When most people think of the Blacktail Prairie Dog, they picture the fury little creatures roaming around the plains states in the towns they create underground. However, for the hunter or target shooter, these same critters are an excellent opportunity to hone their long distance shooting skills. The prairie dogs allow shooters to focus on a small moving target at various ranges rather than just punching paper at a fixed distance.
Prairie dogs pose a few problems to farmers and ranchers. Colonies are generally formed in the middle of pastures and hay fields. The dogs will eat the forage that is available and this directly competes with any livestock that lives in the same field. Farmers also worry about their cattle stepping into a prairie dog hole and injuring a leg. The mounds that scatter a field can also cause serious damage to farm equipment. This member of the squirrel family can also carry the plague which can be transmitted to humans and other animals. However, this is rare because a colony that has the plague dies off within days. These issues have caused farmers to take matters into their own hands by allowing hunters to come and shoot them or by poisoning the towns.
Shooters interested in hunting prairie dogs have many options. By searching online, you are able to find public lands, private land owners that invite hunters, and outfitters that will provide everything that you might need for the shoot including guns and ammo. The average outfitter will give hunters a place to stay along with food and a few options for hunting grounds. Unless a hunter has connections or knows landowners, a guided outfitter is an excellent option to get on some great prairie dog towns.
Aside from having a dog town with many different targets running around, the most important part of the hunt is the equipment that you take along with you. First and foremost you need a rifle that is accurate and can handle the number of rounds you will be sending downrange. While your average deer hunting rifle will work, it isn’t recommended for all day abuse. Most hunters opt for bolt action heavy bull barreled rifles or semi-automatic AR style rifles. In hunt in 2012, I used a Mossberg MVP chambered in .223/5.56mm. It is a bolt action target rifle that accepts any aftermarket AR style magazines. This allowed me to have an extremely accurate rifle with high capacity magazines allowing for less down time to reload. Having an extra rifle or two should also be considered. With the heat generated from the amount of shooting you can plan to do, shooters should allow their rifles time to cool down so that they don’t cause damage to the barrel.
An accurate and trustworthy rifle is only as good as the quality of the optics that you mount on them. Most shooters think that they need the biggest and most powerful scope they can get. However, having an extremely powerful scope can actually hurt your shooting at longer distances. Scopes that are used at higher powers will show any movements you make, tend to be darker, and will actually show the heat waves coming off of the ground. A high quality glass will help give shooters very clear images and reduce eye fatigue when looking down range all day. I used a Leupold VX-III 4.5-14x40mm with the CDS system on my Mossberg. I felt that the 14 power was plenty when shooting at long distances. The CDS system allowed me to quickly change the zero on my crosshairs when ranging targets downrange. This is possible by having Leupold make a custom dial based on the ballistics of the ammunition that you use. Another option is to have a scope with target reticles that allow a shooter to compensate for various ranges. A quality scope is one of the most important parts of your rifle setup.
While certain calibers are extremely popular for prairie dog hunting, the options are almost endless. Depending on the distance in which you will be shooting, a rifle as small as a .17MHR is an excellent choice. The most popular choice however is the .223/5.56mm based on an abundance of ammo choices and prices, accuracy, and low recoil. A few more popular options in calibers are the .22-250, .243, and .257. Some shooters like to extend their range and use various .30 caliber rifles. One thing to consider before selecting your prairie dog rifle is the cost to shoot it. On average, you can expect to shoot a few hundred rounds of ammo each day you are out. The larger calibers will raise the price of your trip quickly. Before heading out, a hunter needs to check regulations on firearms as well. Some locations limit the size of rifle you are permitted to use while shooting dogs. On some Tribal land I hunted in South Dakota in 2012, hunters could not use anything larger than a .25 caliber.
Another important part of the equation is the type of bullet and ammunition a hunter uses. With the number of choices on the market, it can be hard to choose just one load. The cost of the amount of ammunition needed for a few days of prairie dog hunting can get out of control fast. Hunters have the option of factory loads or reloading their own combination in order to save some money. Full metal jacket ammo will be the cheapest in .223/5.56mm, but might not be legal to use depending on your hunting location. For the best results, hunters should use quick expanding ballistic tip bullets for devastating results. Examples of these bullets include Nosler Ballistic Tip, Nosler Varmageddon, Hornady V-Max, and Sierra Blitzking. An average day will see shooters sending a few hundred rounds downrange.
Before setting up in a town, hunters should also consider a few more pieces of equipment to make the experience memorable. A solid shooting platform is a must such as a Caldwell shooting bench. This particular bench allows the shooter to rotate a full 360° without having to get up and reposition the bench. On the bench should be either some shooting bags or a Lead Sled rest to hold a rifle to allow for more accurate shooting. Shooting sticks or bi-pods can also be used to help increase chances of hitting your target. Aside from having a scope on a rifle, shooters can also benefit from a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope along with a range finder. All of these will aid in acquiring targets and getting an accurate range before firing off shots.
Once a town is found to be full of prairie dogs, actually getting setup isn’t difficult. The closer you are to the mounds, the further away they will come out. Consider staying 50-100 yards away from the edge of a town. The dogs will often scatter and start coming out of holes at various distances until the shooting begins. If you are shooting at longer distances, the dogs might start appearing in the holes closer to you. If there is an open area in the middle of a town, you might also consider setting up there. This will give you 360° of shooting opportunity. If the dogs stop appearing, look around for another vantage point to get more shooting chances. If you are lucky enough to hit your target, keep a close eye on the mound as another dog might come out to drag a dead one back underground.
Prairie dog hunting is the perfect opportunity for a hunter or target shooter to perfect their skills for when it counts. Concentrating on things like trigger pull, breathing, and patience are all benefits to heading to the prairie after these 20 ounce bottle sized targets. Hunting prairie dogs helps take the monotony out of shooting paper targets at the range. This will also prove more beneficial in giving you the confidence to pull off a longer range shot of a lifetime.