Hunting prairie dogs

by B.B. Pelletier


The black-tailed prairie dog dominates the Texas Panhandle pasture.

This past week I was in Lubbock, Texas, for two days with the television show filming a prairie dog hunt. We were guided by Jay White, a veteran airgunner who was gracious enough to invite the whole crew onto private land for the hunt. I won’t spoil the show by telling you how everything went; but since this was my first time hunting these animals, I would like to give you some of my observations as a newbie.

Different game = different tactics
I have always been a woodland hunter, feeling more at home in the trees and brush than the open lands we encountered in Lubbock. We hunted on an oil patch (flat open land with pumpjacks pumping oil), where cattle graze on open land too poor to sustain even a small herd with anything less than hundreds of acres. The prairie dogs build their mounded holes on such land because it affords them perfect visibility from danger. Imagine no trees, bushes or even tumbleweeds. Just low tufts of coarse grass that the sod poodles seem to love.


Pumpjacks like this are everywhere.

As a result of this empty terrain, the prairie dogs see you coming a long way off and know where you are at all times. There’s no such thing as stalking, though I did try walking on a zig-zag indirect line whenever I tried to close in on a particular dog. It was no use, though. They had a network of sentinels set up around the fields to warn them of any suspicious behavior, and apparently I looked like an Eskimo on a nude beach! They bark at you in short whistles that don’t let up until you either move away or scare them down their holes.


Prairie dog hole. There’s another hole at the upper left.

More power!
The other dynamic of northern Texas is wind. In fact, we passed hundreds of windmill generators on our way up to Lubbock, which sort of gives you the score. It was blowing a constant 15 m.p.h. on the first day of hunting, so some shooting corrections had to be made. If we shot into the wind, our pellets precessed sideways to the right and climbed; if we shot across the wind, we got several feet of drift at 80 yards, which was about as close as those whistle pigs let us get. If we shot downwind, the pellets went pretty straight, but so did our scent! There was no good place to be. I found myself wanting a flat-shooting .204 Ruger instead of the .22 Talon SS that had always seemed so powerful among the trees.

The problem with a powerful centerfire, though, is the houses and roads that ring the fields. Sure, they might be a mile away, but a centerfire can cover that much ground pretty quick. A pellet gun can’t shoot that far, so it’s the perfect tool–if you can get close enough to use it!

What range?
Another thing that threw me off my game was range estimation. In the woods, I’m usually able to guess within a yard or two out to beyond airgun range, but out in the open I’m lost. I estimated the range to a nearby pumpjack at 180 yards and was stunned when the laser rangefinder pegged it at 249 yards! Or the abandoned truck I felt was maybe 200 yards away until the rangefinder confirmed it was over 430 yards! Clearly, I was not the person to ask!

I mostly watched while others armed with Condors and one Sumatra shot at targets 100 yards away. We bagged a couple cottontails but no dogs to take home on the first morning. That evening, we hunted different land, where the bushes grew to above man height. They enabled us to stalk closer to the holes, and I dropped a dog offhand at 25 yards with the Talon SS. My first shot was low and sprayed sand in his face, so he ducked down the hole. Ten minutes later, he was back up. Shot two went over his head, and he ducked down again. During that time he was down, I walked up to about 25 yards and waited. The third time, I popped him square, and he went down for good.

Our guide dropped a dog that evening with his Sumatra, and the other hunters got shots at dogs as well. We saw plenty of large Texas jackrabbits, but they were always moving too fast to shoot. Often, they ran straight at us until they saw us, then veered away sharply.

The vegetation made this second place more ideal to hunt, for sure. We had planned to call coyotes, too, but a west Texas thunderstorm descended after an hour and ended our hunt abruptly. The rain persisted, making the ground too wet to continue that evening. The next day, we returned to the first place to finish the day. Though we saw a lot of dogs, they remained out of shooting range all day.

The irony was that when we went to lunch, there were prairie dogs on vacant land across the busy city street at less that 50 yards! They knew they were safe there and didn’t drop down their holes when people approached.

What I learned
Having never hunted prairie dogs before, I learned that they’re difficult to stalk. Most shooting will be long range, so have your most accurate pellet already sighted-in. And choose an airgun that can reach out! I felt hampered with the SS, but the Condors were clearly able to deal with the ranges we needed to shoot. I could have switched to a 24-inch barrel, but I didn’t think to bring it with me. Shooting sticks are a must for the longer shots. And a good pair of binoculars are essential for hunting these critters.

48 Responses to “Hunting prairie dogs”

  • CJr Says:

    BB,
    Enjoyed the report! You mentioned that shooting sticks are a must but are the bipods for the TalonSS any help at all or do they get you down in the dirt too much?
    -C

  • JP Says:

    BB, what kind of foot pound power range are you talking for these critters? Probably using .22′s and .25′s then, right? I’ve got similar size game here, so I need recommendations. JP

  • trollboy Says:

    Haven’t tried dogs with air rifles but I have chased them with a borrowed Low wall in .17 HMR and a tang/globe setup. No scope and it is with out a doubt the best time I have had taking on the little critters. Dare I say more fun than chasing tree rats?! Wish I could get the show on my cable system so I could see the big grins on everyones faces.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Chuck,

    The AirForce bipod is so low that you’ll shoot prone, but there are others that are long enough to shoot while sitting.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    JP,

    Twenty foot-pounds is more than enough for these small squirrel-sized critters. 12 will probably do.

    B.B.

  • wayne Says:

    B.B.

    Do you mean 12 foot lbs at 80 yards or at the end of the barrel?

    A 12 foot lb air gun won’t have much left at 80 yards…

    Wayne

  • Anonymous Says:

    B.B.

    Sorry to hear you did not have a more enjoyable experience. I live in Lubbock and while I have not hunted prairie dogs, I have several friends that are usually successful at it. The land where I shoot airguns is free of large rodents so I stick to plinking and target shooting.

  • Anonymous Says:

    nice post BB.

    I’m heading out to visit my son in Air Force in Wichita Falls end of the month. the info you gave will be used for sure. I can’t imagine getting 30 or 50 yards close though. I’m set up for 250 – 300yds. can’t wait!

    DSW

  • Mr B. Says:

    Good morning B.B.,

    A day afield with a gun and friends is always a good day! Would a ground blind have increased your odds?

    Mr B.

    Wayne, I’m interested in B.B.’s answer to your question also.

  • tunnel engineer Says:

    Help!
    OK. So, I am happily ahooting my Gamo Whisper at the range last weekend. I have put a total of maybe 3,000-4,000 rounds through it. Keep in mind this is my third Gamo Whisper, I returned the previous two due to mechanical issues, one was a broken spring.

    Suddenly, I feel that the resistance to cocking increases at about 3/4 of the way. I can still cock it though. I keep putting rounds through it and it seems to be firing just fine.

    At home, I open it up (remove the stock) trying to find a loose part, pebble, or something getting in the way but everything looks fine. I did notice that the spring did not have a constant pitch throughout. It seems to be more compressed toward the butt end. I run it through the Chrony and I am at 870-890 fps with Crosman Premier lights, which is at or below the lower end of the range of velocity values I was getting before. Typically I was getting between 890 and 930 fps (I have many dozens of data points)before this issue appeared.

    Question: Is the spring busted? (again?!?)

    If this happened again, well, I guess I will have to move into the $500+ guns, which may happen sometime in the next two years…

    Thank you
    T.E.

  • Anonymous Says:

    B.B.

    Sounds like fun. Have never had the chance to shoot prarie dogs. Wonder how my Falcon .22 or Jack Haley .25 would do on them.

    Al

  • Brody Says:

    Morning B.B.,
    Nice report. I have never hunted prarie dogs, but i would love to try. I have a Remington 700 in .22-250, that i think would do quite a number on the P-Dogs. If i eve get to go out west and visit my uncle who lives in new mexico, i would have to go hunting with him.
    Brody

  • kevin Says:

    B.B.,

    Great story and very insightful observations about these wary creatures that are a challenge to get close to unless you’re in the city where they’ve learned that they’re safe.

    Having a blind that you can walk with while it still surrounds you works wonders. So does moving up on them with an atv or other type of vehicle that they don’t seem to be threatened by. Anything that looks like a predator scares them into hiding for, most times, hours on end. If you don’t look like a predator and instead look like a truck, atv, blind, etc. you can get close enough for a shot.

    kevin

  • kevin Says:

    Matt61,

    Read yesterday where you’re still agonizing over your next airgun purchase. I can relate. Take a deep breath.

    You asked for some input on recoiless sidelevers, and specifically mentioned the diana 54, and got some great answers from Vince and Wayne. Let me add my 2 cents.

    I owned a diana 54 in .22 caliber with the t05 trigger. Great gun for power and accuracy. Never noticed the sidelever affecting leaning to the side as you mentioned reading about. Considering the 850 fps power in .22 cal the diana 54 was the most accurate springer I’ve shot.

    Since you mentioned hunting and benchrest I must echo what Vince said about weight. The 54 is a heavy gun for hunting especially if you scope it. Off hand target shooting, with a proper support, is tolerable but after awhile not fun. Sidelever vs. underlever is no different. You will take the gun out of the rest to cock it.

    Hope these tidbits help in your decision. Did I mention this was a heavy gun?

    kevin

  • Mr B. Says:

    B.B.,

    I went through the Armor School At Dort Knox in 1966. Were you there then?

    Mr B.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Speaking of the Sumatra, I have an M.I.T. precharged gun from Korea that looks an awful lot like a Sumatra. Is there any relationship between the companies and the rifles.

    I have never been able to find anything about the M.I.T. on the web.

    Anyone know anything about this gun.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Wayne,

    Whenever I give energy for hunting, assume it’s on target. So 12 foot-pounds at the target.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Mr.B.,

    What might have worked is the mirror blind people are now using. It reflects the land in front of the shooter, enabling him to get much closer.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Mr. B.,

    I taught in the Maintenance Management department from 1978-1981.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Tunnel Engineer,

    Yep, it sounds like a bent (canted) or broken spring.

    Have you considered a gas spring? They transform the Whisper into an entirely different rifle.

    B.B.

  • ajvenom Says:

    Sometimes, you need to have patience with prarie dogs. Being, down wind and be very very quiet helps a lot. Also, you you may want to pack a lunch or bring a 22-250. I use a .22LR rifle mostly. I hunt prarie dogs where there are few trees, but luckily I can usually find some small hills, valleys or ravines to use for cover.

    Some people I go with, will generally start out with .22LR, then move on to .223 then .22-250. As soon as they catch on you need a longer shooting rifle.

    If you are lucky to nail the chirping look out right away you will sometimes get more to come out to investigate. This works better if you circle their network with their look out down.

  • SER Says:

    BB and others. I have Big Cat 1200 and the scope has seen its last useful shot. I need to replace it with something that will last (I know thats open ended). I see the Leapers Mini swat that BB used in the big cat test and want to know if this is an appropriate scope for universal purposes or if there is something better suited. I like the variable adjustments. Keeping new rings and scope under 150 dollars is my goal. I have a single raccoon that is my prime objective right now. And then squirrels once my garden produces fruit.

    Thanks so much.

    (i posted in the previous blog but meant to add it to this one)

  • tunnel engineer Says:

    B.B.,

    yes. I considered it!! I would need to send to someone to get that done though, and I was waiting for the spring to break first…

    However, I was expecting this would happen after 9,000+ rounds and, frankly, I cannot understand that three identical Gamo rifles break down in a 6-month period. There is certainly a quality issue here. Maybe I should just accept my losses and move on…. (?)

    I will think about the gas spring. I wonder if Pyramidair would install it on a rifle purchased elsewhere.

    Thank you very much for your help!

    T.E.

  • SER Says:

    Under $100 would be more ideal though.

  • FRED Says:

    I’ve discussed with my bro who has worked at Picatinny Arsenal here in Dover, NJ since 1967. He believes he may be able to ship some 40 lb cratering charges out, normally used on runways, to handle the infestation of prairies dogs and the invasion currently going on at the Jane Hansen ranch. The only fly in the ointment, so to speak, is delivery from your position to target. Rocket engineer Jane may be able to help. :)

  • Fused Says:

    I just had a moment of clarity mixed with a hair brained idea. I’ll let you decide which is which.

    1. It finally clicked what I’ve read so many times on these posts. Accuracy/Best Gun depends on what your using it for. You guys are talking about hunting at 50-65 yards with relative power and accuracy. If I am sitting on a tree stump in my woods and hunting/plinking within 20 yards, power and accuracy is relative and just went way up (and price went down!)

    2. Has anyone ever used hot hands to keep CO2 cartriged warm while they’re in the gun (say a 2260?) It looks like there is a cavity in there where you could wrap a packet around the screw in rod and keep everything warm in cold weather. I know that the cartriges say not to heat above 120 deg and that is just about exactly what the hot hand packets are rated at.

    Just some thoughts…

  • derrick38 Says:

    Tunnel Engineer,

    The gas spring would be a nice upgrade for your Gamo. The Gamo rifles I’ve dug into all had very poorly fitted spring guides. Too small in diameter to support the inside of the spring and too short, allowing the springs to cant when compressed. That, coupled with a relatively inexpensive spring is a recipe for broken springs. I don’t mean to imply that only Gamo rifles have undersized spring guides–most spring piston guns have that issue. The Gamo’s are just worse than most other brands in that regard.

    An aftermarket trigger like a would also be a worthwhile upgrade. BB blogged about one here:
    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2007/12/testing-gamo-whisper-part-6-trigger-job.html

    If you WANT to keep a steel spring in the gun, Jim Maccari
    http://www.airguns.citymax.com/page/page/251327.htm
    has a couple that would fit your gun. They’re made from much better steel and should last you a decade or more. A new spring guide is mandatory to get the lifespan. and should be fitted to that particular spring. Any competent tuner can handle that.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Fused,

    Try electric sox! It has been done, and it works, but poorly. The problem is, once the gun starts cooling down, keeping the gas warm is a moot point.

    B.B.

  • FRED Says:

    My apologies to the Blog. It seems older brother has been transferred to something called “energetics”. I have no idea what this is and I doubt he will be able to tell me so on cratering charges for youse guys :).

  • Anonymous Says:

    B.B.

    I seem to remember from somewhere that open country makes distances appear longer. What does the .204 Ruger have to recommend it among the smaller centerfire calibers?

    Kevin, thanks for your comments. I seem to be able to agonize over guns without even the prospect of buying one anytime soon although you never know. Yes, I kind of freaked at B.B.’s initial report that sidelevers introduce a torque on the mechanism that will throw your shot to the right. But either this effect is too small to notice or it’s been compensated for with sight corrections because I haven’t noticed it either.

    Matt61

  • Fused Says:

    B.B.
    Is that because the gas is cooling and therefore contracting as it’s pushing the pellet out of the barrel? Seems intuitive that it would help a little, but not completely. Unless we wrap the entire gun in an electric blankie! Never mind, too far.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Matt,

    The .204 Ruger is a little flatter-shooting than many of the small .22 centerfires.

    There are others that are just as good, though.

    B.B.

  • shaky Says:

    Fused
    They make grip heaters for atv’s and motorcycles that wrap around the grips and fasten with velcro.They look like they would fit my 2240. Two draw backs they’re $45.00 and you need 12 volts to run them.

  • Fused Says:

    Shaky,
    Yikes, hot hands and duct tape!

  • Red Says:

    B.B , my old crosman 357 has been having problems with c02 lately. When I say old, I mean probably the first version of it. Its older then I am to put it simply. Whenever I put a c02 powerlet in it the gun leaks, the gun freezes itself. The air transfer port is covered in ice and c02 goes through the barrel. I can still fire the gun, but its going to fire the second a pellet is ready to fire. What is wrong with the gun ? (I know it has something to do with the valves.)

  • tunnel engineer Says:

    Derrick38,

    thank you. This means that whether I opt for the gas or the metal spring, I need to ship the rifle to get the work done, correct?

    I did install the GRT trigger and a Leapers scope and was excited about going out and shooting my “upgraded” rig… and this happens.

    It is a real pity because I really like the handling of the Gamo Whisper. Also, I have compared the noise it makes with other air rifles and it is really quiet and yields more of a low pitch thump, which was an important feature for me and my basement shooting.

    Thank you for all your help

    T.E.

  • FRED Says:

    TE,

    when I stopped at the NRA show in Phoenix a week or so ago, I had a chance to talk with the Gamo girl. I asked about problems with spring longevity. The response was there was a bad batch of springs but “that was quite a while ago”. Perhaps the spring issue hasn’t been straightened out yet?

    I would look at the RWS 34 if you want to stay with spring piston in the lower money range, if I was in your place. Otherwise, a gas piston retrofit or Macari spring if you really enjoy that Gamo.

  • BG_Farmer Says:

    BB,
    I was hoping you were relaxing on the p-dog hunt, perhaps shooting a simple c/f rifle from a comfortable position, but no, you have to go chasing them with an air rifle. Work-a-holic:).

    TE,
    No reason you can't put a new spring and guides (if required) in by yourself.

  • derrick38 Says:

    T.E.

    Looking at the Pyramyd website, I'd assume you're at least $425–$500 invested into the gun, trigger and scope and quite probably a lot more. Probably doesn't make sense to just walk away and start over.

    The gas spring is an interesting option for this gun. I think Pyramyd can do an installation for you. Why not call them tomorrow and ask?

    If you can install new rotors and pads on your car, I think you could install the gas ram. If your current spring is broken, you're less likely to need a spring compressor to disassemble the rifle. Then again, you said it's still firing at 870 fps, so it's still got some spring preload..
    There's a 12 part spring gun tune detailed here: Read this if you haven't already. You'll know then if you want to tackle that Whisper yourself.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2006/06/spring-gun-tuning-part-1.html

  • Ralph Says:

    BB,

    I noticed the Ballistol oil you recommend has been discontinued by Pyramid Air. I need something like it for the outer barrel of my old Diana Model 34. Is there something else you would recommend from PA, or should I look elsewhere for the Ballistol? Also, I need a good cleaning kit for a host of .177 rifles. Which ones would you recommend?

    Ralph

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Ralph,

    You can use Barricade from Birchwood Casey.

    http://www.pyramydair.com/s/a/Birchwood_Casey_Barricade_Aerosol_Spray_10_oz/2687

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Red,

    As old as your gun is, it's obvious the seals have failed. Here is a place that can fix it for you:

    Rick Willnecker in PA. Contact him at http://www.airgunshop.net/ or call 717-382-1481.

    B.B.

  • kevin Says:

    Ralph,

    What do you intend to clean in/on your "host of .177 caliber rifles"? The barrels?

    kevin

  • Ralph Says:

    Kevin,

    Yes, the barrels mostly. I've been reading so much about my favorite ammo "leading" barrels that I figured it was time to get a kit and some of this bore paste. I need the rod, brushes, mops, and cloth for barrels. Got any suggestions?

    Ralph

  • kevin Says:

    Ralph,

    Since you asked I have a suggestion that will be easy.

    Don't clean your barrels (unless accuracy has fallen off).

    I'm an old firearm guy and whether I ran one round through a gun or 5 boxes of shells through a gun I cleaned the barrel. I've learned airguns are different since it's primarily powder that fouls a barrel and since no powder exists in shooting an airgun you can leave the barrel alone.

    If your "favorite" ammo you're talking about are crosman premiers they may or may not have fouled your barrel. They need around 900+ fps to have the potential for fouling. Try lubing your premiers with Whiscombe Honey, FP-10 or something like krytech to counteract the fouling properties of the premiers.

    If accuracy has fallen off in your guns and you suspect fouling in the barrel, read this:

    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2005/11/is-your-airgun-barrel-really-clean.html

    You don't need a kit. Just a good coated rod (I like dewey rods), a brush, JB Bore paste, and some patches. A coating with tetra gun (like B.B. talks about in the article) is also good advice.

    kevin

  • Ralph Says:

    Thanks for the advice Kevin,

    Yes I use Crosman Premiers, and no, my accuracy hasn't fallen off. I thought I was just going to be proactive. I've never owned a kit or cleaned an airgun barrel and one of my guns (my Dad's actually, but I shoot it more often than he)is 25 years old. And since they aren't broke, I guess I don't need to try and fix them upon your advice. That's even better. Thanks again.

    Ralph

  • kevin Says:

    Ralph,

    I'd like to modify one thing I suggested.

    Just heard from a seasoned airgunner and he alleges some personal medical issues that he believes are related to the use of FP-10. If you intend to lube your crosman premiers, think about using the any of the other lubes just not FP-10.

    kevin

  • Anonymous Says:

    Sound like the big boys have something to learn. I hunt on the same land that you guys were, and have no problem with the wind. You get used to it and learn over time. A 30 foot pound gun is more then enough out to 75 yards in the wind!
    It is a waiting game, the dogs will come out if you wait, and do not make noise. BTW thanks for the invite!

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