I had the rifle, I had the scope, and the project was coming together. Because I reload, I had hoped to start building loads with US-made Hornady components. They had just come out with their own 6.5-284 brass, and their 140-grain A-Max bullets would be an excellent choice for this application. Unfortunately, because of military demand I believe, some of those components remained on backorder as everything else fell into place. Although the project had been delayed a year because of some technical problems and weather issues on our first trip, by the next spring the ammunition situation was the only major issue that was still unresolved. But then The Varmint Hunter Magazine™ came to the rescue — again. The Press Releases section of the latest issue announced that Black Hills Ammunition Company had just come out with loaded 6.5-284 Norma ammunition using the legendary Sierra 142-grain Super MatchKing bullets. Although I have always believed I could build better cartridges through precise reloading practices and a carefully selected combination of components, I was running out of time, and Black Hills Ammunition has an excellent reputation, so I ordered some of their Black Hills Gold loaded ammunition. It was delivered quickly, and I was delighted to find that it equaled or even surpassed the quality of my meticulously constructed handloads. I had been concerned that performance would suffer because the bullets were seated well short of the lands. I also was concerned about achieving enough velocity because the recommended powders I had tried had fallen just short of the optimum 2,950 to 3,000 fps I was looking for. However, the first five shots of the Black Hills ammo chronographed from 2,961 to 2,976 fps. Accuracy was as good as my handloads, and the velocity standard deviation was actually smaller!
Setup for one-mile shooting. Range determination to distant prairie dog towns was accomplished with the help of a computer and GPS unit.
Although I had the rifle, scope, and ammunition ready to go, there still were a lot of little details that had to be tied up if the project was to be successful. A quality spotting scope for my spotter and a rock-solid bench and rest would be essential. And, as I had learned when shooting at 1,000 yards, range markers also would be necessary equipment.
Another thing I discovered when I was trying to accomplish the 1,000-yard shot was that even in open prairie and pasture land, there are very few places where a safe 1,000-yard shot could be taken, and then it always seemed to be perpendicular to the wind. Setting up a mile shot would be that much more difficult. Added to that was the concern that pacing off 1,760 yards just wasn’t practical. With valleys, fence lines, rivers, washes, and a myriad of other obstructions, it would be very difficult and time consuming to confirm the exact distance prior to a shot, even with a laser rangefinder. Those challenges led to an unexpected new piece of equipment for this project: my computer and an Internet map service.
The “Taj Mahal.”
I used mapcard.com (also known as mytopo.com) but there are several topographic map services on the Internet. Because I knew from previous South Dakota visits approximately where the dog towns were, I was able to bring up topographic maps of each area, which showed all of the high ground (potential shooting sites) around each town. From that I could determine roughly how far away I could get and still see and safely shoot into the dog town. And with satellite photo overlays, “map tools” and GPS coordinates, I could do much more. First, with satellite photos so detailed that I could actually see individual prairie dog mounds, I could confirm the exact boundaries of each dog town. Then, by choosing a spot either in the dog town or on a nearby bluff, and then selecting a computer tool, I could measure the straight-line distance between a shooting and target point, right down to the foot. This allowed me to select different spots in each dog town and then measure out exactly one mile to locations that provided an unobstructed shot — before I even left home! In some towns I could also select different angles that might be more favorable to the wind direction while I was there. Finally, I could identify the exact GPS coordinates for each location, punch them into my GPS, and then drive or walk right to them once I got there. No pacing or measuring should be necessary. Before I left for South Dakota I printed topo maps and satellite photos of each area with the GPS waypoints noted.
After two years of preparation, with the truck packed with rifles, ammo, and a lot of high-tech equipment, we finally left Wisconsin for the wide-open spaces of western South Dakota. Fortunately, we didn’t need to also haul a lot of camping gear because the rancher and good friend whose ranch is host to some of the dog towns allowed us to stay at his bunkhouse right on the ranch (affectionately known as the Taj Mahal). And with gas at close to $4.00 per gallon, any weight/mileage savings were more than welcome. My nephew and regular hunting partner Nick was along to help with spotting on the long shots, and our sons Peter and Adam came along to accomplish some real rodent control with higher percentage “close” shots. Nick’s son, Adam, age 12, joined the 500 Yard Club on this trip with a 608-yard shot on a jackrabbit.
Because our previous trip to the area had us shooting in record 118 degree temperatures, we were actually happy with the 95 to 100 degree temperatures forecast for this trip. However, we were rather concerned with the forecast of high winds that promised to make long-range shooting challenging … at best.