Many handgunners have something in common with professional athletes — we like a challenge. For me, hitting a prairie dog at 300 yards with a handgun is my kind of trial. Calling in a bobcat and cleanly dispatching the feline with one well-placed shot from my pistol feels like hitting a home run!
Every fall we anticipate the upcoming big game seasons. I’m like a kid waiting to open up Christmas presents. We can’t wait for opening morning and look forward all year long to the pursuit of big game. Unfortunately these seasons don’t last very long — or certainly don’t last long enough. What are we going to do with the rest of the winter until fishing season arrives? That’s easy.
Varmint hunting is becoming more popular for a variety of reasons. Fur-bearing seasons for varmints are far more liberal, some lasting for months. Other varmints can be hunted year-round in certain areas. This can provide a lot of off-season hunting opportunities. After big game seasons have closed, varmint hunters are getting prepared for a lot of quality time in the great outdoors. Access to private property is another matter. The same farmer who doesn’t allow you to hunt deer on his property could very well welcome you to thin out an overpopulated coyote, prairie dog or bobcat population.
During the summer months very few big game seasons are in full swing. A trip out west for prairie dogs is just the ticket to sharpen your shooting skills. Plus, you’ll be helping some ranchers with a problem critter. Prairie dogs can decimate much-needed pasture land. Plus they leave mounds and holes everywhere; perfect for livestock to injure themselves. An over-populated prairie dog town is a sight to behold — a target rich environment if you will. This type of shooting is a great way to learn more about your favorite handgun, read the wind, learn to judge distance and get in more shooting than you can imagine. My wife and I both enjoy taking a trip out west for this kind of shooting. We take several different handguns, a pile of ammunition and a truck full of anticipation.
Guns, Bullets & Optics
Of course you can use any type of handgun your heart desires, including semi-autos or revolvers. But when you are trying to hit a target the size of a dollar bill, single shots are a wise choice. A quality .22 LR, .22 Mag or .17 HMR all make good choices when shots are less than 100 yards. Karen, my wife, enjoys shooting our T/C Contender in .17 HMR with Hornady’s 20-gr. XTP. T/C’s Encore with a .22 Mag barrel is also dynamite with CCI’s Maxi-Mag TNT bullets or Winchester’s 34-gr. JHP. These rimfires are accurate and easy to shoot all day with virtually no recoil.
When shooting at extended ranges the .223 starts to shine. We usually have two or three handguns in this caliber, this way when one gun gets heated up from multiple shots we simply switch to another. Before heading west I make certain we have the truck loaded with Black Hills 50-gr. V-Max remanufactured ammunition. The MOA Maximum, XP-100, and Contender, all chambered in .223, are very accurate handguns when topped by quality optics. Most of our handguns are wearing Burris 3-12X or Leupold 2.5-8X scopes. These variable scopes are usually sitting on the highest setting.
Bullets specifically designed for varmints like Nosler’s Ballistic Tip or their Varmageddon and Hornady’s V-Max not only shoot well but give varmints a real headache. Reaching out 200 yards and beyond, there is not a lot of room for error. If you can successfully place a large percentage of shots on target from most any sane distance, an opportunity on deer-sized game will seem like a chip-shot.
Normally I use one of my deer hunting guns for a brief period. By doing this, it gets me familiar with the gun and trajectory of the load I’ll be using in the fall. Plus, the open plains of the west commonly enjoy gusting winds. This is a perfect opportunity to learn more about judging wind drift and compensating with the correct adjustment.
Coyotes & Bobcats
Calling varmints such as coyotes or bobcats is a whole different ballgame. Books have been written on the subject, TV shows cover the topic, and calls of every description can be found for this endeavor. Looking for a good excuse to buy some new cammo duds? Concealment is an important aspect to consider. Taking a coyote, bobcat or fox by calling is quite an achievement, especially with your handgun.
For close range opportunities I know several handgunners who use their semi-auto or revolver. A good .45 ACP or 10mm will work well. In revolvers, just about anything will suffice, and I often lean toward the .357 Mag and up. Many of my encounters with these fury critters are often 100 yards and beyond, so single shots in .223 remain stable in my battery, but I often shoot larger calibers, including 6.5 or .308.
Currently I’m working on a new varmint/deer gun in .260 Remington. This underrated cartridge will be chambered in a MOA Maximum; an accurate single shot with falling block action. Using Lapua brass and Sierra’s 85- or 100-gr. Varminter, it will be a coyote’s worst nightmare. Hornady’s 123-gr. SST is going to be another top choice for these crafty critters.
Varmints of some description can be found almost anywhere. I like to take advantage of opportunities anywhere I encounter them. Often I have enjoyed those encounters by accident, when you bump in to an unexpected varmint while on safari. Africa has several cats I have taken in the past. The unusual varmints make the hunt all that more rewarding, and in many cases, you have helped the landowner by eliminating a stock killer.
Here in North America, we have groundhogs, crows, foxes and other varmints depending on the region. Normally there is some kind of varmint action that can be enjoyed at any given time of the year. These opportunities provide the handgunner with almost year-round action. No special equipment or expensive handguns are required, but precise shooting will be helpful, so you’ll build your trigger skills. Varmint hunting is a great way to spice up your hunting pursuits and offer more time behind the trigger. And, it sure beats the heck out of watching television.
By Mark Hampton