For several years western South Dakota had suffered from a severe drought. However, this spring brought record rains and high water. We arrived to find tall grass, green pastures, and bridges out. Navigation was an issue and the grass didn’t help with spotting dogs or bullet impacts, but it was sure nice to see healthy livestock, stockpiles of new hay bales, and abundant wildlife.
Adam joins the 500 Yard Club.
We immediately set up four-foot tall high-visibility markers at the GPS waypoint locations in the dog towns and then drove to the one-mile-distant waypoints to mark the shooting locations. It worked perfectly and we had exact 1-mile distances confirmed and marked in less than an hour! The only problem occurred in one case where river-bottom trees were high enough to obstruct the view of a target area. Unfortunately, the one-mile shooting locations were so far from the dog towns that they didn’t present the opportunity for the kids to take shorter shots from the same areas.
The other problem was the wind. At its lightest it was 15 mph throughout the whole time we were there. Based on my previous experience with .223 caliber bullets, I had little hope of any consistent accuracy at ultra-long ranges. For shorter shots we were able to work around a dog town to minimize the wind vector, but the 1-mile shots offered few options, and none were good. However, given that we had already spent a small fortune for the gas to get there, we decided to give it a try. One plus was that any potential mirage problems were effectively “washed away” by the wind.
The first shot at one mile struck about “hole high” and about 30 feet to the left because of the wind. The fact that the elevation was right on confirmed that both the calculations from my Sierra Infinity ballistic software and the MOA adjustments of the Nightforce scope were accurate. Had I calculated and then adjusted for the wind speed and angle, I suspect the impact would have been pretty close to the unsuspecting varmint. However, it was easier to confirm the first strike and then adjust zero accordingly, which was done on subsequent shots.
As expected, the wind played havoc, but not nearly to the extent that I thought it would. Although the wind was stiff, and varied in both velocity and direction over the course of a mile, once the crosswind was adjusted for, windage variations were usually less than 2 feet from shot to shot at the same distance and angle. Amazing! From a mile away in a brisk crosswind, most bullet strikes were right on or around the prairie dog mound.
Over the course of two days, a couple of hundred shots were attempted at one mile or longer, and although we did not confirm a kill, probably 70 percent of the shots would have gone into a 3-foot circle. There were a couple of instances of observed hits and even “flipage,” but no carcasses were recovered. Because the 142-grain bullets lose about two-thirds of their velocity at that range, a direct hit, preferably to the cranium, probably would be necessary to anchor a prairie dog enough to keep him from getting down his hole. Under better wind conditions, however, I have no doubt that a confirmed one-mile prairie dog is not only possible, but very likely.
There were a few things that differed from shooting .223 bullets at 1,000 yards. First, a 142-grain Super Match-King bullet provides a much more visible impact signature than a 55-grain Ballistic Tip. Unfortunately, it also must have been much more disturbing to the targeted prairie dogs. They didn’t seem to mind the smaller impacts at 1,000 yards, but disruption of a much larger bullet landing right next to them usually sent them down their holes for extended periods of time. The fact that we were there late in the season after they had already endured other shooters probably didn’t help either. This, however, did present a new problem. To switch to a new target location, even 20 or 30 yards away, required a whole new set of windage and elevation adjustments because of the acute trajectory and the wind vectors.
Another difference is the additional time it takes the bullet to get there. It takes 3.4 seconds for a 142-grain SMK to travel one mile when started at 2,965 fps. That allows plenty of time to recover from the recoil, reacquire the target in the scope, and wait for the bullet impact. In most cases, having a spotter was really unnecessary. In fact, because the Nightforce scope was so clear and the NP-R1 reticle provides MOA hash marks both vertically and horizontally that correspond exactly to the graduated adjustment knobs, adjusting for subsequent shots was amazingly simple. All I had to do was level the crosshairs back on the prairie dog and watch the impact. If the bullet struck five marks (MOA) low and two marks left (two MOA each), it was a very simple matter to dial up 20 clicks and right 16 clicks. Because the adjustments were so precise, with no lag or overtravel, the next shot usually was within inches of the target. Again, without the wind variations and nervous prairie dogs, scoring quickly should not have been a problem, although the inherent accuracy of any rifle will always be a factor. All else being equal, a half-inch rifle becomes a nine-inch rifle at 1,800 yards.
So I returned to Wisconsin without posing for a picture kneeling next to a downed critter while holding a hastily hand-drawn sign with a number in excess of 1,760 yards. However, other than that detail, the project exceeded all my expectations. I never would have believed, especially in a stiff breeze, that I would consistently drop shot after shot into the area the size of a washtub — from a mile away — with an over-the-counter rifle and “factory” ammunition. Varmints beware!
The VARMINT HUNTER Magazine, a 208-page publication put together for shooters by shooters. The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc. hosts several 600-yard IBS matches, a coyote calling contest, and an annual Jamboree in Fort Pierre, SD. The Jamboree is a week-long shooting event known as "a summer camp for shooters".
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