This past July, the good folks from Blue Heron Communications invited a few gun writer types to travel to Encampment, Wyoming, to hunt prairie dogs, ground squirrels, rock chucks and coyotes on the Silver Spur Ranch with Spur Outfitters. We would be using a variety of Smith & Wesson firearms from their Performance Center, but chiefly we would be using their M&P 15 in a couple of configurations chambered for the 5.56 x 45, otherwise known as the .223 Remington. Since I have hunted at Silver Spur before and have always enjoyed my stay and since I have long been a big fan of Smith & Wesson products, I thought this would be a rather enjoyable mid-summer interlude. Accordingly, it took me all of 1.7 seconds to accept the invitation.
Author with rock chuck shot in creek bed with S&W M&P 15 PC while hunting with Spur Outfitters in Wyoming. My hunting partner of the day, fellow writer, Dr. George Dvorchak, claimed the rock chuck had to have been retarded to be found so far from its usual haunts. However, I believe that it was really an alien from a distant galaxy and I spared the Earth from conquest by shooting it!
An interesting vacation palling around with a bunch of kindred spirits aside, I had a particular interest in this trip. While we residents of the Keystone State are very fortunate to have quite a supply and variety of game to hunt, as well as some of the best "low mountains" in the U.S. in which to hunt them, semi-automatic rifles and handguns are strictly verboten for any and all hunting uses. This being the case, it is even neigh on to impossible to find any semi-automatic rifles in the racks of the various local gun shops. (Of course, since the election, even our dealers have been ordering – and selling – any AR-platform rifles they can find; such is the power of even not-yet-installed liberal presidents and congresses.) Thus, my experience with the so-called "gas guns" or "black rifles" was negligible before this trip.
Since the young of the coyote are not fully whelped by mid-July in Wyoming, hunting for these rascals was non-existent. Likewise, for whatever reason, rock chucks were rather scarce. For those readers not familiar with this particular varmint sub-species, these appear like red-haired western cousins of the eastern groundhog: same size, same general appearance, etc. Their common name comes from their penchant for inhabiting the higher elevations of the rocky mountain foothills (if 10,000 feet can still be a "foothill") and, in particular, for their propensity to sun themselves by lying on the very tops of totally exposed rocks. Now I don’t relate this history simply to show off my taxonomic knowledge, but rather as background for saying that the only rock chuck taken by our particular group of hunters was shot by yrs trooly in a creek bed. Don’t ask me what he was doing there, but if by chance he was a member of a rock chuck vanguard looking for a new place to reside, I trust the rest of the clan vetoed this particular idea. None shall escape the ever vigilant eye of guide Roger Cox!
Close-up of right side of the S&W M&P 15 receiver with open dust cover.
In any event, the prairie dogs and ground squirrels were present by the thousands and I became thoroughly impressed with the ability of the S&W M&P 15 PC I was assigned to hit them on a regular basis. (Please note that in this instance "PC" stands for Performance Center; there is not much politically correct about this rifle.) The good folks at Hornady Manufacturing went above and beyond and supplied humungous amounts of their superb 53 grain Match hollow point ammunition, and it proved to be more than accurate enough to regularly hit four to eight inch tall rodents out to two hundred yards or so. Although this is generally as far a shot as is presented in the sage-dotted flatlands of the Wyoming high plains, one particular colony of dogs did present several shots at four hundred nine yards, and on the eighth try I connected with the fattest member of the family. Credit for the hit must be equally split between the S&W rifle, the Hornady ammunition and the excellent Bushnell 6-24x Tactical scope mounted on my particular gun. Kudos to Bushnell for supplying all of us shooters with varieties of the excellent optics.
Since Tony Miele, who heads up the S&W Performance Center was along on the hunt, I requested that he send me one of these rifles for more thorough testing and evaluation whenever he could. In due course, one arrived at Seitzinger’s gun shop. (Thank goodness it was before the election and Randy was not tempted to turn a quick buck with my "loaner". Actually, I was not at all concerned – he would merely tell me he had sold it simply to jerk my chain.) As received, the gun came in a semi-hard rigid plastic case which in turn was in a sturdy cardboard sleeve – an excellent and very practical way of shipping any rifle. Nice touch, Tony! With a ten-shot magazine in place but not loaded, the gun weighs seven pounds, nine ounces (the specs call for eight pounds, two ounces) and measured 381/2 inches in length. Trigger pull for the impressively crisp two-stage trigger was an even five pounds. (For those young pups in the audience, yes "crisp" can be a proper descriptive adjective when used with the term "two-stage trigger". When done right, as was the case with this S&W, such a trigger is very predictable and controllable, even when the final release is five pounds.)