The Genesis of the Montana Rifles Prairie Runner

The genesis of the Prairie Runner lies long ago (the first half of the previous century) and far away in a serene and untroubled land (the United States), where it was fashionable for the literate, the well-bred, and the cultured among shooters to stroll through meadow and pasture, rifle on shoulder, pot the occasional woodchuck, and step in the occasional cow turd. Townsend Whelen did it. Warren Page did it. Jim Carmichel did it. I did it. Farmers, in whose pastures the rodents excavated massive holes, were glad to see us. The woodchucks weren’t thrilled, but no one asked them.

The basis of all this was a rifle that you could actually hunt with, as in sling it on your shoulder and hike. You saw everything from .22 Hornets to .220 Swifts. For a while, the .222 was immensely popular. I had a number of walking rifles. I started with a hideous but affordable Savage Model 340 in .222, then upgraded to a Remington 725, and eventually to a pair of Ruger Number Ones in .222 and .22/250, which I would love to have again.

But all good things have to end, and so did this. Coyotes came back, and the woodchucks moved from the pastures back into the woods where it was safer. Prairie-dog shooting came into vogue, and the rifles for that were monstrous bull guns, mounted in the beds of pickups. People stopped walking, generally. The walking-around varmint rifle became one with Nineveh and Tyre.

Now it’s returned in a different form. Montana Rifle Company’s Prairie Runner, despite its considerable weight, is still handy enough to hike with. It’s an all-stainless gun with a 24-inch, #5 contour barrel, a slotted, not ported, muzzle brake, and a Boyd’s Varmint Thumbhole laminated stock in green camo. Right now, it comes only in .22/250, but if they ever catch up with demand, some future chamberings may be .223, .300 Black Out, .243, .204 Ruger, and .220 Swift.

Montana Rifle Company started in 1990 as a barrel maker (very good barrels) and eventually began turning out complete guns. In 1999, they introduced a controlled-feed action that was a hybrid of the 98 Mauser and the Model 70 Winchester. It took awhile for people to figure out how good these guns were, and how reasonable the prices, but that finally happened, and now the former one-man company has 80 employees and offers eight models, one tactical rifle and seven game guns, in both wood-stocked and synthetic-stocked versions.

The Prairie Runner is designed to make the song dogs yodel, the prairie dogs run for their holes, and the antelope fall over dead. It’s a rifle that’s designed for precision shooting. My sample, with a Zeiss Victory 6X-20X scope on board, weighs 13 pounds. Combined with the muzzle brake, which is a good one, that weight makes it virtually recoilless. There’s no kick to disrupt your sight picture, and you can see the bullet strike.

This concept was evolved by prairie-dog shooters who walked their shots onto the rodent, and needed to see the slug hit in real time in order to adjust for the next round. “You want to see the fur part,” was how one of them put it.

Back in the dear, dead days of woodchuckery, the standard rifling twist for a .22/250 was 1-14, since just about everyone used bullets of 50 to 55 grains, and that was what worked best. Now, however, under the influence of the 5.56 NATO round, which has steadily increased its bullet weight up to 77 grains in some versions, many modern .22 centerfires come with twist rates of 1 in 8 or 1 in 9, with some as fast as 1 in 7. The Prairie Runner has a 1 in 9 barrel, and because I wanted to fit in, I worked up a load using Hornady 60-grain V-Max bullets.

One in 9 will stabilize 50-grain slugs just fine, but I’ve come to be a believer in heavy bullets, and the gun will put five rounds in .509-inch, and has printed three-shot groups of half that size.

I was asked which trigger weight I would prefer and said 2 pounds, and that’s just what I got—a lovely trigger indeed. Montana uses the original Model 70 trigger, which is the simplest and most foolproof design of all, but which requires some skill to adjust.

The fore-end is broad, so it works well over a sandbag, and slotted, so the barrel can cool quickly. There are two swivel studs up front, one for a sling and one for a bipod. The fit and finish are extremely good; Montana Rifles is putting a lot of effort into this and it shows.

Up he-ah in Maine, you can drive by the hour past what were once prime woodchuck fields and see nary a pasture poodle, but there's no shortage of coyotes—great, big, arrogant bastards that need to be shown what is what. And that is what the Prairie Runner and I will be doing next fall. The price is $1,415. I have no idea how Montana Rifle Company builds this gun for that price, but I'm not complaining. Montanarifleco.com