Prairie dog hunting has always been a good time. But this time would be different. This time I’d be living the #SHWATlife!
My hunting life started as soon as I could keep up with my Dad and his friends. Dad started me out sighting in a rifle with iron sights. I was five years old in 1956 when used a sawhorse as a platform and pillows as padding to adjust for alignment of the rifle to the target with a pellet gun. Later I learned zeroing the iron sights to 100 yards. Any shorter or longer distance required a “hold over” or “hold under.” The presence of wind would cause a “hold left” or “hold right” to hit the target. Not exact by any means, but somewhat effective. There was one way to improve; it was time to embrace the latest trend in shooting accuracy back then, by purchasing a riflescope.
The 4X magnification greatly improved accuracy and longer distance shots became commonplace. However, my scope still lacked some accuracy because it was a plain crosshair reticle, no hashmarks to reference anything. So even with the addition of the riflescope, I had to adjust with the same old “hold over”, “hold under”, “hold left” and “hold right” during shooting. I purchased several rifles and scopes over the years but none even close to the tech that can be had today.
And it’s not just scopes that evolved, either. This invitational hunt featured Sig Sauer optics, Browning rifles, Silencerco and others. Here’s my takeaway:
Sig Sauer Electro-Optics
The relatively new BDX (Ballistic Data Exchange) System uses Bluetooth technology connecting a Smartphone, rangefinder, riflescope and binocular (with a built-in laser rangefinder). This tech suite delivers some of the latest – and greatest – technology to shooting accuracy out to 800 yards. With your gear paired via Bluetooth, you input your ballistic data and environmental factors into the phone app. Range your target and the result is a red dot in the scope that automatically moves to “zero” for the target. No looking for hashmarks, no hold over, under, left or right! Just put the red dot on the target and fire.
I immediately noticed the faster target acquisition and improved accuracy with the red dot versus my prior scopes. Our target prairie dogs popped up at distances ranging from 50-670 yards. All of us shooting showed a significantly larger numbers of “hits” with an estimated success rate of 70%-80%. And this in spite of shooting during swirling 10-20 mph winds and a rainstorm. My personal best shot, 515 yards, was the farthest I have ever attempted and I had too many hits in the 300-500 yard range to remember. sigsauer.com For a deep dive into the BDX system, take a look at this British video:
Browning provided several X-Bolt Max Varmint rifles in the .223 caliber. These proved accurate and comfortable to shoot. With 15 of us rotating on the 8 rifles, I was impressed by the adjustability of the comb and length of pull that gave an effective and comfortable fit for each of us. It positively amazes me that the rifles maintained their accuracy after a couple hundred rounds, heated fluted bull barrels and no barrel cleaning at all.
I carried a rifle one afternoon while attempting to call coyotes but the 9 pound weight reduced my enthusiasm for the hunt. Still, these are incredible rifles that are enjoyable and comfortable to shoot with a smooth working bolt and trigger pull. In my opinion, these accurate rifles are best used as target/varmint guns from a shooting bench. browning.com
Never before have I hunted with a silencer. I’ve never owned one nor previously understood what it takes to acquire one (besides the moderate cash outlay). I confess, learning of the 8-12 month approval process to own a suppressor surprised me. Silencerco brought enough “universal fit” Omega model suppressors to equip every rifle. This is the lightest, shortest, quietist, full auto rated, centerfire rifle silencer on the market…the best selling rifle silencer in history they tell me.
What a relief, not stuffing earplugs in our ears or putting on awkward headsets! The suppressor did its job. With eight rifles continuously firing we still maintained a lively conversation level. As evidenced by our shooting success, accuracy was not affected. I put an Omega on my Christmas wish list! silencerco.com
DOA Tactical Benches
For this type of shooting (in my experience) benches beat tripods, laying in the dirt, etc. Two other shooters and I shared a DOA bench. Our heights varied from 5′ 1″ to 6′ 2″ and our weights from 110 pounds to 220 pounds. DOA includes the adjustable seat with the bench, so no folding chair required! Alternating turns we obviously had to adjust that seat a good bit on a regular basis. Easy enough, just pull a pin, raise or lower the seat and insert the pin into a new slot. The process is a quick and easy process with 25 vertical inches to play with and 360 degrees of horizontal rotation.
Using the bench, at least for me, felt recoil on the gun was noticeably reduced. This contributed to more comfort while pulling the trigger and enabled longer periods of shooting. The rifle remained in place after each shot, resulting in fewer aiming adjustments and quicker follow-up shots. Durable construction using14 ply maple or birch for the table top in conjunction with solid steel for the rest of the bench makes for a solid base to shoot from. It also explains my feeling of dampened felt recoil. The bench weighs in at 75 pounds. doashootingbench.com
I own two models of Phone Skopes. They allow you to attach a smartphone to a spotting scope or riflescope. The phone sees what you would normally see through the optic so you can photograph or video accordingly. You can zoom in, just as you normally would when using your phone’s camera. For this event, scopes, adaptors and smartphones were connected and close-up videos were taken of animals out to 600 yards. If you are on a budget and can’t afford a serious camera and separate telephoto lenses (or just don’t want to cary all that around!), this is a viable and affordable alternative. phoneskope.com
As evidenced by the number of overindulged ravens, eagles, hawks and coyotes eating the varmints, the intent to reduce the population of prairie dogs with a highly effective and efficient “shooting system/kit” proved a total success. “Fun, educational and effective,” describes the whole experience nicely. The “shooting system/kit” that each vendor assisted in constructing was highly successful. All components, whether part of a system/kit or not, were of high quality and function and I recommend them without reservation.
About the Author: Mike Forney has hunted, guided and explored much of the high country. He’s know for calling skills, from Coyotes to bull Elk.