1500 Yard Prairie Dogs
By Ernie Bishop
The quest for hitting prairie dogs in the field was a challenge for me in 1984, as I was unfamiliar with center-fire rifles and high magnification scopes. Growing up on a Kansas farm, upland game was a norm. I was used to using a shotgun or an iron-sighted 22 rim-fire rifle, but the heavy barreled custom 6mm Remington rifle with set trigger and a Unertl scope was a whole different world. I must admit I struggled with keeping a full field of view using the 10x scope while shooting prone on a sunny West Texas day. The day my friend Jack Haning introduced me to prairie dog shooting created a desire to develop my skill in varmint shooting, which meant I needed to buy a rifle.
My wife and I made a move to Greeley, Colorado in the summer of 1985, and I found myself in a mecca of shooting opportunities, one of which was prairie dog shooting. Without a lot of money and being newly married, I began the process of looking for a rifle that would work for deer and antelope, while also doubling as a varmint rig. Late in 1985, I found two things that made a big difference: A new friend who was a seasoned hunter and varminter, and my first rifle. Steve Hugel became my newfound friend, mentor and hunting buddy. Our first meeting was a result of his old Volkswagen Super Beetle breaking down in town and my willingness to give him a ride home. The outcome of that chance meeting has resulted in many times in the field together.
Some of our first outings were shooting prairie dogs northeast of Greeley with my new-to-me custom Ruger model 77, chambered in 257 Roberts Ackley Improved, that I purchased at a local gun show. Previously, I had been shooting handguns in an indoor range that included competitive PPC league, so I was familiar with reloading metallic cartridges. My main varmint load consisted of near a maximum amount of IMR 4350 and a 75 grain Hornady hollow point. My scope was a Redfield 3x9.
Our portable shooting bench was the aforementioned Super Beetle. I am tall enough to shoot off of the top of Steve’s Volkswagen with homemade sandbags and it was quite steady for the prairie dog distances were shooting. While you may be thinking to yourself that this is far from the ideal long range setup, it is what we used and I was fairly consistent to the quarter-mile mark on prairie dogs. As I began to transition away from rifles and toward specialty handguns, my beloved Ruger was given to a family who had lost all of their guns to a house fire.
After moving back to Texas, I began shooting prairie dogs again in the western part of the state and in the panhandle, but now with handguns. The Remington XP-100 was my handgun of choice, chambered in 284 Winchester. With this pistol and my deer/antelope load (H-4831/140 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip) I was able to make my longest prairie dog kill right at 700 yards, using a 3-12 Burris Long Eye Relief handgun scope. This XP action had been trued, and it was fitted with a Shilen Select Match barrel with a tight neck chamber. Steve and I were no longer using his Super Beetle for a rest system anymore, but were now using homemade portable benches for, with quality front rests.
Like many, I slowly evolved into LR shooting, and maybe at slower pace since I was using specialty handguns exclusively. As I began to realize what was needed to go past the 1,000 yard mark, I knew my trusty 284 Win that now had over 2,000 rounds through it was in need of an upgrade. I rebarreled the XP-100 with an 18” Broughton 5C 1-8 twist, chambered in a tight neck 6mm-284. Also, in this time of transition I sent a stock XP-100 to Greg Tannel (Gre-Tan Rifles) to build a tricked center-grip in 6.5-284. Barrel is a 17” stainless steel Krieger 1-8 twist with Vais brake. Greg did the same work he would do to a benchrest rifle, including bushing the firing pin hole on the face of the bolt head, and putting in a faster firing pin. Both XP’s had H-S’s center-grip stock with their Aluminum V-Block. Both stocks were skim bedded to their particular action.
About a year after using the 6.5-284 XP, I wanted to be involved with some 1k matches and procured a McMillan rear grip benchrest stock with lead added to the forend to put me in the light gun class. This also allowed me to use a Jewell trigger, which significantly lightened my trigger pull and shortened lock-time compared to center-grip design.
The one area we were lacking was in the area of optics. Before this time my use of riflescopes on specialty handguns was extremely limited. As expected, there is an inherent danger of using high magnification riflescopes on a specialty handgun with cartridge capacities rivaling the venerable 30-06 Springfield. With good muzzle brakes, Steve and I have consistently used riflescopes with high magnifications on our specialty handguns without harm to us for several years.
The 6mm-284 XP-100 has a Farrell 20 MOA picatinny base and a Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 8.5-25 with the TMR, and the now rear-grip 6.5-284 XP has a Near Manufacturing 20 MOA base, and mounted on that was one Elmer Laitala’s long-range SLR mounts. The scope on the 6.5-284 was a custom long eye relief scope modified by Wally Seibert. Wally can take the 36x Leupold and convert it to a long eye relief handgun scope. The conversion reduces the magnification to approximately 20x and it also limits the field of view.
Now we had the optics and the vertical adjustment we needed to easily make it to our minimum distance, which was 1,500 yards. To our knowledge no one had ever shot a prairie dog beyond 1,300 yards with a specialty pistol. You cannot succeed unless you are willing to fail, and we wanted to see how far we could go with these hybrid handguns.
To this point, neither of us had attempted shots on a prairie dog with handgun beyond 700 yards, even though we had been shooting our specialty pistols to 1,000 yards and a tad further. I took vacation time and pulled my son out of school for a few days and made the drive to Pueblo, Colorado in late October of 2005. We chose this time of year for the mild temperatures, and it worked with our schedules.
Successful shooting at long range is a systems approach and between the two of us, we put together the best we had at the time. Like any first time endeavor we walked away knowing that next time we would do some things differently, but more concerning that later.
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