I had the chance to do a varmint hunt in North Dakota the weekend before Memorial Day. The seven hour drive from Minneapolis took me through miles of farms and grasslands. North Dakota is one of the least populated regions of the continental USA and I’d been forewarned to stock up on supplies in Jamestown, 60 miles east of the ranch, as it was the last grocery stop on the way. I turned off the interstate and drove 10 miles down a paved country road, before turning off on a dirt ranch road for another few miles to the ranch.
The Rolling Plains Adventures lodge is based on a ranch property that has two smaller and well-appointed cabins, with a large lodge containing a bar and all the amenities, a wall sized flat screen TV and game room, along with rooms and bunks for another twenty guest. Corrals, outbuildings, and fenced pastures covering a couple hundred acres surrounded by grasslands as far as the eye could see sat across the gravel road
I brought the Fx Verminator in .25 caliber, and as I’ve written before in this blog it is a tack driver and one of my top picks for any small to medium game; it is powerful on the high power setting, it is accurate, and the 500cc air bottle provides a high shot capacity. In most hunting situations I’ll opt for accuracy first, power, compactness and handling characteristics third, and shot count barely registers on my radar screen. But when shooting target rich pest environments for prairie dogs or ground squirrels where you are probably going to have a couple hundred shot opportunities per day, the higher shot count moves up my requirements list. I also love the trigger on this rifle, believing it to be one of the best to be found on an out of the box hunting gun. And the 12 shot Royale style breech and magazine are perfect for this fast action style of hunting.
Prairie dogs are in the squirrel family, but are much larger, have short tails, and spend all of their lives on the ground, grazing the short prairie grasses and sitting on their burrows. The California ground squirrels I grew up shooting on the West Coast looked more like conventional tree squirrels, being about the same size and body shape with a long bushy tail and a gray color. Like the prairie dog they live in burrows, but they also like rock piles, blown down wood piles, and they will climb the lower branches of trees or fence post to keep a look out. The Richardson’s ground squirrels I was shooting on this trip were much more aligned to my picture of a ground squirrel, both in appearance and behavior. They had the small egg shaped bodies, short tails, and don’t leave the ground, but they are less than half the size. One area they diverge from prairie dogs is that the little ground squirrels feed voraciously on crops when available, and do considerable financial damage in the three or so months of the year when not hibernating.
The harvested fields and the fenced in pastures were covered in the burrows of these little rodents, and they were running all over the place. I parked the SUV and hopped out with the rifle and my shooting sticks, a tin of JSB Exacts tucked into my pocket. Sitting in the dirt road with my back leaning against the rear tire and the rifle on the sticks, I was locked in solid. The wind was blowing about 5 mph, as I dropped the crosshairs a mil dot down on the head of my first squirrel. I squeezed the trigger and watched the pellet fly by a half inch to the left of his head. I cocked the rifle without coming off the sticks and watched the second pellet I sent down range smack him hard. The rodent rolled a couple times before landing legs up, and he didn’t so much as twitch. Throughout the morning I shot about 50 of the critters at ranges of 50 to 125 yards, and the guns accuracy and shootability were really outstanding. At one point I knocked one down at 125 yards, swung to another at 75 yards dropping him, then dusted two more 50 yards out and 50 to the right of number two….. all in about two minutes! The Verminator is a fast cycling gun, and the Royal Breech and side lever action are really smooth.
I walked through a small grove of trees planted in rows between the road and a field of grain stubble, and sat down to glass the area. I pulled the Hawke ED binoculars out of my day pack and started to glass the field, and found a number of beady little eyes looking back at me from behind the dirt clods and clumps of knocked down grain. As I looked closer I say that there were some of the little stripped ground squirrels mixed in with the Richardson’s. I sat there for a couple hours shooting both kinds of squirrels, and knocked over the starlings that trickled in to land in the trees.
I spent a great few days hunting rodents during my downtime from predator hunting, before taking off for the drive home. This was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get back out here with my over/under when the bird season starts up, the number of pheasant and grouse was mind blowing! The accuracy that the FX guys are getting out of the smoothtwist barrels is something to experience…. I do love this gun.
On another topic, I’m going out tonight with the Wolverine. There have been several coyote sighting in the neighborhood in the last couple weeks, they seem to be coming in from the surrounding farms and are getting people nervous because they have been getting close to kids and pets and don’t seem too shy. Let’s see if that holds up when I get out with a gun in hand! Let you know how it goes.