Hunting prairie dogs is tougher than it might appear
WORTHINGTON -- This time of year has outdoor enthusiasts itching for something to do.
The early Canada goose season starts in a few weeks as does the very controversial dove season.
That doesn't solve the 'what can I do now' dilemma.
I have been shooting sporting clays all summer, but that is not hunting, so I decided to try my hand at an outdoor pursuit that I had never participated in before; I went prairie dog hunting.
Now, there are no prairie dogs in this part of the world, so it meant taking a little drive out to central South Dakota.
I jumped in a big passenger van with Marlin Boots and Merle Freborg of Worthington, Daryl Boots of Rushmore and my almost attached-at-the-hip hunting buddy Les Johnson from west of town.
Presho, S.D., was our destination, to help the ranchers in that area keep their dog populations under control.
I consider myself a little above average in the shot gunning department, but have very little experience in the varmint rifle arena.
I took my 223 AR-15 and my new Ruger 17 caliber, which I won last winter at the Jackson County Conservation League banquet. Buying enough raffle tickets pays off sometimes, and varmint rifles can be very high tech, but mine just falls in the shooter category.
The more pressure these prairie dogs see the spookier they become. The towns that we set up at had seen a lot of activity and the occupants were more than a little smart.
I've never been very good at holding my breath and squeezing the trigger ever so gently --and it showed. The varmint hunters with the most experience can effectively eliminate a prairie dog at ranges up to 350 yards. These targets look more like two-inch tall chess pieces to me at these ranges.
I took many shots, and the results were much less than I had hoped for.
With a rifle sighted in at 150 yards you need to aim high and up wind at 300. This adjustment was very difficult for this novice (the guys in my group called me this). They had as much fun watching me scare them down the holes as they did shooting themselves.
I did manage to put together a three-shot group and went 3-for-3 at about 250 yards. It was all down hill after that.
There is a very specific methodology to being an excellent long-range shooter. I didn't feel too bad about my lack of skill as I had very little experience in this department.
When I first started shooting sporting clays my score was about 15 out of 50. After several years of practice my score has increased to low 40's out of 50. If I keep practicing at this new challenge I will hope to at least graduate from the novice category.
We did have the opportunity to hunt on some land included in the Buffalo National Grasslands. These are foot traffic only and my light, portable shooting stand seemed to weigh about 150 pounds by the time I hoofed it in and all the way back out.
When you drive across central South Dakota many people think it is a desolate place. The truth is if you look closely it has a unique beauty all its own. There are very few people per square mile -- giving you a sense of just being a spec in the landscape. This was an outdoor adventure I will certainly try again, but I will have to take a little time to restock my ammo supply -- giving me just the reason to go shopping for another gun. I am sure that you know that you can just never have enough hunting rifles.
My thanks goes out to Marlin and Daryl Boots for sharing with me a little of their expertise in this area. I look forward to traveling with you again. I promise I will keep being the driver, so you can continue to get your recuperation naps in the back seat. Prairie dog hunting is really hard work, just ask Marlin!