Hunting For Prairie Dog Townsby Jim Eid
As prairie dog trips go, this one stunk. Eric and I had shot fewer than 50 rounds in the first two days of our trip. The rain was turning every road that wasn't paved into gumbo, keeping us from getting into the back country to dog towns I had shot before. So there we sat in the protection of the pickup, watching the only tiny dog town we could get to, listening to the radio and getting more frustrated with each drop of rain that hit the windshield. At the top of the hour the weather report didn't offer any hope. Rain for the next couple of days.
As I sat there looking out on an empty dog town, I recalled other trips that had gone bad because of weather. On one trip, three of us left Wisconsin with high hopes and lots of shells, heading for the badlands. We hit rain driving out and it didn't stop. Three days later, with a grand total of 7 rounds fired, we gave up and headed home. A wise rancher once told me, "never curse the rain", but it is hard not to when you have so much invested in a prairie dog trip.
Another trip I recalled was just plain miserable. We were in northwestern Nodak, shooting the grasslands and got there just about the time a cold front came sliding down from Canada. The wind was gusting 25 to 35 mph and it would sprinkle every now and then. Not enough to force you off the prairie, but enough to make you pick up your gear. And was it cold! We were wearing every piece of clothing we brought with us and were still cold. It is the only trip I can remember where the heater was used more than the a/c. We set up one bench close to the pickup to keep out of the wind, and then sat in the warmth of the cab, glassing the area for dogs. Every so often we would see one venture out of the burrow, take a look around and then head back down, never to be seen again. Most of the time they wouldn't stay up long enough for us to get a shot at them. We waited out the cold weather, and did get some shooting in, but on the report card of prairie dog trips, that one was a D-.
Bringing myself back to reality, I looked at Eric and said, "We gotta' get out of this weather pattern. How's Wyoming sound to you? With a wry sense of humor, Eric replied, "Well, it looks like we got Nodak shot up, let’s go."
We had been cruising for about 4 hours on our way to Wyoming when we rounded a slight bend in the road and looked to our right to see 3 men on horse back, riding across the prairie. Watching them intently, Eric says, "Now there's some REAL cowboys, with REAL cowboy hats, riding REAL horses." I glanced over to look at them again and hit the brakes hard, scaring Eric to death. I pointed towards them as Eric was getting his heart going again, and said, "Yup, and look at the REALLY big dog town they're riding through."
Eric and I spent the next few days shooting that town and others in the area. To say we were lucky is an understatement. The shooting in the area right next to the road was incredible. We couldn't figure out why until we questioned the rancher and found out cattle had been kept there for several weeks in preparation for shipping. No one could shoot the area with all the cattle in the way, so the prairie dogs got used to the good life. That town was no more than a hundred acres but we were able to shoot the town all day and come back the next day for more. Eric had two guns and I had three and many times, all five were too hot to continue shooting. We asked the rancher if he had spread oats laced with Viagra instead of poison, as every mound seemed to have a dozen pups on it.
Of course the town was immediately nicknamed the Viagra town. After starting slowly, the trip turned into one of the best hunting and shooting trips I have ever had the pleasure of making. If your concerned Eric and I overshot the town, you should know that town prospered for another five years being shot by us and many others. Year after year it continued to be one of the best towns I have ever seen. Right up to the time the plague came along and wiped it out.
Some of you may disagree with me when I use the term "hunting" with respect to the sport of prairie dog shooting. Those of you that are fortunate enough to live near active prairie dog towns would be the first to question my sanity. So bear with me a bit, and I will try to explain.
It is true, you usually don't have to stalk the little buggers, they aren't going anywhere except up and down. Nature’s pop-goes-the-weasel game if you will. And although I have tried to call them, sounding as much like a prairie dog as possible, they didn't come running, at least not to me. They don't decoy real well as far as I can tell, although I did go through a stage earlier in my prairie dog career where I tried some home made ones. The plan was to cut a standing prairie dog silhouette out of cardboard, paint it to look like a prairie dog, and fasten a stake to the cardboard so you could stick it in the prairie. The decoys are then spread out in a semi circle between the shooters and their intended victims.
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