montana facilities, FWP’s Doyle said his agency has chosen to market the benefits of responsible recreation rather than telling people what to do.

He pointed to some of the state’s partners in the tourism industry who have switched from a “destination marketing model” to “destination stewardship.” The state has a variety of recreate responsibly messages including: know before you go, plan ahead, explore locally, respect wildlife and build an inclusive outdoors.

The state is also using messages to encourage visitors to lead by example, Doyle said. The tag line that emphasizes this tack says: “Enjoy Montana’s state parks in a safe and responsible way that inspires others to follow in your footsteps.”

Educating agencies is also important, Sienkiewicz said.

“I believe that ecological data that helps managers make rational decisions that aren’t based on opinions or inclinations … the degree to which we can understand, not just ecology without humans but ecology with human uses on the landscape allows us as public servants and resource managers to make better decisions.”

‘Hedonism’

Writer Todd Wilkinson, whose website Mountain Journal covers a variety of environmental topics in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, recently wrote about the problem he sees with advertising recreation in Montana when trails, rivers and lakes are already deemed crowded by many people’s standards.

“Will the blind promotion continue?” Wilkinson questioned in a recent story. “What are the limits for how much pressure Greater Yellowstone’s wildlife can take? When is enough enough, and will conservation organizations take the lead in helping the public, land management agencies, and developers realize what the threshold of enough is?”

Wilkinson goes on to quote Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director of American Rivers, who wrote in a guest column for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Recreation is about taking. It’s a form of hedonism. Conservation is about giving. Sometimes that means giving up the opportunity to recreate in certain places or at certain times of the year to protect wildlife. Sadly, far too many recreationists take without giving anything back. That’s why our conservation deficit is worsening in Greater Yellowstone and our wildlife is increasingly under siege.”

Interestingly, the MSU study of newcomers found that many “report high levels of engagement in their new community, including volunteerism, attendance at public meetings and establishing social connections.” Whether this volunteerism and public involvement is aimed at conservation issues was not addressed.

Another question Wilkinson poses relates to recreation and wildlife: “How does putting more humans into spaces populated by sensitive species better the survival prospects for animals actually living there?”

Partners

One thing all three MSU speakers agreed on is that partnerships are key to getting things done. Doyle cited the recreation partnership on the Clark Fork River that was established to address the mass of students floating the stream on inner tubes during the summer. He also pointed to a partnership with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center at Cooke City that has increased education while reducing avalanche deaths. At one time Cooke City was unfortunately known as the most dangerous place in the United States to snowmobile.

These groups speak to the “recreate responsibly” ethos Montana State Parks has been advertising, Doyle said.

For the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation, volunteers were key to building and maintaining 58 miles of trails last summer, clearing 1,324 logs and installing 1,666 water bars. The group also relies on volunteers to educate trail users through an ambassador program. These people provided a 435 percent increase in volunteer hours last year, Cross said.

“The partnerships are a great complement for the agency crews but they’re not supposed to be a replacement,” he added. “So I think there’s more work we can do to support our partners.”

He suggested Montanans reach out to the state’s congressional delegation and urge more funding for federal land management agencies to do the conservation and recreation work important to residents and visitors.

Environment

The increase in recreation is coming at a stressful time for the environment. Drought continues to wreak havoc in much of the West. Lower, warmer water stresses fish and the entire aquatic ecosystem.

Drought is also increasing the risk and occurrence of wildland fires. Should Montana counties adopt zoning ordinances requiring people who build in rural areas to make their homes and surrounding lands fire resistant?

Should certain areas be set aside through planning to ensure wildlife have corridors to migrate, especially as the land they are utilizing is developed or becomes less productive because of drought or fires?

“I would argue there’s a lot more complexity at play in this conversation, and it’s not a simple problem or challenge, if we want to frame it that way,” Sienkiewicz said.

He also said he’s somewhat hesitant about saying increased recreation is a problem. There are many benefits — from health and wellness of individuals to financial boosts for economies, along with building a coalition that supports wild places, clean air and water.

“I love it when people use their public lands,” Sienkiewicz said. “It makes my heart sing. I don’t necessarily like adverse impacts, I don’t like loving-it-to-death problems, but I also feel like these are problems that we can manage through policy.”

Mushroom hunting

If we can get a light shower and then it turns warm for a couple of days — then it should be mushroom season, yippee!! The problem is, you think it’s about to bust loose and then it gets cool. I don’t know what to think and I don’t think the poor lowly mushrooms do, either.

In an effort to really lower your self-worth, think about it this way. It’s embarrassing enough to get outsmarted by a fish with a brain the size of a pea, how much more is it when you get outsmarted by an inanimate object — for instance, a mushroom!

As alluded to above, to kick off the mushroom season we need a light rain and then for the temp to get warm for a day or two. With this magic formula, it seems they can pop up overnight. Being a mushroom hunter is the most frustrating, and at the same time, rewarding outdoor activity there is.

I’ve been a mushroom hunter for 43 years. You’d think that I could write a knowledgeable article on the subject but some years I feel like a beginner. It drives me nuts to see some bozo write an article on finding morels. According to their article you just have to go out in the woods, look around old logs and then proceed to fill a pillowcase. I read an article like that and want to brand BOZO on their forehead. They’ve obviously gone out one time with someone that knows what they’re doing, found a mess and are instantly setting themselves up as the world’s leading authority on mushroom hunting.

Granted, my mushroom picking self-esteem is a little low right now. I went out for a little bit yesterday afternoon to see if any were out yet, even though I knew they wouldn’t be but I don’t want to take a chance of missing the short season. I found zero. Zilch. I feel like Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. I stuck my head out, didn’t find any mushrooms and am ducking my tail and going back down in my hole for another week or so.

But despite painting such a doom and gloom picture, surely any day now they are going to start popping up. And when they do, you want to be there. Morels are the tastiest fungi in the world next only to the truffle in England. They are not only my favorist (is that a word?) outdoor food but probably my favorist food ever.

Mushroom hunting gives you an excuse to go hiking in the mountains and if you’re up there bear/turkey hunting why not kill two birds with one stone? To my knowledge there are about eight to 10 edible mushrooms in Idaho. I only feel safe picking two species. One time I thought, you know, this is dumb. I’m up there going to all of the expense and spending time hunting so why not learn to identify all of the edible species? So I found out about a mushroom picking club and started attending their meetings. Unfortunately, I still only feel comfortable picking my original two species.

So to get you started, the first season go with an experienced picker that can train you. If you don’t and make a mistake and pick the Angel of Death … let’s just say, you and God had better be on pretty good terms because you will be in the judgment room muy pronto.

So where do you find them? I’ll tell you some generalities but as soon as I say that, I’ll find them in some random spot. When you find them at one elevation everyone will tell you to move higher after a few days. I do find some by old logs but I also find plenty just randomly throughout the woods. I find a few on the uphill banks on old logging roads.

I don’t recommend looking on grassy slopes but one year I found a ton on a grassy hillside in the forest. But I haven’t found them there since. Usually it’s smart to go recheck the same good spots every year. Check out old stump holes, especially in old burns. My old buddy Roger Ross said to look under firs. Problem is, I can hardly differentiate the difference between a pine tree and an aspen.

I’ve got one spot on an old logging road that isn’t a low spot but slightly so. I find them there every year. I find them in semi open areas that are somewhat shaded.

The indisputable world’s best scenario is last year’s forest fires. They can be magical. I remember at one such old fire I found 17 almost underneath a fallen lodgepole. The stump holes had a million. The open burn area had a quadrillion. So if you know where old burns are from last summer/fall, hit them. If you don’t know of any, go check with the Forest Service.

One year, I knew where some prescribed burns had taken place. No one else had hit it yet. I thought that I had scored big time. Unbelievably, I didn’t find a one there.

If you find some on a steep hillside, check above and below. The spores will flush downhill and I’ve found a bucketful in one spot in this scenario.

I’ve never actually done this but one time I was theorizing with a lady at the Forest Service office. We were kicking ideas back and forth and she said she’d always been tempted to check the soil temp but kept forgetting to. I bet she is onto something. I bet their popping up is directly linked to the temp of the soil.

Well, we’re out of room. Good luck.

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.

Savoring those rare few nice days in spring

Finding nice weather Saturdays in early spring in eastern Idaho is rare.

It’s as rare as a running Chevy Corvair automobile. The word Corvair shakes loose an old memory.

My high school friend Rick owned a Corvair that, when we could get the thing to run, we proudly drove around our tiny Oregon town. He thought it was his good fortune to have bought it for $100 back in the early ‘70s, even though the car was only a few years old. The rear-engine car had the dubious honor of being named one of the most unsafe machines in America. Rumor was that if you had a head-on collision the force could send the steering wheel shaft like a javelin through the chest of the driver (I usually sat in the passenger seat). It was engineered with the precision of a homemade go-kart. Other awesome features included push-button dashboard shifting, a radio that got one station and bald tires — we loved it (when we could get it to run). We never seemed to get any girls to ride along with us (but that may not have been just the car).

But back to our outdoor activities: Last Saturday, my sweetheart and I had a few hours available on a rare sunny Saturday afternoon, so we headed over to the Menan Buttes. The north butte, on Bureau of Land Management land, boasts a fun trail leading up from the west side.

When we arrived, there was a massive trail run race finishing up, and cars were parked for a hundred yards along the road. Normally, the paved trailhead parking lot is enough to accommodate the usual amount of visitors.

The trail runners were doing the Spitfire Ultra Challenge race with distances ranging from 5K to 50K.

The 3-mile trail starts off steeply up the side of the extinct volcano and eventually tops out on the rim of the butte. From the rim, the trail circles the volcanic crater and offers great views (on clear days) of the surrounding Snake River Plain. There are a few trail signs telling visitors about geology, local critters and history.

For more information on the Menan Butte Trail and how to get there, go to www.blm.gov/visit/north-menan-butte-trail.

The south butte is mostly private property and doesn’t offer much for hikers.

To the west of the north Menan Butte is an Idaho Fish and Game wildlife management area for those interested in bird watching and seeing other critters.

On Monday (another rare nice weather day), Julie and I and a friend spent a few hours checking out some new rock climbing routes at the Boot Camp Wall, a crag along the Blackfoot River canyon east of Firth.

I had been there a few times before, but some new routes had been installed since my last visit.

When we arrived we felt like we had stepped into a pleasant summer day. If it wasn’t for our friend’s commitment to teaching online piano classes at 6 p.m., we probably would have stayed well past dinner time.

Of course, Monday was as rare as a Corvair automobile because when the rest of the weekdays arrived, nasty chilly spring days returned.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest urges visitors to use caution and prevent resource damage as they venture out this spring

With snow melting at lower elevations, the urge to get out on the Forest creates the need for everyone to respect our natural resources through responsible outdoor behavior. Winter is still alive and well at higher elevations. Take for instance the Ashton/Island Park area, which still has over a foot of snow on many of the roads. This also includes paved roads, like the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, which will not open until the middle part of May.

Visitation to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is increasing as more individuals turn to the outdoors to rid themselves of cabin fever. “We ask that people be considerate and recreate responsibly,” said Mel Bolling, Caribou-Targhee Forest Supervisor. “Many forest roads are still covered in snow. Those that aren’t, are in the awkward time between snowmelt, mud and dry conditions, and severe resource damage is possible.”

Know the rules before you go! Soggy spring conditions on trails, roads and hillsides leave land and water resources in a vulnerable condition. Vehicle use on saturated trails, roads and hillside areas can easily damage the land causing permanent ruts, bog holes and erosion. Driving cross-country by motorized wheeled vehicles is prohibited on National Forest lands. This includes driving off-road to avoid a mudhole or snow drift which damages resources, creates ruts and is considered an unauthorized route. Ruts and bogs create additional maintenance needs that are costly to repair. Regardless of how many times you’ve visited the area in the past, you need to consider the current condition of the trails or roads you intend to use.

The Forest asks users to stay on designated travel routes and use good judgment regarding travel on roads and trails.

Take a moment to contact your local ranger district before heading out. Several winter wildlife closures remain in place to protect wildlife. Activities such as shed hunting in these areas can have major impacts on already weakened animals that have used much of their energy reserves to survive the winter. Additional closures or restrictions can be made at any time for resource protection or public safety.

Bear hunting: Part I

I struggled deciding whether to write about bear hunting this week or mushroom hunting since they are both time-sensitive topics. I think what I’ll do is to write about “baiting for bears and scouting” this week, mushroom hunting next week and then follow up with another bear article the third week.

Unless something else more fun pops up in the meantime!

So, let’s say you want to go bear hunting this spring. I’ll give you a few pointers to help you out.

Twenty years ago I’d be up bear baiting and bear hunting on opening day, which is April 15 in most units. But really, bears aren’t in the groove, eating good until later in the season in most units.

Think about it for a minute. They’ve been hibernating and fasting for nearly six months. If you’ve ever fasted then you know that day one after the fast you might not feel like eating a bowl of salsa and chips along with a plateful of spicy enchiladas! Your stomach is a little off kilter. Same with bears. They come out and eat grass/flower tops at first and pass their plug. Which basically corks them up for the hibernation period.

As a general rule, right when they come out of hibernation you’ll see them at the snowline, right? That’s because the vegetation is springing up when the snow melts and is tender. When I say at the snowline, I don’t mean within two feet of the snowline. But as the snow melts and tender green grass pops up, they do follow that. I don’t know their scientific name but they go along eating the yellow flower tops as the snowline melts and moves uphill.

The first thing we have to do is determine where you’re going to bait. You don’t want to waste time baiting where there’s no bears, do you? Think back to last year where you were seeing bear signs. Or go out scouting now. Bears eat high-fiber diets so they leave a lot of signs. Find where there’s a lot of signs or a dark secluded canyon and hit it.

You don’t want to bait too close to a road/trail or hound hunters can drive by and run your bears after you’ve done all of the hard work to get them coming in. You also don’t want to park your truck out in the open where everyone passing by knows that you’re baiting in that area.

You don’t want bears free feeding. Chain a barrel to a tree so they can’t drag it away. Cut a hole about 10-inches in diameter about two-thirds of the way up. This way bears will have to stick their paws in the hole and dig out bait. If you just dump it in a pile they can come in, gorge and leave. You want to slow them down and make them hang around longer. Can you just dump it on the ground though? Yes, it’s just not the preferred method. You’d be surprised at how much bait the ravens can carry off. And barrels also prevent foxes, coyotes and wolves from eating your bait.

A barrel also protects your bait from the rain so it doesn’t mold or rot as fast. A snap top lid is nice. That way you can remove the top, fill the barrel and then snap the top back on. If you bait correctly and get four to six bears coming in, they can put down the chow!

Their stomachs are somewhat queasy at first when they come out of hibernation. I have hauled literally tens of thousands of pounds of meat up to the mountains for bear bait, but in early spring, meat is not necessarily the best bait.

In late summer when bears are binge feeding, storing up fat for the winter, they will eat virtually anything. But given a choice, I still say that they can be selective. One time I laid out a bushel basket of fruit, melons, peaches, vegetables, cereal, donuts, etc. A bear went through and picked out what he preferred. So given a choice I am convinced that they have preferences. Years ago I’d buy loads of old bread and donuts from a day-old bread company. I’d dump out piles and they’d dig through and eat all of the Hostess Twinkies. But if nothing else is available, yes, they will eat anything. Make sense?

A lot of times what bait you use is really determined by what is available to you. If available, small bait is nice. Like let’s say dog food. That means they have to stick their paw in and scoop up food. They can’t gorge and run. If you put out big chunks of meat they’ll come in and grab a piece and take it off in the brush and only afford a fast shot.

I love baiting because it allows you to study a bear. You have time to ensure that it’s not a sow with cubs. You have time to make sure it isn’t rubbed bad. Is it the color phase that you want? Is it big enough?

There’s a misconception out there in the bunny hugging world that all you have to do is to hang a donut on a limb out in the forest and Boo-Boo and all of his buddies will come stampeding in. It’s not quite that simple. It takes a lot of hard work and strategy. And after they start hitting your bait you need to refill it every two to three days.

Good luck!

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.

Bikers happy to be stuck in local Yellowstone traffic

It was the afternoon of Friday, April 8, in Yellowstone National Park, and all traffic on the road along the Madison River came to a screeching crawl, like blasting down Interstate 15 into Salt Lake City and hitting rush hour traffic.

The traffic on this day was mostly bicyclists riding the road between West Yellowstone, Mont. and Mammoth Hot Springs. The road is open during the first two weeks of April to bikes and authorized park vehicles only.

This traffic jam was caused by the locals. In this case, a few dozen bison decided to take a casual stroll down the road as they moved from one meadow to another.

Being caught behind the giant, shaggy animals was both exciting and frustrating. It was cool to join the herd as it moved down the road in the direction I was going — toward West Yellowstone — but my stomach was telling me it was time to get back and fill the empty space.

I had planned on riding with some friends on April 9 (a Saturday) from West Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs and back, about a 97-mile round-trip, but the weather forecast for that day was dismal — cold, windy and messy. The day before, however, looked promising. Nearly 60 degrees and sunny was in the forecast, but I would be on my own.

I started out solo from the West Yellowstone visitor center parking lot at about 9:15 a.m. with bright sunny skies and freezing temperatures, but with the promise of warmer times ahead. Few people were on the road during that chilly hour, and I was struck by the amazing beauty of the park when it was waking up on a bright spring morning.

The first animal (other than birds) that I saw was a coyote darting toward the road. When it saw me, it did 180 degrees and sprinted back into the forest (I often have that effect on folks).

A few miles from the Madison Junction, I passed a small group of bison off in the meadow along the river. They were standing like statues, sleeping in the frosty morning.

Along the way, I only passed the occasional biker or pair of bikers up to the Gibbon Falls area. Most of the time I was riding in the park by myself. It felt exhilarating. When I arrived at Madison Junction (about 14 miles in), I stopped to take a layer of clothes off. I was about to head up the long hill next to Gibbon Falls and didn’t want to break into a big sweat. About 20 miles later, I started passing riders coming the opposite direction from Mammoth Hot Springs. Some were guided groups on e-bikes. At about mile 44 or so, the road drops sharply for a few miles down to the community of Mammoth Hot Springs. I made a beeline to the General Store.

It was 12:15 p.m. when I sat and ate a salty turkey sandwich I bought from the dairy case. Another guy showed up who had also ridden in from West Yellowstone. He reported getting a flat on the steep downhill.

After sitting and relaxing and texting my sweetheart, I began the steep ride up the hill out of Mammoth Hot Springs. It didn’t help that a headwind was starting to pick up. Thankfully the ride back to West Yellowstone is mostly a gradual downhill, with a few uphills to keep you working hard.

Partway back I met a guy from Rexburg who knew me somehow and we rode back together. It’s always helpful to take turns drafting in the headwind.

Just past the bridge over the Madison River, we rode into the bison jam. A couple of brave souls biked up to the bison on the right side of the road and squeezed past the herd. The bison slowly, politely opened up a path and the group of bikers flooded past.

When I arrived in West Yellowstone, my bike computer said I had gone 97 miles. Because I’m a bit crazy, I decided to ride across town and weave in and out of the blocks until I had an even 100 miles logged. I pretty much saw everything the town has to offer.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.

Turkey hunting

Turkey hunting has gotten wildly popular in Idaho the last 15-20 years and there is no sign of it slowing down. Many people look down their noses at the intelligence of turkeys. It is even derogatory to call someone a turkey. For you, come see me in a couple of years after you’ve tried to outsmart an old gobbler.

Why is turkey hunting so popular? After thinking on that question for a minute I’d have to list multiple reasons. First, many people compare it to elk hunting. Many people hunt turkeys in the mountains. You’re setting up and trying to call them in just like when elk hunting.

Secondly, even if you set in a blind you’re using decoys and calling. So you’re interacting with them which makes it fun. In some ways it’s like a chess game. The old lead hen starts talking and you start calling over the top of her. She comes prissing over to set straight what she thinks is a mouthy little hen.

And of course the gobbler is following right behind her. So, there’s a lot of angles that you play.

I’ve hunted with people that have access to farmland where there are a lot of turkeys. In those scenarios it works to set up a blind. You’ll want a chair and a tripod to shoot off of. You’ll want to throw out a few decoys. There’s some realistic 3-D decoys now.

But if I’m hunting up in the mountains, I’m running gunning so you can’t lug around a heavy 3-D decoy up there. The best decoys I’ve found for this type of hunting are made by Montana Decoys.

They’re a one-dimensional lightweight cloth decoy. It has a rod in it that you stick in the ground to hold it up.

Montana decoys has one that pops up in a square type of shape. I was up bear hunting a few years ago and set one up where I was baiting for bears. I figured I might as well multi-task. I put a rock in it so it’d stay up on a stump that I had set it on.

The next morning my decoy was AWOL. If you picked it up due to the rock bouncing around in it, I guess it would of felt like a real turkey was bouncing around trying to get away. I can only assume that a wolf did a drive-by on my decoy. With the rock bouncing in the decoy, he probably thought he had hold of a struggling turkey. I never did find that decoy.

Turkeys have unbelievable eyesight so you’ll want to camo to the max. Wear a facemask to cover your face and gloves since your hands will be the major source of your movement. I don’t worry about wearing all one pattern. I may wear one pattern for my cap/facemask, a different one for my jacket and a third one for my pants. Nature is not all one pattern, is it? No, it’s a splash of green, a splash this and a splash of that.

If you’re using shooting sticks try to set up so the birds will be coming in from your left and set up with your shooting sticks slightly to your left. Have your gun leaning on the shooting sticks ready so you don’t have to move excessively when they come in. But they don’t always cooperate. I’ve had to shoot them at all positions. I shot one a long time ago leaning upside down out of the window of a blind left handed with my rifle. So don’t expect them to act according to your playbook.

CALLING

You’ve got to learn how to call. When I was a kid, you learned on your own but now there are a million YouTubes, tapes and seminars to help you learn how to call. Ed Sweet, that was an Idaho State champion turkey caller and one of the best turkey callers that I know makes fun of calling unmercifully.

He used to always give me grief. But despite my horrible calling (according to him), I’ve called in a lot of birds.

So here’s my philosophy. Don’t worry about doing perfect textbook calling. People talk different don’t they? So do animals. I’ve called in I don’t know how many totally weird sounding elk that I thought were some new-to-Idaho California hunter that when they appeared turned up to actually be an elk. So here’s my advice. Learn how to gobble, cluck, purr, etc. Learn how to make the various sounds and when to use them. Don’t worry about sounding perfect.

There are a lot of calls out there. Which one should you use? Sixty years ago all we had were box calls.

They’re old-school and I still favor them. You have to chalk them up and if it was raining you had to keep them in a bread sack so they wouldn’t get wet or they’d quit working but now some of them have a coating on them so they’ll work even when wet. For instance, the Quaker Boys Hurricane or the 4-Play call which employs a forward mounted wheel that allows use of four striking rails.

So I love box calls but they keep your hands tied up so you’ve got to learn how to use a reed. That way you can have your gun up and still be calling. The push box call is so simple that a kid can use it to call turkeys. And you can tape it to the forestock of your shotgun so you can be calling right up until you shoot.

You’ll for sure want to carry a locator call. For whatever reason if you hit a locator call it will prompt a turkey to gobble which helps you locate them. I like a coyote howl but crow or peacock calls are also popular locator calls.

SHELLS & CHOKES

Sixty years ago we used our leftover lead 2-shot duck shells but now there are turkey loads that are super-efficient. HEVI-Shot, Kent and nearly all of the big boys make turkey loads.

You need to use a turkey choke which are super tight chokes. Aim at the neck, about 3-4 inches below the head. If you aim at the head half of the BBs go whistling harmlessly overhead.

Well, I could go on for another 500 words but we’re out of room so let’s end on a note of safety.

Everyone tells you to sit with your back against a tree so a hunter sneaking in doesn’t shoot you. Also, don’t set on a flat spot level with your decoys or another hunter may come sneaking in and shoot your decoy with you in line behind it.

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

It’s here! (Spring, that is)

I got home from the Texas hog hunt after midnight on a Saturday, unpacked, repacked and took off for South Dakota Monday morning for a couple of weeks. I don’t want to say that it was frigid but it did blow and snow last week in South Dakota. I arrived back home this past Friday and it was warm and sunny.

Wow! I was suddenly jolted out of my frigid winter mode and had woken up in a spring paradise. And it just hit me: I’ve got to hit ram speed and get my spring lined up right fast. First the dirty work though.

According to Uncle Sam I’ve got to get my taxes filed so that will take most of this week along with the 12 to 14 articles that need to be submitted. I think this week I’ll focus on those two tasks and maybe getting out and whacking some whistle pigs. They should be out big time. Hopefully I can get two days in of whistle pig hunting.

For whistle pigs this spring, here will be my arsenal. I’ll start off with my Gauntlet .25 cal. airgun. JSB just came out with a new pellet called Hades. It’s supposed to be an awesome small game pellet. Then I’ve got a new Anderson 5.56 with a Riton 4-16x scope. Can’t wait.

Then bear season is right around the corner. I used to always start baiting on opening day but usually it’s tough to navigate around the snow that early plus, the bears are hardly out and not eating much. So, I’m going to wait until the end of April to start baiting. I think I’ll check and see if the Umarex Air Saber is legal for hunting bears with and use it this spring. Or maybe I ought to try with a Henry’s lever action 45- 70. That’d be cool to shoot a bear with one of those.

Normally I always hunt bears out of a ground blind but this year I got a Primal Treestands SINGLE VANTAGE blind. This will be a big update for me. Being up high slightly defuses your scent and aids you in hunting. OK, and I’ve got to admit — You always slightly worry that a cub will stroll in beside you with the sow not far behind. How many times have I had a sow and cubs within a spitting distance of me?

Numerous! It’ll be nice to hunt out of a ladder stand.

I fly out in a week and as warm as it is I’m betting the mushrooms will be out big time by the time I get back. What to do, what to do. I think I’ll go up and put out my bear bait and then mushroom hunt for a couple of days. I didn’t do very good mushroom hunting last year so I have to make up for lost time.

We’ll write more on mushroom hunting at a later date.

That may sound like plenty to fill up the calendar until June but don’t forget-Crappie Fishing! I think I’m out of crappie. I’ve got to dig down into the freezer and see if maybe there is one or two last packages of crappie filets. (I panicked and ran out to check. Good, there was one package left for dinner tonight.) Walleye is the best freshwater fish and then probably perch but crappie is for sure third best and maybe they split the second and third spots with perch.

Crappie fishing is low key. When the bite is on you can slay them. I do good during the pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn season. So you want to make sure you’re hitting them early so you don’t miss out on the pre-spawn bite.

There’s not a better species of fish to take your kids out fishing for. They’re easy to catch so it doesn’t take a lot of skill. And, the tackle is simple. For lures use some light jig heads, some kind or plastic Mister Twister tails. Carry a variety of colors because you never know what is hot. I like silver, red, yellow and black. I just met Proline Baits and am going to try their scents this spring.

The longer I fish, the more I put stock in scents. Sixty years ago, you never heard about scents other than when carp or catfish fishing but I’m now convinced that I’m missing a lot of hits if I don’t use scents, especially on some species of fish.

After writing this article I’m even more excited than when I started it. Hmmm, I wonder if they’d really throw me in jail if I skip the tax deal for a couple of months and go hunting and fishing for a while? They’re letting all the non-violent criminals out of jail anyway in some states. Surely if I showed them some pics of the mushrooms, coolers of crappie and my bear they’d let me off the hook, wouldn’t they?

Oh no, and what about turkey hunting? We about skimmed right over them. I’ll wait and do a whole article on turkey hunting. I’m definitely going to have to go underground and put the taxes off for a while.

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.

A climb by any other name is still just as hard

One thing I’ve noticed about humans is that they love to name things. Since rock climbers are sort of human, too, they also engage in this phenomenon of giving everything a name.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise. Most recreations give their equipment, participants, locations and actions goofy, descriptive or clever names that require explanations to folks out of the loop.

One common name for a typical belay device — that piece of equipment that catches a falling climber attached to a rope — is called an ATC. ATC stands for “air traffic controller.”

Names in the newish Teddy Bear Cove climbing area near American Falls have a mostly classic rock theme. Some kooky names of climbing routes around eastern Idaho include Seeking Sleazy Squeezes, Mr. Hanky, Who Killed Kenny and Make Love Not Warcraft. Sometimes you have to climb a route because the name is so funky. Other times you may avoid it because of the name. Like the route named “Clip Me Deadly.” I climbed that route and thought I was going to fall and hurt myself trying to clip the next bolt hanger.

Last week I was climbing with my sweetheart and friends at an area called The Playground in the Blackfoot River canyon. This wall has been established for decades and has several fun routes worth climbing over and over again. (One is named Cure for the Hangover — a route that goes under a huge overhanging rock.)

While we were climbing, my friend Billy was up the canyon a few hundred yards at a wall called Boot Camp Wall. He was busy bolting a new route and adding new routes to the climbs already there. He and a friend started bolting routes on the wall when they discovered its potential a couple of years ago. They named the wall Boot Camp because Billy’s son was at the time going through military boot camp.

Bolting sport climbing routes was a new thing (and controversial) with the traditional “place-your-own-protection-as-you-climb” crowd in the United States in the mid 1980s. About that time a French climber came to eastern Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park and bolted hangers onto a nearly blank wall that was impossible to protect traditionally and showed North Americans how things were being done in Europe. The name of the route captured climbers’ imagination: To Bolt or Not To Be.

Since those days, sport climbing around the world has become the most popular form of rock climbing. To Bolt or Not to Be is still mega hard (5.14a/b) and not often repeated because the rock texture resembles an asphalt street turned vertical.

Naming rock climbing routes, similar to naming mountain bike trails or classic races, has become a thing usually done by the first ascensionist.

After Billy was done bolting his new route, he showed up at The Playground where we were climbing and asked me if I wanted an “FA?” (first ascent).

“I think it’s a pretty easy 5.8,” he said. “And you’ll get to name it.”

Up until this time, the only thing I think I’ve helped name was my children (and they’ve never forgiven me for that).

So, trusting that Billy’s bolts would hold should I happen to slip and fall (in climber lingo: “take a whipper”), I launched off on his new route. The route was a bit easier than his other routes on the Boot Camp wall.

“I thought it would go at 5.8,” he said of the difficulty rating.

“You could make a case for it being 5.7,” I said. “But 5.8 works.” There was a spot or two where you had to puzzle it out a bit.

“So what do you want to name it?” Billy asked. “It should have a military theme since it’s the Boot Camp Wall.”

I thought of my grandfather who served in World War II and him telling me of recruits getting extra “KP duty” when they were in trouble with the officers. KP stood for kitchen police and meant you would be tasked with cleaning dishes and peeling potatoes for the whole barracks.

“How about ‘Stuck on KP duty’?” I asked Billy.

He approved.

Other names at the Boot Camp Wall include: Buzz Cut, Boots, Lock n’ Load and The Reaper.

I’m not sure if the name I gave the route will inspire folks to climb it, but since it’s still new and still dirty in spots, it could use some cleaning.

Jerry Painter is a longtime East Idaho journalist and outdoorsman.