Varmints Beware: David Petzal Reviews the Dakota Predator

The Black hills of south Dakota were called Paha Sapa by the Sioux, who considered them sacred. The city of Sturgis is located in the Black Hills and is sacred to the half a million bikers who rally there each summer, and to lovers of fine guns, because it is the home of Dakota Arms, which builds breath-taking rifles and shotguns at breathtaking prices.

Dakota (605-347-4686; www.dakotaarms.com) has recently joined with Nesika Bay Precision Inc., which builds ultra-accurate varmint, hunting, and benchrest rifles, also for considerable sums, though not so high as those of Dakota. While Dakotas are blued steel and fine walnut, Nesikas are stainless steel and synthetic or laminated stocks. It is hard to develop warm, gooey feelings for them unless you are an accuracy freak and know that Nesikas do things like put 10 shots into .242 inch at 200 yards. Then you can get quite worked up.

The two companies have joined forces to produce firearms under the name of Dakota Varmint Rifles. It is a specialized line made from Nesika actions, Dakota stocks, and Lilja barrels (which are button-rifled, stainless-steel world-beaters made by Montanan Dan Lilja [www.riflebarrels.com]. I just had one installed on a .22 rimfire and I still don't quite believe the groups I' m getting). The Predator has a gorgeous stock with a beavertail fore-end and a heavy barrel that is sharply tapered and gives the gun a streamlined look.

Dakota Varmint Rifles are all single-shot bolt actions chambered for the .223, and for various factory and wildcat .20 and .17 calibers. They are also chambered for the Tactical Twenty, a proprietary .20-caliber round based on an improved, necked-down .223 Remington case. It is roughly comparable to the .204 Ruger--32- and 40-grain bullets traveling at 3800 to 4200 fps, along with minimal recoil, noise, and barrel erosion.

I was sent a Predator in .223. When I took it from the case, I had two immediate thoughts. First, This thing is more gorgeous than Charlize Theron. Second, How do I write about a $4,000 varmint rifle? In a mild panic I called the company and was told that prices for the line run from $1,500 to $2,000, which is a long way from $4,000.

The Predator is a serious shooter. Using handloads only, which is what I'd do if I owned it, I was consistently able to print five-shot groups ranging from .300 to .400 inch, and I believe that if I'd had the rifle longer and screwed around more with what I fed it, I could have shrunk its groups even more. I have yet to meet a prairie dog that would not be proud to be sent pinwheeling by a rifle that shot well under half an inch and looked this good.

AN IRONCLAD CASE
Last year, a friend of mine shipped his $5,000 rifle to Africa in a case he thought was strong enough, but the gun arrived with a busted stock, and he collected not one cent in damages. If you'd like your rifle to arrive intact, I commend to you Bear Track aluminum gun cases, which are made by Freedom Arms Co. These things are strong, and they are not all that expensive (rifle cases start at $399) or heavy (the single-gun cases weigh 24 pounds), considering the degree of protection they afford. I sent one via air to Alaska, Colorado, and South Carolina last year, and it survived with hardly a scratch, much less a dent.

If you would like your new Predator, or any other gun you value, to survive the tender ministrations of the ramp apes, call Bear Track at 307-883-2468; www.beartrackcases.com. Bear Tracks are made in a variety of sizes for rifles and handguns, and with a choice of colors and lock options. These are the best cases I know of, period. --D.E.P.