Prairie Doggin’ on the Northern Plains

It’s not perfectly flat, but you can see for miles. The Northern Plains is the result of a once inland sea. Eons of heavy soil deposits, remains of pre-historic dinosaurs, decayed vegetation have come together to produce a fertile grassland pockmarked with some foothills. Waterways have carved canyons and slowly gnaw away at the topsoil and occasional stone, sending it on a long journey that terminates in the Gulf of Mexico. The dinosaurs that once roamed here gave way eventually to the bison and Native Americans. They had a rather decent symbiotic relationship until the Europeans invaded and drove both of them to the brink of extinction. The bison have been relegated to a handful of private ranches and some national grassland areas. Most of the Native Americans live on reservations—sovereign land—and have adapted fairly well to modern times. Oil and natural gas—dinosaur remains—have drawn the energy seekers to this region. But what drew me were the prairie dogs.

Longtime amigo in all things hunting and guns, Alan Roberts, is up on the Northern Plains chasing oil dollars. Alan is also a rather obtuse—a term of affection and endearment—varmint shooter. He’s not content with traditional rifles like the .223 and .22-250 Remington. No, Alan is enamored with cartridges like the .17 Fireball. His “heavy” variminter is a Savage in .204 Ruger. But while the obscure cartridges catch and hold his fancy, he does tolerate bucolic rednecks like me with my more traditional chamberings. So a couple of weeks ago I made a six-hour drive to visit him, along with another obtuse varminter, Dave Jherpe, of Sacramento, California. Dave likes popping ground squirrels a lot, but the opportunities for such recreation and conservation are diminishing in the Peoples’ Republik of Granola, hence the pilgrimage to the Northern Plains.

I arrived at Alan’s place just as an afternoon gully-washer of a storm hit. It was just enough to soak me and my dogs in the few seconds it took to escape from truck to house.

Alan had done some scouting and found a rather large prairie dog town—on the order of a thousand acres—that had not ever really been shot. I know, I know…Awww! So we made the trip, and after securing our licenses got to the town just as the wind turned from breezy to an all-out gale.

Like a lot of us, Alan believes that anything worth doing is worth doing it to excess. A few years ago he put together a varmint-shooting trailer. This trailer is 14 feet long and 108 inches wide. Atop it he put together a canopy off an old military deuce-and-a-half for shade. The tarp is a little worse for wear after the years, but it still works. He also fashioned some outriggers to stabilize the shooting platform. Then Alan made a pair of shooting benches that rotate freely on reclaimed boat trailer wheel hubs and bearings. Everything is adjustable so you can customize it to your preference.

Typically we eschew regular rifle rests in favor of adjustable bipods. They’re just about as steady as a dedicated rest, and they can be adjusted much quicker. I started with my Sinclair International Tactical bipod but soon found that with the wind threatening to blow everything not deeply anchored in the dirt off the prairie, Alan’s F-Class Bipod, also from Sinclair International, was a better choice. It looks like something from a kid’s erector set, but its wide footprint made a big difference in trying to steady my rifle in the wind.

Another field adaptation I had to make was on my Savage Model 12 LRPV. The comb was too low for a decent cheek weld, so in typical redneck fashion I simply taped a folded towel to the comb. One of my winter projects will be making a permanent cheekpiece for that rifle. I also found that with a single shot that an ejector isn’t needed. Moreover, it’s a pain in the butt trying to restrain empties from flying all over the place. I’ve already removed the ejector and spring and replaced it with a solid 3/32-inch rod that’s flush with the bolt face. You’ll laugh, but I simply took a piece of 3/32-inch welding rod, cut it to length and dropped it in. Now when I withdraw the bolt the case sits politely in the receiver where I can pluck it out and put it into the spent case section of my Dillon Precision Border Shift ammo bag.

One of the new things I tried out on this trip is my new video camera. Trying to video anything outdoors in a three-day gale is akin to trying to winky-tink up a rope. Anyway, this is my very first attempt at videoing and editing. I know it’s rough. I’ll also tell you in no uncertain terms that trying to video yourself is a…well…shall we say politely, a trying endeavor. I’ll keep after it and hopefully smooth it out. Learning by the seat of your pants makes for a tough curve. And yes, I got a load of the hair and have since shorn what one buddy said was my Unibomber look.

Hope you enjoy it.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”

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