Prairie Dog Conference 2000

Once again, “A great time was had by all!” This was my third PDC. As we did last year and the year before, my friend Paul Picard, drove up from Florida to Massachusetts and a few days later we headed west. This year we had a “new guy” with us. Another friend of ours, Paul Chaves. Somehow Paul got himself invited so we took him along. The two Pauls worked together as police officers for many years. The police stories just kept coming! Very entertaining.

The last two years Paul and I were able to fit everything we needed in a sport utility vehicle. I knew months ago that with three folks this wouldn’t be possible. Back in February I decided to build a trailer. But this wouldn’t be just any trailer. This would be a “Varmint Hunter Hauler”. Off road capable, security for the firearms and ammo, and have the ability to carry everything we would possibly need at highway speeds. Well as things usually happen, I got it finished just a few days before we left. In fact, the night before we were to leave was the first time it was ever towed behind a vehicle! Paul Picard had come over to drop off some equipment. I suggested to him that it might be a good idea to see how this trailer tracks before we start a 5000 mile trip. We hooked it up and drove over to Paul Chave’s house. It towed great and we decided we would just fill it up with about 800 pounds of gear (including a small fortune in rifles) and head off in the morning. As it turned out, the trailer worked great! Not a single hitch in over 5000 miles. I recommend it highly.

The ride cross-country was nearly uneventful. Whenever Paul Picard and I take one of our trips together we always seem to have at least one moment when we nearly run out of gas. So this time I installed a 5 gal jerry can on the trailer for emergency fuel. Our trip out west took us through Pennsylvania. I’ve always wanted to do a bit of exploring along the NY and Pennsylvania border. Great woodchuck fields up there. Well, we started driving a bunch of back roads and all at once my low fuel buzzer goes off in the Durango. We’re out in the middle of nowhere. Haven’t passed a town, never mind a gas station, for miles. I look at Paul, Paul looks at me with that look of ‘ OH NO!’. But then he remembers, ah, we have ’emergency fuel’ with us this time. I just keep on driving. Paul says, ‘Aren’t you going to pull over and use the gas can?’ I nonchalantly reply, ‘ I would, if I had filled it!’ I thought he was going to kill me! We were on fumes by the time we reached a station. Ya gotta love it!

The trip from Massachusetts to Valentine took three days. It’s 1886 miles and 28 hours of driving, but we took our time. Even stopped at a gun show in Iowa.

Once on the Rosebud we spent the first day scouting. We found our old favorite spot from two years ago and a few new ones. Tuesday morning found us out on the prairie ‘having at it!’ Conditions were excellent. Little wind, cool temperatures, and tons of dogs. This is only Paul and my third year prairie dogging, and without a doubt there were more dogs this year than the last two. We never had a moment during the five days of shooting were there weren’t targets available. Fantastic shooting!

I had a few new rifles to try out and a light wind day like this was perfect for ‘testing’. The first rifle needing a wringing out was a Cooper 21 Varmint Extreme in 221 Fireball. I topped it off with a B&L Elite 4200 6-24 scope and loaded up some 40g Nosler Ballistic Tips over a bit of Reloader 7. Excellent accuracy. But not a very good PD round in my estimation. It doesn’t shoot flat enough and the little 40-grain bullets at the speed a Fireball can spit them out are just too wind sensitive. I told Paul, as soon as I get home this rifle will be in the lathe and a 223 Ackley reamer will be run into the chamber!

The next in line was a CZ-527 American in 222 Remington. If you’re not familiar with this particular rifle, it is a wonderful walking around, bolt action, mini Mauser. It comes from the factory with a beautiful 6oz set trigger and retails for about $450. I topped this little honey off with a Burris 4-12 Compact and used my favorite 222 load of Vit 133 under a Nosler 40g Ballistic Tip set off with a Remington 7 ‘ primer. This particular rifle is amazingly accurate! It rivals some of my full-blown heavy barrel varmint rifles. And what a difference a few hundred feet per second makes. Night and day over the Fireball. But the most fun was just taking a pocket full of shells and walking around and taking pot shots, off hand, out to 75-80 yards. I went 12 in a row at ranges of 48-80 yds, missed one, and then went 6 more in a row. These little rifles are available in 22 Hornet, 222, and 223 Remington. If you get a chance to handle one, you won’t put it down. Very high ‘fondle factor’.

The third rifle to be ‘tested’ was a bench gun I built this past winter. Remington 700 action (actually, it’s a Sportsman 78), Pac Nor barrel in light varmint contour chambered in 22-250 Ackley Improved set into a McMillian Tooley MBR stock. I put a brake of my own design on the barrel and scoped it with another B&L Elite 4200 6-24. For a trigger I used the Shilen BR set at 3oz. This is one heck of a prairie dog getter! I’m shooting 55g Nosler Ballistic Tips (Moly) with a load of Vit 140 at just under 3900 fps. This gun can really ‘reach out and touch someone!’ Nothing is safe within 400 yds and if the wind is calm it will reach out a lot farther than that.

I also brought along my trusty Remington 700 VS in 220 Swift. The Swift is simply a great PD gun. Period! Yes, it heats up a bit fast and there is a bit of recoil to contend with, but with a muzzle brake and a rest after 10-12 shots, it’s a delight. Nothing ‘lights up’ the dogs like a 40g Ballistic Tip traveling at plus 4000 fps! I have one of the new Burris Signature Series 6-24 scopes with the Ballistic Mill Dot reticle. I have two loads for this gun. The 40 grain load above and a more sedate 50g Nosler Ballistic Tip load that matches the ballistics of the reticle just about perfectly. The Ballistic Mill Dot reticle has a series of lines that allow you to hold right on the target out to 600 yds. Works great.

Rounding out the field were two more ‘fun guns’. First is a custom 17 Mach IV I built on an Interarms Mini Mauser action. I had Shilen barrel it with a #5 contour stainless steel Select Match tube. I bedded it in a Great American Stock Company walnut stock and topped it with a Leupold 6-18 Vari X II. This is a real fun rifle. I love shooting it, but it is about as useless as Democrats at a gun show once the wind comes up. Those little 22-grain bullets just get blown all over the place. And even when the air is calm, I’m not sure I like the way it anchors the dogs at much more than 250 yds. But if you know your limitations, it is a nice gun to shoot. Very accurate and no recoil even without a brake.

And finally, I brought along a custom AR-15. This gun sports an Olympic Arms lower with a DPMS upper. I had DPMS use a Shilen Select Match barrel with a 1-10 twist so I could shoot cheap 55g Winchester Power Points. You do burn through some ammo with these things. Bullets at 500 for $30 is just good economy! And a Dillon 550 is highly recommended. For a scope I selected a Leupold 6.5-20 Vari X III. With the heavy bull barrel, seven pounds of lead in the butt stock and a muzzle brake that looks like it came off of a Sherman tank, this 23-pound rifle measures 2 oz of recoil! It simply does not move. What a blast to shoot in a target rich environment!

Muzzle brakes’.I don’t know how you can enjoy yourself if your guns don’t have brakes. Even the Fireball comes off target and you can’t see the hits with the scope turned up to 24X. To me, half the fun is seeing where the bullet goes! I recommend them highly.

Umbrellas’..Man was the sun hot! 107 one day and 102 the next. Like muzzle brakes, I highly recommend them.

Well, this brings us to the PDC in general. Once again, Chuck Cornett did a fantastic job of pulling this thing off. I don’t know how he does it! Great weather, great folks, good food, lots of prizes and lots of shooting.

This year was especially fun for me. I’ve been on the Internet a little over a year now and I’ve met a bunch of real nice people. Turns out a few of them were going to be at the PDC. I got to hang with Harold Cox and Heck Phillips, a couple of guys I talk to all the time on the Go Go Varmint message board.

As usual, the writers were interesting to talk with and the factory folks gave us a bunch of information about their products.

The last evening was the banquet. Some might say this is the best part of the event, and I don’t think I would disagree. You sit around with all kinds of great people, lie about how accurate your rifles are, eat until you can’t move, and then win all kinds of great stuff that the various manufacturers donated! Don’t get any better than that! I ended up with a fabulous set of Minox by Leica binoculars and a bunch of the new Ramshot powder that everyone is raving about. And of course, a Scopelevel! You’re just wasting your time if you’re out there in the PD fields without your Scopelevel . (Don Vader told me to say that)

That’s it. Prairie Dog Conference 2000. Can’t wait till next year! Did anyone hear Chuck say he would never do this again?

P.S.Lots of pictures and articles about the guns we used can be found on my web page Enjoy!

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