My friend Tyler Sims, of Tyler Sims Outfitting, guides for prairie dogs, varmints and big game out of his lodge headquartered in McFadden, Wyoming. From the air, and off Interstate 80, the topography around McFadden, Wyoming looks as flat as the proverbial “table top”. In reality it is cut through and through with numerous cuts, draws, ridges and small hills – perfect terrain for a rimfire hunter to prowl and take close shots at the many prairie dogs that live in this terrain!
Hunting prairie dogs with a rimfire rifle or handgun offers many advantages to the outdoorsman. First, even though prices for all types of ammunition have exploded, rimfire ammunition is still considerably cheaper than centerfire ammunition. Cheaper ammo results in more shots for your hard earned dollar! Second, rimfires are easy on the shoulder and ears as well. Younger shooters and smaller framed hunters really benefit from reduced recoil and muzzle blast, but truth be known many full sized male shooters enjoy the rimfires as well. Third, a very large number of shots will be available, at least initially, close to the shooting benches Tyler sets up for his guests to use. Finally, rimfires are…… just plain FUN! Hunting with a rimfire takes me back to my Dad’s farm, where I was free to roam armed with my trusty .22 Remington and accompanied by my wonderful German Shepard, Mike! If I had a pocket full of .22 hollow points I felt rich beyond belief!
A DAY IN DOG TOWN – Remembering the old saying that the “wind rises with the sun” my prairie dog hunts with Tyler developed a fairly predictable pattern. Following a very hearty and delicious breakfast at Tyler’s lodge and the paring of hunters and guides, 4X4 trucks were loaded with rifles, ammunition, shooting benches, shooting boxes, cleaning gear, water, sodas, and lunch – all the equipment needed to sustain enthusiastic prairie dog hunters! On arrival at “dog town” guides and hunters pitched in to assemble the shooting benches and the fun started. From early morning to mid-morning a great many dogs can be taken with accurate rimfires shooting right off the bench. While hunters armed with .223s and even larger calibers can hammer away at distant targets the rimfire shooters can concentrate on dogs that will range from “hard off the muzzle” out to 175 to 200 yards. Once the notorious Wyoming winds started to kick my tiny 17 and 30 grain bullets off course I’d bid farewell to the others and hunt on foot – WITH TYLER”S PERMISSION and a full understanding of just where I could go and when I must be back to the trucks!
My strategy was to slip into a draw that blocked the wind and had good sign, then take a stand. Most of my shooting was done from the sitting position using crossed sticks. At times I also shot from the prone position using my day pack as a rest. Both sitting and prone positions are deadly when you take your time and remember the fundamentals of breathing and trigger control. As a side benefit, this is GREAT practice for your fall antelope hunt with Tyler! The combination of an accurate rimfire rifle, topped with a ballistic scope, proved to be deadly when coupled with a laser ranger finder. During one afternoon I was able to reel off one string of seventeen straight kills using a .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) – from the same stand! The longest shot on that string was ranged a 155 yards.
RIMFIRE OPTIONS – If the only rifle I had available was a .17 Mach 2 or a .22 Long Rifle I’d buy several bricks of quality ammunition, call Tyler and then go prairie dog hunting. However, most shooters opt for a .17 HMR or the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR). These two cartridges offer better range and energy figures than their smaller brethren. As a side benefit they offer exceptional accuracy when chambered in good rifles and topped with the correct optics.
Introduced in 2002, the .17HMR turned the shooting world on its ear! This little cartridge offered shooters accuracy and velocity in an easy to shoot and affordable package. By chance, I was offered a great deal on an Anschutz 1717 D HB Classic. My local gun shop recommended that I top this rifle with the Burris 4-12X Ballistic Plex scope. This scope turned out to be a wise choice which paid dividends time and time again on Wyoming prairie dogs. My rifle shoots the Hornady 17 grain V-MAX bullet into sub-MOA groups at 100 yards. As with any rimfire try several brands of ammunition and bullet weights in your weapon to see which one shoots the best.
I was a pre-teen when the .22 WMR was introduced in 1959 and remember thinking that it was about the best thing since sliced bread. A close friend had a Winchester Model 61 pump action rifle and we wasted no time turning it on tough Texas jack rabbits and Colorado rock chucks. Compared with the .22 Long Rifle cartridges we had been using, this new rimfire magnum killed critters with authority! My current .22 WMR is a Clark/Ruger M77/22 sporting a heavy Walther barrel with match chamber. It is topped with a Leupold 2-7X rimfire scope and shoots better than I can hold under field conditions. Here in West Virginia and Virginia I use the Winchester 40 gain hollow point (HP) bullet to take ground hogs and tough old fox squirrels. In Wyoming I switch to Hornady 30 grain V-MAX bullets to gain higher speed and better trajectory. At 50 yards this load shoots into a ragged hole and is sub-MOA at 100 yards.
The new .17 Winchester Super Magnum appears to be a great cartridge on paper, but in all honesty I have never fired or owned one. Come to think on it, I have never even seen one at my local gun range either.
TIPS FOR RIMFIRE ACCURACY – Modern rimfire weapons and ammunition offer the shooter astounding levels of accuracy. However, there are steps the shooter can take to bring out the ultimate accuracy from their particular rimfire weapon.
Most rimfire rifles show a preference for certain types of ammunition. Try ammo from several different manufactures to see what shoots best in your weapon.
Once you find what ammunition your weapon prefers buy ammunition from that “lot” in quantity. For a prairie dog hunt with Tyler bricks of 500 are only a starting point!
Ballistic scopes offer the rimfire shooter real advantages when shooting at extended ranges and in the wind. Coupled with the use of a quality laser rangefinder they are a deadly combination!
GEAR – Here are observations which might prove useful as you plan your prairie dog hunt with Tyler.
The summer Wyoming sun can be brutal! I wear BDU pants and a light tan long sleeve shirt for protection from the sun. While I wear a baseball cap many other shooters I know favor a hat with full brim.
Uninsulated hunting boots offer more protection from twisted ankles AND cactus thorns than sneakers.
In my day pack I keep a compass, sun screen, bug dope, water bottle, sunglasses and the like.
High quality scopes, range finders and binoculars are always a good investment and money well spent.
CONCLUSION – If you love to hunt, love to shoot, and love the outdoors you need to schedule a western prairie dog hunt with Tyler Sims Outfitting. McFadden, Wyoming is a 1,700 mile drive from my home. The hunting, camaraderie, scenery, and great chow coupled with Tyler’s new lodge make the trip worthwhile!
NOTE; Parts of this article first appeared in the JUNE 2009 issue of FUR-FISH-GAME.