I’ve often written that prairie dog shooting is some of the best practice possible for field shooting at big game. The targets are small, distances vary from close to as far as you wish to try, shooting angles vary, there are plenty of opportunities and their high plains habitat is rarely calm. You quickly learn wind deflection and how essential it is to find some way to get perfectly steady. Continue reading PANDEMIC PRAIRIE DOGS
“You’re right on with elevation, Rob, but about half-a-rat to the left,” I said, as I peered through the big Zeiss spotting scope. I was standing directly behind Rob Kislow’s wheelchair, which was nuzzled up to a shooting bench on which an H-S Precision .220 Swift was in the firm embrace of rabbit ear sandbags fore and aft.
“Hold just a tad more into the wind,” I advised, based on my best assessment as to where Rob’s first shot had impacted. A shuck of the bolt and a couple of seconds to reacquire the sight picture and the Swift barked again. A resounding “thwop” and a prairie rat doing a Flying Wallenda brought a huge grin to Rob’s face. As accomplished a rifleman as he was, this was his first prairie rat shoot, and he was thoroughly enjoying the experience.
When I wrote “wheelchair,” in the opening paragraph of this piece it was the only word that came to mind, but this was like no wheelchair I’d ever seen! Called the Action Trackchair, this thing is essentially a little D9 Caterpillar! Where normally a large rubber wheel would be at either side on a conventional wheelchair, this thing has tank treads. As for the chair itself, it tilts back and forth to adjust balance, and it can lift the occupant from a sitting position to a fully standing one. Obviously, it’s a highly specialized product designed to provide mobility in the outdoors for people with various types and stages of physical disability.
As a member of the 82nd Airborne, Rob Kislow III was severely wounded in Afghanistan in June of 2005 in a close quarters firefight with the Taliban in a village near the Pakistan border. Rob, who was 19 at the time, was shot in the arm, leg and head, with the latter resulting in traumatic brain injury. When he was finally released after spending 2 1/2 years in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he had undergone countless surgeries, physical and mental rehabilitation, he had lost his lower right leg and the major bones in his right forearm. Doctors say it is a remarkable recovery to where he now gets around on his prosthetic leg as well as you or I. Before entering the service, Rob was an avid hunter with both rifle and bow, and organizations like Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) make it possible for him and other wounded vets like him to return to the sport they love.
Anyway, our venue for this p-rat shoot was the Buffalo Butte Ranch in Gregory, SD–an operation nationally known for its superb pheasant hunting, but during the summer months conducts highly productive prairie rat shoots. Rob’s presence was arranged by HAVA, a non-profit organization dedicated to aiding disabled soldiers as
they transition back to civilian life. Their goal is to increase veterans’ confidence and hope by reconnecting with their love of the outdoors and the American traditions of hunting and shooting. As supporters of HAVA, H-S Precision and Zeiss supplied the rifles and optics for this event, and Hornady, who was a Founding, and now a Sustaining Member, provided the ammo.
Talk about a kid in a candy store! Rob’s eyes lit up when he saw 8 H-S Precision rifles of different caliber and model from which to choose. As most SCI members are aware, HSP is unique among American rifle makers in that they manufacture all the components that comprise their Pro-Series 2000 rifles–the barrel, action, bottom metal and stock. They therefore have complete control over all aspects of design, production, assembly, and quality control. They are but one of a very few barrel makers that employ cut rifling, where each groove is incrementally cut one at a time. Often referred to as hook rifling, it’s the one method that puts no strain on the barrel and thus requires no stress relieving either before or after rifling and contouring. Also, with the cut rifling process, the customer can specify the rate of twist because that parameter is set before each barrel is rifled. And whereas buttoning and hammer forging can rifle a barrel in a couple of minutes, it takes about an hour to cut-rifle one, so 8 or 9 barrels per shift is all H-S can produce. Currently running two shifts a day, and one on weekends, delivery time for a Pro-Series 2000 rifle is running 10 months, yet they will not change the way they produce a rifle. I guess that’s why they were the first to offer a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee in any caliber of .30 or less.
Anyway, Rob chose to use that .220 Swift I mentioned at the outset; it was the VAR model, which features a heavy contour fluted barrel. This particular gun wore a black/white zebra stripe stock and a Zeiss Conquest 6.5-20×50 scope. For most of the two-day shoot I used a Model HTR chambered in .223 Rem., which is one of nine variations in the company’s extensive tactical rifle lineup; however,
I eventually got to shoot one rifle in each of the four calibers we had on hand–.204 Ruger, .223 Rem., .22-250 and .220 Swift. All were superbly accurate using the Hornady ammo provided. My favorite p-rat load in .223 is the 40-grain V-Max that exits the muzzle at 3800 fps. Zeroed just 1.5” high at 100 yards, it’s 5.5” low at 300.
There’s a 35-grain NTX load that exits at 4000 fps that shoots even flatter, but we did not have that load at our disposal.
I should mention here that special-spec versions of the HTR line are used by the FBI, BATF and the Israeli Defense Forces and are built to the same standards as the“civilian” one I was using. Pretty impressive credentials I’d say!
Being mid-July it was fairly late in the season and the lil’ varmints were scarce, not so much as the result of shooting pressure, but the severe drought that has dogged much of the western states this past year. “Normally, we still have fairly good shooting this time of year,” said Buffalo Butte’s owner, Marshall Springer, “but this drought has really thinned the numbers. Same with the deer and antelope.”
Nevertheless, we still had enough shooting to keep us occupied. It didn’t take Rob long to get a feel for the trajectory and wind deflection of the 60-grain V-Max load he was using in the Swift, and he was soon hitting rats out to 300 yards or so with regularity. Of course having the use of Zeiss’ new Conquest binoculars to spot targets with, and their Victory LR laser-rangefinding binoculars to range with, helps make that kind of shooting possible. We even had two of the Victory FL 20-75×85 Diascopes for spotting. I wouldn’t want to carry one of those scopes on a sheep hunt ‘cause yes they’re big, and yes they’re heavy, but using a spotter of this quality really spoils you!
After five sessions afield, Rob was shooting like a seasoned p-ratter. With all the scopes having Zeiss’ Rapid Z ballistic reticles, he also quickly learned to the hold-over and hold-into values of the hash marks relative to the Swift’s trajectory. Like me, Rob managed to try all 8 guns that were available to us, but kept gravitating to that .220 Swift he started with. He managed to pull off some pretty amazing shots with that gun when I was spotting for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has since cut a deal with H-S Precision’s Sales/Marketing guy, Josh Cluff, and that that rifle is now in Rob’s gun cabinet back in Danielsville, PA.– Jon R. Sundra