Prairie dogs are a very popular animal to hunt. These varmints overpopulate, destroy land by digging their underground tunnels, and carry very dangerous diseases that can infect people, livestock, and pets. There are many ways to shoot prairie dogs; everything from multiple-day group and individual hunts complete with guides and lodging to going it solo for an afternoon. Hunting prairie dogs provides a great way to hone both the short-range and long-range shooting skills, as well as providing a great family outing that is easy on the pocketbook.
Many states have strict laws on prairie dog hunting; in some areas, they are on endangered species lists, and some states do not require a hunting license, while others do, so it is very important to check local gaming laws before setting out on a prairie dog hunt. The most popular states that have large prairie dog populations and lax prairie dog hunting laws are South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, and Montana. Because prairie dogs live largely on the plains, most plains states have prairie dog hunting available, and prairie dog hunting season is usually during the summer months, so hunts can take place any time between May and August. Many commercial prairie dog hunts take place on privately owned lands with thousands of acres of prairie dog towns; others can take place on leased land with towns as small as forty acres or as large as over 10,000 acres. It is possible, on many of the guided and unguided hunting grounds, for a single hunter to shoot between 300 and 500 rounds in a single day, and still have plenty of rodents running around.
The options for hunting these rodents are also very diverse.
Some guides and outfitters offer different price ranges, guided and unguided options, and even on-site lodging. There are packages available that provide guides, lodgings at on-site camps or at nearby motels, and snacks for as much as 3 nights and 4 days. From other outfitters a prairie dog hunter can get unguided access to private or leased land for an entrance fee. Some outfitters provide services in multiple states; others only in one. Prices can vary from $50 entrance fees to $1,000 per person per day for the works; of course, just like any other vacation, one must shop for the best deal.
No matter the length of time a hunter will be out in the field, he or she must have the appropriate gear. For prairie dog hunting, all one really needs is a quality rifle, plenty of ammo, and an optional bench rest. Also useful is a sack lunch, plenty of water, and snacks—it could turn into a long day!
There is no single gun perfect for prairie dog hunting. As with many other species, there are a few things to consider when choosing which firearm to use. Proximity to the rodents is the first and foremost consideration to make. If a hunter plans to work on his or her long-range skills, 300 to 400 yards out, a steady bench rest is imperative. It does not have to be a commercial, high-dollar piece of equipment, though it can be, but even a simple bipod or a set of shooting sticks will work. .308, .223, .243 all work well at further distances, and since no one will be eating the meat, it is really up to the hunter’s preference. For hunters who plan to plunk rodents at close proximity, a .22, .22 mag or .17 hmr all work well between 150 to 200 yards. As to cartridges, the .204 Ruger is a great factory choice. Another is the .223 Rem because it will not get as hot as some of the more powerful options will. The main thing to remember when shooting prairie dogs is that there is no stalking or waiting time; all a hunter has to do is sit and wait for them to stick their heads out of their holes. As such, a great volume of ammunition will be traveling down the barrel of the gun, so shorter barreled firearms are probably preferable.
Plunking prairie dogs is great fun and helps hunters keep their skills sharp. For an afternoon of fun, prairie dog hunting cannot go wrong!