I grew up in Cuba, New Mexico but now live in Oklahoma because this is where my career brought me. My family still owns property in NM where we do some ranching. Prairie dogs have always been a problem but the populations really exploded in recent years. One of the main reasons is that everyone traditionally used .22 rimfire rifles to thin them out, and as you know 22LR ammo is now almost impossible to get at a reasonable price. The problem has gotten so bad that NM has legalized poisoning again.
The problem with any powder burner is the noise. Once a few prairie dogs are shot, the rest scamper into their holes and then it becomes a long waiting process. The large, old dogs are too smart to come out and they usually survive.
I got into air rifles many years ago because they are inexpensive to shoot and I can practice in my backyard or indoors. It costs me about 2 cents per shot so for about $100/year I can fire 5000 rounds. I used a single shot Daystate Huntsman for many years, and used it to hunt prairie dogs with some success.
Last year I purchased a .177 Daystate Airwolf with a silencer and found it to be very effective. I also changed my hunting tactics to rely heavily on stealth and have had extremely good success.
- Last year I used full camo. This year I used a ghillie suit which worked even better.
- I position myself before sunrise so the prairie dogs won’t know I’m around.
- I prefer a prone position but will use a kneeling position if the vegetation is too high. I can shoot more accurately sitting than kneeling but repositioning myself is more awkward and requires too much movement.
- I never walk across a colony when setting up. Prairie dogs are always wary of predators and they will detect movement on the surface.
- As the sun comes up they all start to emerge from their burrows and I pick them off before any alarm calls can be given.
- Early morning shooting is preferable because the wind is usually negligible and the temperature is more comfortable. Since I get up at 4:30 a siesta in the afternoon works out nicely!
- Once the population is way down in a large area I’ll switch to a 17HMR.
When prairie dogs emerge in the morning, the big, old ones tend to be first. If they don’t sound any alarms, the rest will follow. Using my tactics I get them first then get the younger ones when they come
out. Many times a group will emerge from a hole all at once. If I’m selective in the shooting order sometimes I can get 4-6 before they realize there is any danger. A head shot to the mother followed by
shooting the rest based on the direction they are facing seems to work well.
I go for chest shots most of the time, and a 177 round nose pellet at 933 fps will go through even the largest prairie dogs. I’ll usually use head shots when that is the only target I’ve got.
By the Numbers – My Prairie Dog Kills:
Last year I shot 1121; 1064 with the Air Wolf and 57 with a Savage 17HMR. This pretty much cleared them from our property but they started coming in again from neighbors land.
This year I shot 1091; 966 with the Air Wolf and 125 with my Anschutz 1727 17HMR (which I really like!). 441 were shot in one neighbor’s property that was probably no more than 20 acres. This was one
of the most infested places I had ever seen. On 3 out of 5 trips I ran out of air while there were still plenty of targets.
Here is my shooting record to illustrate the activity. Most of the shooting was done in the morning. On several days I ran out of air so I stopped.
6/10/2015 Wednesday 89/27 Big pond and fence line/ Big tire and fence line
6/11/2015 Thursday 44 Bones and vega
6/12/2015 Friday 65/20 Vega and hill / Corral 17HMR
6/13/2015 Saturday 21/57/19 Old Vega/ Isac’s / West of house
6/14/2015 Sunday 104/43 Isac’s / Luciano’s
6/15/2015 Monday 108 Isac’s
6/16/2015 Tuesday 32/5 Vega / Big Pond
6/17/2015 Wednesday 6/40 West of house / Big pond 17HMR
6/18/2015 Thursday 107 Isac’s
6/19/2015 Friday 65 Isac’s 17HMR
6/20/2015 Saturday 28/5 Robert’s/Luciano’s
6/21/2015 Sunday 122/6 Max’s / Luciano’s
(Vega is Spanish for grassy meadow. In this case they are the irrigated hay fields.)
My Gear List:
— .177 Daystate Air Wolf with silencer. The rifle is superb but there is one thing I REALLY dislike. The comb tapers down and inward so my cheek position isn’t consistent when I switch to a prone position. I’ve resorted to carrying a small towel to use for padding since a standard cheek pad won’t fit correctly. I think Daystate went with esthetics rather than practicality on that choice.
— Hawke 6-24×56 AO scope with SR Pro reticle and BKL mounts. I also use their ChairGun software on my iPhone.
— Leupold laser range finder. A range finder is a must for any shooting, especially the head shots. Prairie dogs have eyes that are positioned high on their head. They can peek over their dirt mounds while exposing about 1/3 of their head which is a difficult shot on the small pups.
— Atlas Bipod for prone shooting.
— Primos Group Therapy Compact Rear Shooting Bag. The bag is rather stiff which allows me to rest my head on the stock between shots without moving the scope elevation too far. This stiff bag works very well on the highly curved Air Wolf stock belly when adjusting the elevation.
— Caldwell Dead Shot Field Pod for kneeling positions. This worked really well.
— Primos Trigger Stick. I used their short bipod for many years when shooting from sitting and kneeling positions and really liked it. I made PVC leg extensions for standing shots as can be seen in one of the photos. (Since white is a terrible hunting color to wear, I used Purple Primer to paint them). Unfortunately one of the leg hinges broke on this last hunt. I ordered their pricy 24-61 bipod Trigger Stick from Amazon and used it for half of the hunt. I was disappointed with their new design because the head flops over with a heavy rifle, whereas their old model would lock. I have since tightened the leg screws for my next hunt but I’m concerned the plastic parts will break if over torqued. As a backup, I spent $8 at my local Tractor Supply Store on two electric fence fiberglass rods. They are grey, 60” long and 3/8 diameter. I’ll tie them together with a Prusik Knot, add clear PVC tubing at the top to keep from scratching my rifle, and slip a couple of green castrating bands on the top so the tubing won’t slip off. (Every farm boy knows what these are!) I’ve made shorter versions like this before and they work well.
— Badlands day pack to haul all my gear.
— Tally counter for obvious reasons.
— Ghost Ghillie suit in Dry Grass. This worked well but the color is too light as can be seen in one of the pictures where it is laying next to some sage brush and rabbit brush. I ‘m going to switch to a more blue-gray color to match the sage brush better. One nice advantage with a ghillie suit that has lots of thread is that mosquitoes won’t get through.
— Anschutz 1727 17HMR with Vortex Viper PST 6-24×50 FFP EBR-2C MOA and BKL mounts. This is my first FFP scope and I really love it. I added a throw lever and it’s great for picking out targets in vegetation and slipping the shot in. The Anschutz is really pricy but if you get an opportunity to try one I think you will really like it. I love mine. If Anschutz chambers this for 17WSM I’ll have to get one.
— And one commonly overlooked piece of equipment….. the shoes. I use Lowa Desert Elites which are British Military issue that I got on Ebay all the way from England! The toe mold and stiff sole are a must for anyone kneeling for a long time while shooting. Otherwise your toes get scrunched. Kneeling for a long time in shoes where the sole flexes will also cause the sole to separate over time.
This hunting approach works very well for densely populated colonies and when the terrain is well suited. For flat, grassy, windy plains with scattered populations, a powder burner is probably the better choice.
BTW…. Cuba, NM is at 7000 elevation. The mountains in the background are the San Pedro Wilderness. In one picture you can see the small town and the Cuba Mesa. I had lots of fun in New Mexico prairie dog hunting with an airgun and hope to shoot some more varmints soon.