Cabin fever: Forest Service restores old hermit’s historic cabin on Middle Fork

Two weeks ago a popular hermit’s cabin deep in the wilderness along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River got a major makeover.

The tiny cabin, built by Earl King Parrott about 100 years ago, was falling apart and needed some TLC. The Salmon-Challis National Forest called on the expertise of Joe Gallagher, a professional historic site restorer, now retired, archaeologist Camille Sayer and a few river guides to help with the work.

The lower Parrott cabin sits at the confluence of Nugget Creek and the Middle Fork Salmon River within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The site is a regular stop off by river rafters floating the Middle Fork, where guides recount the story of “The Hermit of Impassable Canyon.”

Parrott spent 30 years living a solitary existence in the Middle Fork country panning for gold, hunting, trapping and growing his own fruits and vegetables. He died in 1944 and is buried in the Salmon cemetery.

“He would go down to the river and try to pan for gold — that flour gold,” Gallagher said. “It’s back-breaking work. When he would gather maybe $50 or $60 worth he would go up to the town of Shoup and buy whatever he needed there, which might be salt, tobacco or bullets or whatever a hermit needs.”

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A member of the Hatch-Swain-Frazier Expedition stands in front of Parrott’s Lower Cabin on the Middle Fork Salmon River in 1936.

Johnny Carey and Cort Conley, in their historical book entitled “The Middle Fork and the Sheepeater War,” describe Parrott as “intelligent and industrious,” but also “stubborn, aloof and lacking in humor.”

Parrott’s main residence was about 1,000 feet up the side of the steep canyon, but was difficult to get to. He had a series of ladders and ropes to climb the canyon. The main cabin burned down during a forest fire in the late 1980s, according to the Forest Service. The lower cabin near the river is all that is left tied to the wilderness hermit.

“The Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980 specifically requires identification and management of cultural resources including historic cabins in wilderness,” said Amy Baumer, public affairs officer for the Salmon-Challis National Forest. “The cabin was identified in the Historic Preservation Plan for the wilderness as a good candidate for preservation.”

Baumer said because the cabin is in the wilderness, non-mechanized traditional tools such as handsaws, axes, hammers and chisels were used to refurbish the cabin.

Getting to the site was an adventure.

First, Gallagher and Sayer flew to a backcountry airstrip, then floated down the Middle Fork with three others for a day before arriving at the site. A previous Forest Service rafting crew delivered replacement logs and 30-inch shakes to rebuild the cabin roof.

Next, Gallagher and Sayer used intuition and research to put things back together.

“What we had were a few (historic) photos of this building from just after Earl passed away,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t have a good picture of the roof but we did have pretty good pictures of two of the walls. We used those to guide us.”

The crew took the cabin apart (labeling pieces to put it back together precisely), rebuilt the foundation with river rock and put it back together. Badly deteriorated logs were replaced. Wood was treated with products to help preserve it and prevent rot and mold. The cabin floor was simple dirt.

“We did a few things to bullet-proof the building,” Gallagher said. “Will it last another 20 years? Yeah.”

Gallagher, 71, was originally hired decades ago by the Forest Service as an archaeologist and was told he also had responsibility for historic as well as prehistoric stuff.

“I was able to work with somebody in an apprentice capacity for five or six years,” he said. “When I started, I didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold and when I was done I went out on my own.”

He retired from the Forest Service and worked as a general contractor with his company Heritage Preservation Resources Inc., refurbishing historic sites for about 10 years.

“I’ve probably done hundreds and hundreds of buildings,” he said, “everything from taking them apart and putting them back together again to just assessing their condition, things from small cabins to whole forts.”

Gallagher said his business now does the work on a volunteer basis because at his age “I no longer need to chase after money.”

Gallagher said the Frank Church Wilderness is loaded with historic sites that need help.

Forest Service archaeologist Tim Canaday said “without a willing cadre of volunteers, preservation projects such as this are nearly impossible to accomplish.”

The Forest Service plans to create an interpretive brochure describing the history of the cabin and the preservation activities surrounding it for wilderness visitors.

Winning the war: Yellowstone seeing progress on lake trout removals

YELLOWSTONE LAKE — The motor clicked rhythmically as it pulled four miles of net from the lowest depths of the lake here, where the net was set a few days prior in hopes of killing lake trout. A four-person crew worked quickly, untangling fish as they came up with the net. Once untangled, the fish were passed to the person holding a knife. He punctured their swim bladders and threw them in a plastic tub, where the casualties piled up and dried out in the hot July sun.

When a Yellowstone cutthroat came through — there are often a few, and they’re often huge — the crew tried to save it. If it still had life left, they released it to the lake, hoping the pelicans hanging around the boat won’t get to it in time. When the cutthroat didn’t have life left, it landed in the tub.

The crew, from Wisconsin-based Hickey Brothers Research, doesn’t like seeing big cutthroat die. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. It’s just part of the equation behind this big operation, the $2 million a year effort to cull as many lake trout as possible from Yellowstone National Park’s namesake waterbody.

It’s been 25 years since lake trout were confirmed to be here, and fisheries officials say they’re coming out on top. More than 3.1 million have been killed in total, including about 150,000 so far this year.

Todd Koel, Yellowstone’s supervisory fisheries biologist, said that’s a bit behind the total at the same time last year, which is a good sign.

“We’re winning this war,” Koel said.

Winning, yes, but the war isn’t close to over. Koel said they plan to keep the same level of netting effort or more for the next few years. That means about 6,000 miles of gillnets each season, which runs from spring to fall. They’re also working on new methods for killing the fish before they even hatch.

How the fish got here is still not known. The nonnatives were stocked in a few other lakes around the park, but there aren’t any definitive answers as to why park officials confirmed the existence of lakers here in 1994. By then, Koel said, the fish had probably been here for years, and there were probably thousands of them.

Lake trout are known to eat other fish, so the big battle began quickly because of what was already in the lake.

“It’s the most abundant genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat population anywhere in the western U.S.,” Koel said.

At first, the lake trout population grew, a phenomenon that coincided with a crash in the cutthroat population. That trend continued until 2012, when it started swinging the other direction.

The people setting the nets have noticed, too. Tom Short, captain of a private boat run by Hickey Brothers Research, a park contractor, is in his seventh year on the lake. It’s not as easy to find lake trout now.

“When I first got here, you could set gillnets any-ol’-where in the lake and you’re going to catch fish,” Short said. “Anymore, they’re just on the best habitat.”

How the battle is fought is changing, too. Instead of relying only on gillnetting, park officials are exploring ways of disrupting spawning by covering eggs to deprive them of oxygen. They’ve found 14 spawning sites in the lake, and they’re trying this out in a couple different ways on a few of them.

One involves the tubs of carcasses. After his crew was done pulling the net last month, Short motored to a spot south of Frank Island. Once the boat was at the dumpsite, he instructed the crew to empty the tubs into the water. The idea is that the carcasses, with the swim bladder punctured, will sink to the bottom and cover up a spawning site, making it impossible for lake trout to reproduce there.

Farther south, Koel pointed out a site near Promontory Point where they’re trying the same idea but with specialized pellets.

These efforts won’t erase the need for gillnetting. But Koel is hopeful they could help them reduce the amount of netting necessary each year. First, he said, they want to reach a point where there’s about 100,000 lake trout here, a level they think could be more sustainable to keep cutthroat alive.

Even if they get there, the war won’t be over.

“There’s no way to get rid of these lake trout,” Koel said. “We’re always going to have to do something to suppress the population.”

August trout stocking schedule for the Southeast Idaho

Grab your fishing pole, pack the cooler, and don’t forget your fishing license. Personnel from Idaho Fish and Game’s hatcheries in the Southeast Region will be releasing nearly 7,000 catchable-sized rainbow trout at the following locations during August. Fish on!

  • Bloomington Creek: Aug. 19 to 23 (200 fish)
  • Crystal Springs Pond: Aug. 12 to 16 (375 fish)
  • Crystal Springs Pond: Aug. 26 to 30 (375 fish)
  • Cub River at Willow Flat Campground: Aug. 5 to 9 (500 fish)
  • Cub River at Willow Flat Campground: Aug. 19 to 23 (500 fish)
  • East Fork Rock Creek: Aug. 12 to 16 (750 fish)
  • East Fork Rock Creek: Aug. 26 to 30 (1,000)
  • Kelly Park Upper Pond: Aug. 5 to 9 (250 fish)
  • Kelly Park Upper Pond: Aug. 19 to 23 (250 fish)
  • Montpelier Creek: Aug. 5 to 9 (500 fish)
  • Montpelier Creek: Aug. 26 to 30 (500 fish)
  • Montpelier Rearing Pond: Aug. 5 to 9 (250 fish)
  • Montpelier Rearing Pond: Aug. 26 to 30 (250 fish)
  • Portneuf River, below Pebble and above Lava Hot Springs: Aug. 12 to 16 (1,250 fish)

The number of trout actually released may be altered by weather, water conditions, equipment problems or schedule changes. If delays occur, trout will be stocked when conditions become favorable.

Canadian shore lunches are to die for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbers get pumped for the Idaho Mountain Festival

ALMO — The ample sun and warmth of summer days on the rocks and boulders in Castle Rocks State Park and City of Rocks National Reserve lure people from as far as Europe to climb on them. Many climbers rate the area among their top 100 places to climb in the U.S. And rightfully so. The rock climbing crowd also converges to celebrate, climb and make new friends at the two parks in mid-August. The annual event is like no other held in southern Idaho.

This year marks the seventh annual Idaho Mountain Festival. Participants have a wealth of varied athletic expertise.

“The Idaho Mountain Festival is a gathering of climbers, trail runners and mountain bikers,” event director Sven Taow said. “We gather here at Castle Rocks State Park, next to City of Rocks National Reserve, for a three-day festival, which includes games, events, live music and clinics.”

The two parks boast the highest concentration of climbing routes in southern Idaho. In City of Rocks, Bath Rock alone has 28 named routes according to Not only does each park provide ample climbing routes, bouldering routes also decorate the high desert landscape.

“In City of Rocks and Castle Rocks, there is every type of climbing,” Taow said. “There’s trad, a lot of bouldering and a lot of sport climbing. There is also a lot of multi-pitch sport and multi-pitch trad, so it runs the gamut.”

Climbs such as Rye Crisp and Wheat Thin on the famous Elephant Rock, both multi-pitch routes, in City of Rocks are two climbs Taow recommends. Also included on his hit list is Big Time, a 5.7 to 5.8 multi-pitch. This route is a good pick for those looking to tackle their first multi-pitch ascent.

“Rye Crisp is a 5.8 lie back crack that runs almost 120 fell tall,” Taow said. “Wheat Thin is another unique crack, all granite, with a little face climbing and then works its way into a crack and is also 100 to 120 feet tall.”

The festival had a hiccup in 2018 and was not held. But Taow, who is close friends to festival-founders Ben and Jennilyn Eaton, picked up where the Eatons left off in 2019.

“The Eatons started the festival and ran it for six years,” Taow said. “I took over as director. I would come to volunteer at most of them, but when the festival discontinued due to life changes for them, I pitched the idea of taking over.”

Taow said he was eager to help out because he didn’t want to see the festival fade away. It’s an event he looks forward to it every year. He also wanted to pick the festival up to see if he could manage it as well as Ben did.

At the entrance to Castle Rocks State Park, massive rocks are located in front of the lodge. A big, grassy field is located just before the parking lot. Repeat climbers and festival-goers are well-acquainted with this field.

“The camping area we set up is a bunch of tents in this huge grassy field,” Taow said. “It is used for Frisbee golf in the summer, but they close it off when the festival starts and we set up a sea of tents.”

The festivities are based at the picnic pavilion with all the festival vendors and meals stationed there too. There will be live music, including Tennessee bluegrass band Arcadian Wild playing Aug. 16 and local musician Chad Jensen playing during one of the organized meals.

Taow mentioned he wanted to incorporate a couple of new elements into the festival that were not included in previous years.

“As I’ve had kids I’ve started to think about new things,” Taow said. “We are going to bring in a climbing tower this year and have a kids climbing competition. We are trying to bring in a kids’ biking company and have a Strider derby as well.”

Taow reiterated the festival will have good food, lots of attractions and fun games and clinics. He hinted that two Mammut pro athletes, Steph Davis and Sierra Blair-Coyle, could be on hand and confirmed highlining professional Ryan Robinson, who holds the world record for the longest highline — will host a clinic at the festival.

Highlining requires walking on a slackline hundreds or even thousands of feet above the ground.

Registration is open until the day before the festival starts unless the event sells out in advance.

The Idaho Mountain Festival starts at 5 p.m. Aug. 15 and ends at noon Aug. 18. For more information and to register for the Idaho Mountain Festival, visit or

Residents push for bison hunt restrictions on border of Yellowstone

A group of Gardiner, Montana, residents offered wildlife managers a few ideas Wednesday with hopes of improving the safety and aesthetics of the annual Yellowstone bison hunt just outside the park’s borders.

Members of the Bear Creek Council offered six recommendations at a meeting of the various tribal, state and federal agencies involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan. The group’s ideas focused on two heavily used hunt areas near Gardiner, which is just norther of Yellowstone — one west of the Yellowstone River known as Beattie Gulch and the other along the road running from Gardiner to Jardine.

A few of the recommendations centered on educating hunters and locals about the hunt, ideas that are largely uncontroversial. But others were aimed at expanding an existing clean zone near Beattie Gulch and adding a new one in the area northeast of Gardiner.

Rick Lamplugh, a member of the Bear Creek Council, said adding a zone northeast of town where shooting and gutting of animals was blocked could help deal with what residents have complained about for years — gunfire near homes and bison remains left to rot on the side of the road long after hunting season.

“It would eliminate a whole bunch of issues and problems,” Lamplugh said.

But some tribal officials pushed back, not wanting to see any additional restrictions placed on hunters exercising their treaty rights to go after Yellowstone bison. Tom McDonald, a wildlife manager for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said he thinks there are other ways to deal with safety problems that could be tried before further limiting where hunters can hunt.

“I just don’t think we’re there,” McDonald said.

Wednesday’s meeting was far from the first time the government officials who manage Yellowstone bison lost hours talking about the hunt near Gardiner, which arrives each winter when bison decide to migrate north out of the park in search of food. Residents have complained regularly about the hunt.

Officials agreed Wednesday to spend time reviewing the hodgepodge of regulations that govern hunting in the Gardiner Basin and studying the impacts additional restrictions might have. How additional restrictions would be implemented remains an open question, given the complexity of the hunt there.

There’s no common set of regulations that governs hunting there. Hunters chasing bison are licensed either through one of seven Native American tribes from around the West or through the state of Montana, and each individual hunter is subject only to the regulations of the agency that licensed them.

Hunt managers have made voluntary agreements aimed at improving the hunt in recent years, beginning with a clean zone on the west side of a county road where hunters can’t shoot an animal. A few years ago, some tribes agreed to limit the number of hunters in Beattie Gulch and to coordinate daily hunting activity.

The requests from the Bear Creek Council came after a fairly light hunting season. A little more than 100 bison were taken by hunters this past winter, the low total thanks to a slow migration.

Bear Creek Council organized a trip to Beattie Gulch this spring for bison managers to point out what’s left when hunting season is over. They walked people past decomposing rib cages, other leftover bones and at least one bison fetus.

They worry those remains could serve as an attractant for bears and wolves. The group’s recommended clean zone expansion would add 100 yards to the 200-yard buffer at Beattie Gulch and create a 150-yard buffer on stretches of Jardine and Travertine roads.

McDonald, however, said he didn’t think what was visible during the trip to Beattie Gulch last spring warranted any further steps to protect the public from predators.

Bret Haskett, a wildlife official for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, said pushing hunters farther from the road could make it tougher for them to fully clean up the bison’s remains, too. And he thinks the tribes have tried to work with the people of Gardiner in the past.

Lamplugh said they expected pushback from the tribes on the clean zone idea, but that they’re not going to stop pushing for it.

“We’re not going to roll over,” he said.

‘GROWING ISSUE OF ELK’: IDFG looks for ways to reduce crop depredation

It’s the week following the Fourth of July and a group of Idaho Department of Fish and Game employees have been busy collaring elk in western and central Idaho as part of a research study on deterrence measures to try to limit the increasing annual number of crop depredation claims Fish and Game is handling.

The collared elk are known as Judas elk. It’s a tactic used by Fish and Game to help track and monitor elk herd locations through the summer months leading up to the hunting season.

As the sun rises over the Soldier Mountains, John Guthrie, Fish and Game landowner and sportsman coordinator for the Magic Valley, is going over the details with his team at a farm on the Little Camas Prairie. They’re counting the number of collars and receivers they have on hand before beginning the process of finding, sedating and collaring elk.

This is the second year of Guthrie’s master’s project studying means to deter elk, deer and antelope from causing crop damage.

“Last year was kind of the first year we focused on elk that were living in that agricultural matrix, that interface between agriculture and wildlands,” Guthrie said in describing his research project.

“This place will have 300-plus elk on it in a month,” Guthrie said of the farm on the Little Camas Prairie. “What (elk) really like to do is hang out in those trees over there along Anderson Ranch Reservoir.”

The purpose in collaring elk in July is to ensure that they have elk that are part of the depredation problem for this farm.

With each passing day, July’s summer heat is becoming more oppressive. The winter wheat and barley are showing their heads a month from harvest. The potato plants have closed their rows and the plants are starting to flower.

The elk are moving into the fields and it’s time to begin tracking the elk and implementing lethal measures to deter them out of the grain, corn and potato fields.

Guthrie said that he and his staff take all the necessary precautions for animal safety and health. That’s why they restrict their time out to collar elk to the cool morning hours.

“A growing issue of elk in agriculture is why we’re doing it and trying to figure out, for this project, better tools that we can use to mitigate that (depredation) but also just a better understanding of depredating elk ecology,” Guthrie said in describing his research project and its role in helping reduce agricultural depredation.

On this day they are seeking elk in the Little Camas Prairie and east into the Magic Valley region. Yesterday was spent collaring elk in Weiser and Midvale. By the end of the week they will have collared 47 elk for Guthrie’s project.

During the past four years the Fish and Game has paid out more than $4 million from its Expendable Big Game Depredation Trust Account to Idaho farmers and ranchers for crop depredation. Last year one claim came in at over $1 million and Fish and Game paid over $2 million for 86 claims.

“We have seen increasing payments over the history of the program,” said Fish and Game director Ed Schriever about the EBGDTA.

“I think that’s a combination of sometimes it’s hard winters, sometimes it’s changes in distributions of big game, sometimes it’s related to commodity prices, sometimes it’s related to commodities being planted in places they haven’t been planted before,” Schriever said.

The collars come with radio transmitters that enable Fish and Game to keep track of the elk herds through the Judas elk’s GPS location. During the summer and fall the collars are transmitting the elks’ location every 20 minutes.

When the elk begin entering fields to graze and damage crops the Fish and Game will implement lethal measures to reinforce the deterrence lesson to the wildlife and try to minimize the depredation.

“We are an applied science agency and we spend a lot of time figuring out what is going on with animals,” Schriever said. “We have committed recently to bringing similar science-based resolution to this depredation issue.”

Along with the collared elk tactic, Guthrie is also studying the effectiveness of electrical fencing in keeping wildlife out of grain fields and using Plott Hounds to chase elk bedding in cornfields later in the summer.

He said that data from last year revealed that in one area elk were traveling six miles, as the crow flies, every night to feed in crop fields and that they obtained new information about migration routes and winter range for migrating elk herds.

“We also learned that when elk use agriculture fields in a more predictable manner, we were able to time our deterrence to impact the elk at a very scheduled time. There was very few treatments needed to deter those elk,” Guthrie said.

Fish and Game trail cameras capture cute and grumpy bears

With grizzly bears, sometimes you get cute and sometimes you get grumpy.

When bear biologists noticed a mother bear beginning to wake up this spring from her Island Park den, they set up a trail camera in hopes of recording the action.

The trail camera captured video of a sow and two new cubs attracted to scent bait, the mother reaching high on a small tree for a taste.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game posted the video online combined with another clip of two large bears having a physical argument.

The 1-minute video clip are snippets from two different cameras set up by bear biologist Jeremy Nicholson and wildlife technician Kyle Garrett. The segment of the sow and cubs was shot east of Highway 20 after a 2-mile trek to “the middle of nowhere” and the segment of the brawling bears was taken not far from Harriman State Park. The video can be seen on YouTube at

Research cameras capture grizzly bear sow and cubs Grizzly Bear Cam

“They put a little scent bait on the top of that tree,” said James Brower, regional communications manager with Fish and Game, about the video of the sow and cubs. “You can see her sniff it and smell it because there’s some scent lure up there. It helps her pose for the camera a little bit. She just happens to have two cute little baby cubs with her.”

Brower said the clip of the disagreeable bears is a bit rare.

“To have two bigger bears come in and decide to get in a brawl right in front of the camera is a pretty unique instance,” he said.

While most cameras are set up to determine if an area is suitable for placing a bear trap to sedate and collar bears passing through, the camera set up near the sow was to learn more about the bears.

“Because she has a GPS collar on her, they were able to tell when she had completely left the site,” Brower said. “They went back in to retrieve the camera, and they were able to go inside her den and check it out and see what went on there during the winter.”

Nicholson said bear trapping in the Island Park region began in June.

“This is a reoccurring thing,” he said. “All the data we collect, we combine it with all the other states, the park service, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and analyze it and go from there with it.”

Nicholson said his team wants to understand how bears are surviving, what’s killing them, their movements and what they are eating. Collaring bears is one of his main tools.

Brower said the scent used to attract bears to trail cameras is made mostly of rotting fish or roadkill.

“They let it rot and turn it into a mush,” he said. “The back of the bear trapping truck is the stinkiest thing you’ve ever smelled. They wash it out pretty frequently but it is rank. It stinks. We try to keep everything contained in a plastic bin that fits in the back of the truck. But it inevitably splashes out and it’s pretty rank.”

Besides bears, Brower said the cameras and traps sometimes attract other interlopers, such as coyotes, pine martens and humans.

“We get hikers every once in a while,” he said. “They’ve had a few individuals with little to no clothing walk by on occasion. Most people are aware that they’re on camera.”

Scouting before hunting season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Market Lake blind winning over birdwatchers

The new blind at Market Lake Wildlife Management Area north of Roberts in Jefferson County is winning over birdwatchers.

The blind, an area where spectators can conceal themselves and spot birds, went into action on World Migratory Bird Day in May and has seen steady use since.

Built on the west side of Interstate 15 overlooking a pond, the Market Lake blind is a little off the beaten path from the main wildlife management area’s attractions. The 5,000-acre area is managed by Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a stop-off point for migrating and breeding birds, particularly waterfowl.

“I’ve certainly encouraged people to use it,” Mark Delwiche, president of the Snake River Audubon Society, said of the blind. “I’ve visited it several times as a guest. It’s very nicely done, and it’s a great place to look at birds that are using that little pond. It’s really a nice resource.”

Brett Gullett, wildlife biologist with Fish and Game who helps manage Market Lake, said the blind was built after the department obtained the property from Ducks Unlimited.

“That piece of ground, 342 acres, we just acquired in the last couple of years,” he said. “It was purchased with a North American Waterfowl Conservation Act grant. That money was targeted because of the importance of this area for wildlife conservation.”

Gullett said the grant was awarded especially to help trumpeter swans, white-faced ibis and Franklin’s gulls. After the land was purchased, the blind was built with funding from the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Fish and Game.

Besides helping out the birds, the recent land acquisition helps spread visitors out during peak visitation times in spring and fall.

“We get 19,000 visitors a year to the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area and we have two spikes in usage: In the spring where it is mostly bird watching and wildlife photography and of course the fall with the hunters. In the winter when everything is frozen up, it’s really slow,” Gullett said.

Audubon members give the new blind a thumbs up.

“I hope people discover it. It’s really nice,” Delwiche said. “It gets you out of the weather. You have the sun at your back. It can be nice and comfy in there. And the birds all seem to not pay any attention to you when you’re inside there.”

Snake River Audubon board member Carolyn Bishop, who goes birding at least weekly, says the blind is useful for taking wildlife photos. Gullett said it features several windows at different levels, handicap accessibility and will accommodate about 20 adults.

“I’m sure we can get a group of 40 fifth-graders in there for a field trip,” he said.

“The blind is great for taking pictures,” Bishop said. “I have a truck that I usually take pictures from, but the blind is nice.”

Both Bishop and Delwiche said now is the time to start looking for shorebirds migrating south before the fall.

“I think it’s the adults we’re seeing right now,” Delwiche said. “I was there last week and saw plovers and sandpipers and a few other wading shorebirds that were on the mudflats up at the marsh.”

Market Lake Wildlife Management Area was established in 1956. It gets its name from its use as an easy place to find food.

“Before it was altered for farming, market hunters would come up here and collect as many ducks and geese as they could and bring them back to Idaho Falls and sell them,” Gullett said. “It was before there were regulations on selling wildlife. This would have been in the 1800s and early 1900s.”

He said now one of his main tasks is battling invasive plants that crowd out useful plants that migratory birds need and alter the wetland system. One such plant is Russian olive trees.

“The first people who homesteaded this place planted Russian olives to have firewood,” Gullett said. “You come out here and you see all these Russian olives everywhere. They are kind of invasive. That adds to the perching of the magpies. That makes it easier for magpies to prey on waterfowl nests. So we are removing those. Plus they use a lot of water. We’d like to have an open grassland and sagebrush system that leads to the wetlands.”