After the crack of the rifle, my son Cole turned to me with a sly grin. The prairie dog he was aiming at nearly 150 yards away was suddenly absent from terra firma. It was a good shot and deserved an “atta boy” backslap. It also brought back memories for me growing up in the Midwest.
We didn’t have the beefy prairie dogs, but the adventure was just as endearing, stalking 13-lined ground squirrels in my grandfather’s pasture. The sly, snaky rodents were everywhere and proved to be worthy targets for my scoped .22 long rifle. Always busy with chores, I worked fast so I had extra time to grab the rifle, cartridges and roam the rolling hills looking for rodents.
Summer is definitely peak season for varmints and that’s good news for hunters looking for hunts during a time when few if any hunting seasons are open. Varmint season is open year-round in most states and if you look hard enough there are more than enough species to create weekend hunting opportunities. Woodchucks, prairie dogs, ground squirrels and the likes are found in high densities from coast to coast.
Why? Most of these animals are fine in moderate populations, but when densities swell so does their destructive nature. These rodents are notorious for digging large underground complexes and dappling pastures with dozens if not hundreds of holes. When they’re not digging they are eating. Prairie dogs can denude a pasture of grass needed for livestock and other wildlife when numbers explode. Woodchucks and ground squirrels can raid agricultural fields, including produce, and damage crops in certain cases.
That’s where varmint hunters come into play. Through targeted shooting varmint hunters can reduce populations without hurting the overall survival of the species.
More than likely you already have an arsenal in place for varmints. The explosion of the predator market in recent years has put .22-caliber rifles back on the map with the ever popular .223, .22-250 and the Ruger .204.
My two favorite varmint rifles at the moment are my TC Encore Pro Hunter Predator chambered for the flat-shooting .22-250 and my Smith & Wesson M&P15 in the classic .223. In nearly all instances the smaller calibers are the best and factory ammunition, such as Hornady’s Superformance lineup, provide shooters with hot loads for the sizzling calibers.
Other accessories to make your hunt more successful include good optics. A binocular and a spotting scope allow you to not only scan for peeping rodents, but zoom in and analyze the shot of your partner. You’ll also want a good rangefinder such as the Nikon RifleHunter 1000 so you can help judge bullet drop at extreme distances.
Finally, don’t forget shooting rests. If you’re more into lightweight and versatility, try bipods like XLA series manufactured by Caldwell. The same company also makes lightweight shooting benches and a new shooting rest with super stability in a tripod format called the DeadShot FieldPod.
GO GET THEM
I don’t have enough space to list every rodent available for summer hunts, but the granddaddy of all is the black-tailed prairie dog. You can hunt them on national grasslands in South Dakota, Indian reservations throughout the West and by asking ranchers who deem them as competition for their livestock. Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming are top of the list for prairie dog vacations.
West of prairie dog country is ground squirrel real estate and the king deed holder is the California ground squirrel. Also a big ground squirrel hitting two pounds, this rodent basks in rocks and raids pastures and grain fields throughout most of California and southern Washington. Coincidently, these are the two best states for hunting this abundant critter.
Finally, for those of you on the East Coast chomping for a rodent adventure you live in the neighborhood of the all-time giant, the woodchuck. From the Carolinas north you’ll find these big chompers along wooded edges and roaming fields for forage. A big male can weigh in at 13 pounds and cause eyebrow-raising destruction for landowners. They can also be wary and may require a stealthy stalk to sneak up on an unsuspecting woodchuck roaming on a Pennsylvania hayfield.
Regardless of your favorite varmint species don’t let summer pass by without a weekend of varmint hunting. It’s available in every zip code, affordable and provides a service to landowners. And best of all, it’s a great memory maker.