While varmint hunting may not be the first thing one thinks of as tactical training, there are plenty of lessons to be learned in the field that can help your defensive plan.
At a recent writers event with Bushnell, we were presented with a long-range instruction using existing products and a new viewer (check this space for information later this year). We also used quite a few Bushnell optics chasing the elusive (actually ubiquitous) prairie dog in the fields and hills of southern Wyoming. As I scoured the landscape for targets of opportunity and took careful aim, I was amazed at how many skills on the field could be applied to the realm of self-defense.
Sure, prairie dogs don’t pose much of a threat to the average person. We’re not likely to eat one (they can carry plague, royal plague, bubonic, so I’d advise against), and apart from the horsemen amongst us, we’re unlikely to take any harm as a group. result. However, if you get a chance to thin the ranks of this farmer’s doom, there are a few lessons to help you in your defensive plan.
Selection of equipment for vermin hunting
As the expression goes, the task drives the gear train. When choosing equipment for vermin hunting, home defense, or self-defense away from home, select the best equipment for the task. If that sounds simple, well, it is. We had three opportunities to reduce the vermin population during my stay in Wyoming, so I went with three different settings.
First, we were checking out a series of prairie dog towns where there would be plenty of opportunities within 100 to 200 yards or so. I opted for the Bergara BXR semi-automatic .22 LR equipped with a Bushnell – Elite Tactical DMR3 3.5 – 21X scope. This allowed for quick engagement for closer targets and high magnification for viewing the farther edges. Next, we were going to go long range, so a Savage MSR-15 with a Bushnell Elite 4500 4-16X scope was the pick of the day. Lastly, we chose to engage small targets both at close range and from 50 to 100 yards; for that, we selected a Ruger 22/45 pistol with a Bushnell RXS-250 red dot for close-up work and a Ruger Precision Rimfire rifle. with Bushnell Rimfire 3-9X illuminated reticle sight for longer shots.
Our personal and home defense firearms and optics should be chosen with a similar fit to the task in mind. Few would go for a .300 Win. magazine a bolt-action rifle for home defense or a 10-inch revolver for concealed carry; While we might be capable of wargame scenarios where these options might be necessary, it’s much more reasonable to go for gear that suits the most likely threats, not the outliers.
While it’s quite a different thing to look for a prairie dog in a field than it is to keep an eye out for bad actors, it’s not as different as you might think. Looking out over a field, the signs of prairie dogs are unmistakable: large mounds of dirt, holes, small prairie dog heads sticking out of the ground, etc. However, spotting dogs can be more difficult than you think. It’s similar to being in a dark parking lot or a poorly lit alley – these are the areas where we definitely need to be on our toes. However, in the middle of the day at your local supermarket, the alert level might not be as high. Whether looking for targets of opportunity or trying to avoid being a target of opportunity, awareness is key.
We have all seen the images of prairie dogs peering out of their holes, looking around; However, once the action begins, it’s different. It’s often a target of opportunity where a prairie dog or gopher is running from burrow to burrow, and you need to spot the target quickly, track it, set up the shot, and most importantly, make sure your backing is solid. Many opportunities had to be missed because a missed shot (or pass) could endanger something further away.
We are the good ones. If the unthinkable happens and the hidden bearer needs to defend himself, he should consider a backup. Criminals are not burdened by Rule Four. Just as you shouldn’t shoot a prairie dog with a pasture full of cows behind you, a bad actor at home or on the street can have innocents after him. Proper shot placement and identification of the entire shooting range is of paramount importance no matter where you are.
Abilities and Limitations
I’ll be the first to admit that my skills with a pistol are, well, let’s just say Rob Leatham has nothing to worry about. I’m not going to take a 100-yard shot at a 6-inch tall ground squirrel, because all I’m going to do is waste ammo. With a rimfire carbine or a bolt-action rifle? I’ll hit 200 yards or so. With centerfire rifles, I’ve shot prairie dogs at almost 400 yards, but the penalty for missing is just a little joke from my fellow hunters. Not making a shot in the field means that you take a little foolishness. Obviously, it is much more serious for self-defense.
A critical component is knowing the point of impact (POI) of your firearm. If you are using iron sights, where does the point of interest start to diverge from the front sight? With red dots, what is the zero? If it’s a 10 yard zero for a gun mounted optic, what is the POI at 25 yards or 50 yards? For a rifle with a telescopic sight, the offset must be taken into account for short-range shooting at precision targets. Knowing your team inside and out isn’t just a good idea, it’s critical. Before I went on any of the varmint hunting outings, I personally checked where my rifle or pistol hit at 50 yards for rifles and 25 yards for pistols.
There is a lot to learn every time you embark on a shooting endeavor. Whether you’re laying orange clay on the berm, reducing the local vermin population, slaughtering a deer for meat, or taking a class to improve your self-defense skills, know your equipment and its limitations and be prepared to learn, always. Be careful, be careful, and have fun (and believe me, hunting vermin is all kinds of fun!)