One of the greatest challenges for a rifleman — and one that is so much fun it could almost be illegal — is shooting prairie rats. To hit a target that measures around 7 inches high and 3 inches wide (and that’s a big one!) at 300-400 yards in fickle winds that blow constantly is not only a test of shooting skill, but of one’s rifle and optics. In fact, optics are perhaps even more important because the properly-equipped shooter will have a binocular, a laser rangefinder, a spotting scope, and a good rifle scope with highly repeatable adjustments.
Of course any rifle of any caliber can be pressed into service, but hitting is a lot more fun than missing, and the more accurate the rifle, the more success you’ll have. An MOA rifle is almost mandatory if you expect to hit with even minimal consistency out beyond 300 yards, and that’s about the minimum range you’ll be doing most of your shooting.
My first exposure to this sport was some 40 years ago and I can recall setting up and shooting…a lot, for half a day without having to move. The rats were a lot dumber back then and they’d pop up all day at ranges as close to 25 yards from your bench. Even with a .22 LR or .22 Magnum you’d have plenty of shooting. There simply weren’t that many serious prairie rat shooters back then.
Today, unless you know a rancher and have exclusive access, for the most part that kind of shooting is long gone. Most landowners who have rat towns large enough to sustain hunting pressure lease shooting rights to professional outfitters who bring hunters in from all over the country. It’s gotten to be a fairly big business (I can visualize telling someone just 25 years ago that in the future you’d have to hire a guide to shoot prairie rats, they would have thought me daft!).
So, like I said, today what shooting you get — and it could still amount to hundreds of rounds on a good morning or evening — is pretty much long range stuff for which you need a very accurate rifle. I’m talking a half-minute or better. On my most recent outing this past July I had the opportunity to use just such a rifle — two in fact — courtesy of H-S Precision. I doubt there’s a single SCI member who’s not familiar with this prestigious rifle builder based in Rapid City. H-S manufacturers every component in its Pro-Series 2000 rifles; they even make all their own tooling, including chambering reamers. Having complete control of manufacturing and assembly, they are able to guarantee ½ MOA accuracy from their rifles.
The venue was the Buffalo Butte Ranch in Gregory, SD, a first-class facility smack in the middle of the best pheasant hunting in the nation. Owned and operated by the Springer family, during the summer months they host prairie rat shoots. Marshall and son Dillon are savvy gun people who really know how to put on a shoot for equally accomplished and discerning clients. For 500 bucks a day you get to stay in a beautiful 4000 sq. ft. lodge and enjoy wonderful meals, including wines and spirits. Just behind the lodge is a shooting range where you can zero-in and shoot at any distance you want out to 1100 yards! I was told that some really dedicated rifle weenies, especially if they hail from the east, spend hours on the range because back home they don’t have the opportunity to shoot at those distances.
After breakfast it’s off to any one of several ranches where the Springers have exclusive shooting rights. They set up revolving benches and clients are free to shoot as long as they want. If the shooting slows, they move you to another area. And so it goes for as long as you want to stay in the field.
This was my second visit to Buffalo Butte, and my reason for being there this time was twofold: to field test a prototype of a new H-S Precision rimfire rifle chambered for the .17 Winchester Super Magnum, and Swarovski’s new X5 line of super riflescopes, both of which will be available at about the time you read this. But I also had the use of H-S’s model VAR in .204 Ruger, which has replaced the .223 as my favorite p-rat caliber. I mean, the .17 WSM may be the hottest rimfire on the planet, but with most shooting being on the far side of 300 yards, the 17’s little 20 and 25-grain bullets are running out of steam at those ranges. It’s more like a 200-250-yard cartridge.
There are 16 different sporting and tactical models in the HSP’s Pro-Series 2000 line, but since there are so many options offered, virtually every rifle that goes out the door is a one-of-a-kind. The one I used had a heavy contour fluted barrel and reposed in an H-S tactical stock with adjustable comb and LOP. Using Federal’s 32-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip load at over 4,000 fps, this gun averaged .425” on the sighting-in session, and the hits I made in the field reflected that accuracy.
The Swarovski X5 scope that resided thereon represents a new generation for this iconic Austrian optics manufacturer. The X5/X5i (illuminated) incorporates a host of optomechanical advancements, particularly in the areas of accurate and repeatable adjustments and durability. At the heart of this entirely new turret design is a powerful coil spring that applies pressure to a lever that pushes the inversion (erector) tube against the windage and elevation screws. If you picture the elevation and windage adjustment screws at the 12 and 9 o’clock positions, respectively, the lever pushes against the erector tube from the 4:30 position. Conceptually, it’s no different than the way other scopes work, but the specific mechanics employed are unique. The result is that, once zeroed, it stays zeroed, and when you dial in a 1” correction, you get a 1” correction — assuming the rifle is accurate enough to reflect the change.
For this first year of availability two X5s are being offered: a 3.5-18×50 and a 5-25×56. Both are available in a choice of three reticles, illuminated or not.
As for the HSP’s new rimfire rifle, it too was impressively accurate, quite unlike my initial experiences with the .17 WSM. In a calm wind I was getting 100-yard groups under a half-inch, and first-shot hits well beyond 200 yards. And with the assistance of a spotter, out to 300.
When I first tested this hottest of all rimfire cartridges right after its introduction, the Savage B-Mag was the only rifled chambered for the .17 WSM, and the ammo was either pre-production or first-production run. In any case, I think Winchester has fine-tuned the ammo to where it’s now much more consistent velocity-wise, and that translates into accuracy. And there’s no shortage of that with this new H-S Precision rimfire. It’s a twin, rear lug action much like Ruger’s M77/22 and was designed specifically around the .17 WSM and its higher operating pressures, so this action can easily handle any other rimfire cartridge with ease. The example I had the use of was a prototype and a single-shot. Presumably, this rifle will be announced at the upcoming SHOT Show, and it will be a repeater.–Jon R. Sundra