July 02, 2012
Bullets, Optics and Ammo: Putting the Power to Prairie Dogs
By David E. Petzal
This past week, having not done so for quite some time, I went to Wyoming to put down a possible prairie dog rebellion. It was some of the best shooting I’ve had, and I got to use some very good equipment as well.
My gun was a Browning X-Bolt Varmint Stalker in .223. The X-Bolt is the successor to the A-Bolt and is a highly refined rifle with a very low receiver, good, not great, trigger, very fast lock time, and a tang safety. It comes in several configurations and innumerable calibers, but the Varmint Stalker is all flat-black, has a composite stock, and what looks like a No. 3 contour 24-inch barrel. It’s heavy enough to hold steady even with a powerful scope, but is not weighty enough to qualify as a barbell.
It feeds flawlessly from a five-shot detachable rotary magazine and has a nice squishy recoil pad. What impressed me about my rifle was that it was highly accurate when I shot it cold, and stayed accurate when it was so hot that the heat crept from the barrel into the scope rings. That’s hot. The MSRP is $1,120, which is reasonable for what you get, which is a lot. Maybe someday they’ll make it left-handed.
Perched on the Varmint Stalker was a Bushnell 4X-16X Elite scope, which is just about perfect for suppressing pasture-wrecking rodents. It sells for $383, has good optics, and is strong. I’ve been using Elites for something like 20-plus years, and have never broken one, though God knows I have not spared them anything.
The Elite line used to consist of the 3200 and 4200, the latter incorporating additional refinements. However, Bushnell has now upgraded what used to be the 3200 line and done away with the two numerical designations. They are all simply Elites. I don’t think this line of scopes has gotten the credit it deserves for absolute drop-dead reliability. There’s nothing better that I know of.
Last on the list was Hornady ammo. I shot two types: the 55-grain V-Max load, and the new Superperformance 35-grain NTX load which sends its bullets screeching along at 4,000 fps, which is .220 Swift velocity. In my rifle, the latter did not shoot quite as well as the V-Max ammo, and it seemed that the wind pushed them more, although this is just my impression.
However, the effect of the NTX ammo on rodents was, shall we say, spectacular. If you’re one of the Red Mist crowd, you’re going to be drooling with pleasure. Every shot produced a Mary Lou Retton or a Nadia Comaneci.
All told, I don’t think the prairie dogs enjoyed it much, but I had a hell of a good time, and if you haven’t tried this kind of shooting, you should.