Supposedly, the decoy makes the other prairie dogs feel safe when they see it standing up, showing complete and utter disregard for its safety. Unfortunately this experiment with decoying prairie dogs was to be one of my more humiliating adventures. It wasn't that decoys didn't work, and I suppose, given the right circumstances, I would try them again if someone held a gun to my head. It was when the rancher happened to come riding up, with a couple of his hands to see how we were doing that things got embarrassing. Of course they spotted the decoys right away, but for some reason didn't ask about them for what seemed like an hour. I could tell all of them were trying to figure out what in the world these idiots were doing with cardboard prairie dogs stuck in their prairie. Finally, pointing at the decoys, the rancher asked, "What’s the matter, not enough real ones to shoot at?" I explained the reasoning of using prairie dog decoys as best I could, but I am quite sure it was too late. I can just imagine the discussion that took place between them when they left us. I haven't had the guts to use them since. So, if the more common hunting tactics are largely a waste of time, where is the "hunting" in prairie dog hunting?
The "hunting" is trying to find the dog towns, and it has to be the most important element of the do-it-yourself prairie dog trip. I can hear some of you saying you don't have the vacation time to cruise hundreds of miles of roads, and spend days looking for holes in the prairie. And as the price of fuel increases, hiring a guide that will take you around to the towns is becoming a more economical alternative. For this, all you need to get started is a computer hooked up to the internet. Researching "prairie dog guides" will get you many contacts. As with any guided trip, you should check out the guide completely, and ask for references. But what if you want to do it all yourself? Where do you start? Well, you should have some general destination in mind. The Black Tailed Prairie Dog can be found all over the west, but the largest concentration is in an area that takes in the western half of North and South Dakota, the eastern half of Montana, the eastern half of Wyoming and the far western part of Nebraska. Researching this area will increase your odds of finding what you are looking for. Your expectations can have a bearing on what you look for also.
The first dog town I shot many years ago was not even 40 acres and was hit pretty hard by the locals. 50 rounds a day was pretty good shooting, and I thought I was in heaven. I would spend hours waiting for a couple of dogs to come out to shoot at. I try not to forget those humble beginnings when I have several big towns that allow me to easily shoot several hundred rounds in a day. Generally, dog towns on public land will get more pressure than those on private land. However, this does not necessarily mean the shooting will be poor. Prairie dogs within a few hundred yards will often dive for cover at the first sounds of gunfire. Even driving into a town that is shot often, can send them scrambling for their burrows. Usually though, prairie dogs beyond that will often stay up and feed without any signs of concern. For those that like to shoot at longer distances, the opportunities are endless, and in this situation, it doesn't take a lot of prairie dogs to provide entertainment for hours.
For many years I shot public land and my prairie dog arsenal reflected this situation. When preparing for a trip I would pack my 22-250, a 243, 25-06 and 300 WinMag. So what resources are there for finding the locations of prairie dog towns? I certainly have not checked out all of them, but here are some of the ones I have used.
I shot the Grasslands of North Dakota for many years. There was an office on the outskirts of Watford City where you could get a map of the grasslands, complete with symbols that showed where dog towns were located. The Fish and Game web sites of both North and South Dakota have some excellent information on locations of prairie dogs in their states.
You may get lucky by posting a request on the different hunting forums, but don't hold your breath while waiting. Most who know of a good spot will not give that information to anyone. There is a way to use your computer though, but you will have to read to the end of the article to find out.