“This whole area is full of Prairie Dogs” said Paul as we met between the rear of his pickup and the front of my SUV in the hot settling dust of a Wyoming August afternoon. Sweeping his arm across the western horizon, he said, “From here to the far fences belong to this ranch and you are welcome to shoot as long as you want. Just be aware that they have cattle and natural gas crews working everywhere so watch the background. You won’t many ‘dogs outside where there are grassland grazing or hay circles”.
Paul, who works for one of the companies building roads, reservoirs and pipe lines from the Natural Gas wells to major pumping stations, was right. There were prairie dogs feeding, watching, and playing games almost everywhere we looked. As my eyes became more attuned to the area, mounds and prairie dogs seemed to emerge from the afternoon heat as if by magic.
Turning to my partner, Ken Coleman, I said, “Let’s get our rifles out and show Paul what we are shooting”. The hard rifle cases were extracted from the confines of the Santa Fe, opened and the rifles uncased. Plastic ammo boxes were handed out and we were ready to shoot. “There is one there, Ken, take him”. I wanted Ken to have the first kill of the hunt as this was his first venture into the wilds of Wyoming and prairie dog shooting.
Ken had chosen to use the Thompson Center Encore action with a brand new 5MM Craig barrel on it. Slipping a 5MM Craig cartridge into the rifle and centering the 4.5x14 Nikon scope, Ken squeezed off our first shot of the hunt. The 30 grain Berger bullet pushed by 5.2 grains of Accurate #9 powder ripped out of the barrel at about 2200fps. Dog Down! And the hunt was on.
Ken and his first Prairie Dog holding the TC Encore 5MM Craig
I handed Paul a Remington M591 with a box of our cartridges. Ken had his laser rangefinder out and was marking range points for us to reference from. “The point of the sagebrush is 235 yards, it is 414 yards to the back bush line” Ken called out. “Big mound directly in front is 135 yards”. The wind was quartering from our left.
Since two of the 5MM Craig rifles were in use, I took an Encore with a Ruger .204 barrel on it, “I’ll pick up the back ones” I told the Ken and Paul as if anyone was really cared. I filled the chamber with a Hornady 40 grain V-Max topped cartridge, spot, sight Squeeze, shot high. The one really nice thing about either of these 20 caliber rifles was that there is so little recoil; you can see the bullet strike through your scope. Reloading and holding dead on I took a second shot. Dog Gone! Load, locate, aim squeeze and the dogs are done, some with spectacular results. We very soon realized that the hood and bed of the of the pickup was so hot from the engine and summer sun that we needed to use jackets to rest our arms on. During this lull in shooting and having noticed the difference in muzzle blast between the rifle he was using and the one I had, Paul asked what I was shooting and we soon traded rifles.
Plenty of Targets
Taking the Remington 591 that we had converted to the 5MM Craig Centerfire I began scoping the pasture for Prairie Dogs. This is what they might call a target rich environment. After shooting several that were in the 50 to 100 yard range, I began to look for opportunities further out. Grazing Prairie Dogs out to about 150 yards were usually a one shot deal. Those that were standing extended the range nicely to 225 yards. The biggest problem we all shared was under estimating how flat the 5MM Craig shots, so most misses were overshot. While the fickle Wyoming Breezes were pretty calm, we certainly had to watch for changes in speed and direction for the longest range shoots, but mostly we just shot and shot again. Extending the range a little more was just learning where to hold. I believe that we all made one shot kills out to 325 yard mark with the 5MM Craig.
I was single loading this magazine-fed rifle as there was not time to reload a magazine and as I ran through the various bullets we were testing, most were seated out too far to fit the magazine anyway. I found this rifle, like the other 5MM Remington Magnum rifles I have shot, handled a wide variety of bullets, placing them all very close together. We had loaded up several hundred cases with Berger 30 and 35 grain JHP bullets as well as a hundred rounds each of Hornady VMax 32 grain and 40 Grain bullets and Sierra’s 32 grain BlitzKing plastic tip. We also had about 300 rounds of 32 grain bullets that we had made in our shop. All the cases were charged with 5.2 grains of Accurate #9 powder except those with the Hornady VMax 40 grain bullets which were loaded with a straight 5 grains of #9.
We had several goals in mind when we planned the trip to Wyoming. One was to field test as many .204 bullets as we could. Another was to really look at the 5MM Craig in other rifles than the Remington’s. Could this cartridge fill a niche that would interest shooters into buying new rifles? To that end we had brought with us a Thompson Center Encore fitted with a 20” long 1” diameter bull barrel set up for the 5MM Craig. It was topped with a 4.5-14X Nikon scope. Another quest was how to the two .204 cartridges, the Ruger .204 and the 5MM Craig, compare in actual use. We also had one Remington Rifle setup with a dual firing pin for both Rimfire and centerfire and a small amount of original 5MM Remington Magnum Rimfire ammo. Unfortunately the dual firing pin needs more work as the Rimfire cases were pierced, so we quit using that rifle for this trip. More work will be done on it this winter.
Here Paul and Ken work over a prairie dog town.
Far too soon, Paul had to go back to work, leaving Ken and I to roam the pastures and ranch roads. I had planned on being very careful and recording all our shooting with some science in mind but that soon flew out the window with the opportunity of prairie dog after prairie dog presenting challenging targets. After moving a couple of times we were on our agreed last exploration as we drove North up a road to one of the natural gas well water settling pits that was being built to control the outflow of water from the wells. Finding no prairie dogs and several people around the equipment we turned around and headed out.
Here Ken is shooting on our last pasture for the evening. The far power line pole in the pasture is 295 yard from Ken. If you look just in front of it you can see the dust from a prairie dog shot at about 275 yards from our position on the private farm road and legal to shoot from. This pasture was just loaded with ‘dogs. We shot here for almost two hours and still had ample targets popping up but more carefully than when we first stopped.
While this shot seems to be of nothing more than a few distant prairie dogs, notice the difference in the color of the grassland. The darker grey ground are areas that are intensely inhabited by Prairie Dogs. The greener light colored areas have been only grazed by cattle. These rodents’ dens endanger horses and cattle if they run across the areas so infested. It is best not to handle the prairie dogs as they are carriers of Tularemia. You can see why the ranchers are willing to have you shoot on the property.
The next morning we moved to another ranch and this time I was going to try to do some real field testing. We found that these collapsible work benches from Home Depot made very handy shooting tables. One we modified for a reloading bench. The two hand grenade cases hold all of our reloading and shooting gear as well as make pretty good benches to sit on. Anywhere you can see green grass in this picture there were prairie dogs.
Here I am assembling some test loads. Size, Prime, fill with powder, seat the bullets and then pick up a rifle and look for a target. I had one rifle with a test dual firing pin that we are working on thus the box of original 5MM Remington Magnum cartridges. To be honest I had never shot the 5mm as a Rimfire until this trip. Anyway the dual firing pin shows promise but needs more work.
The Reloading Bench. I like to use the old Bedding and Muhler powder measure for these light loads as I can see the powder charge before I dump it into the case. The Lee hand press is just plain handy for reloading the 5MM Craig in the field. I brought both presses because I was not sure how well the Lee press would work over a long period of reloading. It did just fine. If I had had a week I might have made it through all of our purposed tests. In the Herter’s box is a digital scale that was to sensitive to wind to be used in this exposed setting. I had to be careful with the RCBS scale and the breeze also.
Some prairie dogs we could not shoot. We moved from one area of the pasture to another so we would not disturb this fellow and his two friends.
Only to have him walk right into our test area and bedded down in front of our Chronograph. I had to walk out and spook him off so we could continue to test.
From in front of the firing line on my way back from dealing with the antelope. We had a Chrony Chronograph setup out front so were testing velocities as well as some new cases which we are working on for you.
Baer with us as I learn this "simple Web Builder???"