During the month of May - 2010, I was in Alberta Canada hunting Black Bear. Now I am not going to tell you a story about there being 50,000 Bear in this one Area of Canada. I’m not going to tell you about all of the Bear in the different color phases (blonde, chocolate or cinnamon) that I saw. I’m not going to tell you about having Bear trying to climb up the same tree I was sitting in. I’m going to talk about all the fun we had shooting 22’s every morning before the afternoon Bear hunt.
When I was a kid, I thought the most fun in the whole world was to go out and shoot either Rabbits or Varmints. Back in those days, Deer hunting was for the meat. If I was able to shoot a nice Mule deer, we had a supply of meat for the winter. The deer hunting season was short, just two weeks and when that was over, most hunters would put away their 30-30 or 30-06 rifles until the following year. After the season ended, I was always looking for a way to be able to go shooting. I knew of areas in the woods where plenty of rabbits and squirrels hung out. I also knew of several great areas in the plains, where the farmers wanted you to come out and shoot prairie dogs and ground squirrels. If I was lucky where the prairie dogs were, you could find an occasional coyote, and there was a two dollar bounty on coyote. If I could happen to get two or three coyotes I could pay for my weekend of shooting.
I had a good 22 rifle which my mom had bought for me and it was great for rabbits and squirrels, but anything out beyond 100 yards was pretty safe. The coyotes seemed to know my range and would hover about 150 yards away picking up the ground squirrels I had shot. I needed more rifle and a longer range gun. I decided to build my first wildcat caliber and selected the 17 Ackley Mag. Now this rifle was great, it would vaporize the prairie dogs and ground squirrels out to 400 yards and the coyotes never had a chance. There were a few problems with this caliber though. First, if you shot anything that you wanted to keep and eat, forget it, there was not enough good meat left to make a sandwich. Second, the barrel fouled or got dirty after about 15 shots. So I would have to clean it before the accuracy would come back. Third, it took special cleaning tools to clean a 17 caliber rifle. The cleaning rods were so small in diameter that I was always bending the cleaning rod and that would end my shooting for the day or weekend. The last problem was finding quality 17 caliber bullets. All of the ammo I shot, I had to make and finding the bullets was getting harder and more expensive all the time.
The next rifle I started shooting was a 22-250 which I borrowed from a friend. This rifle was the perfect answer for my weekend prairie dog shooting. I could hit dogs out to 400 plus yards and could hit a walking coyote beyond 300 yards. I could shoot 40 or 50 times before I had to clean the bore and ammo was easy to make or I could even buy factory ammo if I had to. On a good weekend, I could make money with this rifle by shooting 4 or 5 coyote. My normal weekend shooting would be to take out my 3 favorite rifles and set up above a dog town and blast away with the 22 at the close targets. Later when the ground squirrels would get smart and not come out at 75 or 80 yards, then the big guns would come out and I could shoot 200 rounds of ammo in a good day. The coyotes were curious about the shooting and wanted to get a free lunch and would come around to see what they could snatch up. Any coyote that would stop for more than 5 or 6 seconds would be mine. I soon learned how to shoot the smart ones that would never stop and just slow to a walk. I would try a few running shots but that was just a waste of good ammo.
I started remembering all the fun I had when I was a kid on the first morning after arriving in Bear camp. One of the other hunters asked me if I had ever shot ground squirrels. I told him I had, but it was a long time ago. He said he and his wife were going out to shoot some and asked if I wanted to go. He armed me with a bull barreled 22 with a very old 4 power scope and we hopped into a Suzuki 4 wheel drive and headed out. We didn’t have to drive far before seeing all of the holes in the farmer’s fields. There must have been thousands of ground squirrels in this area. The squirrels had done so much damage there was no way you could ride a horse in these fields. I was surprised that the cows had not broken any legs in the holes. The sun came out and the squirrels started popping out of their holes. I became a kid again. Any squirrel out to 75 yards would never make another hole in the ground. We had 2 rifles so we would take turns with 2 shooters and one driver. Between breakfast and lunch we could easily rack up 100 or more ground squirrels.
We would hunt bear in the afternoon. From four to about ten every afternoon you would sit in a tree and count the bears coming into the bait. I was lucky enough to shoot a very nice cinnamon colored black bear on the third day of a six day hunt.
After I shot my bear, I had to do some filming to finish up a TV show, but as soon as I was done I was out in the fields shooting ground squirrels. On the last day of the hunt, I spent the whole day blasting away with the 22 and had managed to shoot up 400 rounds of the outfitters ammo. I had 5 bullets left when I noticed a lone coyote coming in at a trot. He had his eye on a new calf that had been born that morning. As he closed the distance on the calf, I set up rock steady on the hood of the Suzuki. The coyote made a fatal mistake; he stopped at about 80 yards and looked straight at me. Well, he never bothered the new born calf.
There are some great calibers for Varmint shooting. I would lump them in to three categories short range, medium range and long range. For short range shooting nothing beats a good 22 LR. A 22 Mag or 17 HMR are just as good, but cost a bit more to shoot. For middle range shooting out to 300 yards I like a 223 Rem. A 222 Rem. or 17 Rem. or even a 6x45 work good but again 300 rounds of daily shooting can cost a lot more. For long range shooting beyond 350 yards I think the 22-250 is King. I also like the 220 Swift or even a 243 Rem. or a custom built 6mm-284 would be great for super long 600 plus yards. None of these rifles are cheap to shoot, but if you want consistent kills at 400 or 600 yards you need a fast, flat shooting rifle.