Thinning the varmint hordes

My niece, Damara, thinning the varmint hordes at her Montana home.

It may not be T-Shirt weather yet, but the days are gradually warming and the muddy roads at the gun range and in the backwoods corridors are slowing drying up. It’s ‘go-time;’ the perfect opportunity to extract moth-balled .17 and .22 caliber rimfires and centerfires from the gun safe, do the necessary seasonal prep work, and haul them out to the range.

Before we settle down to do any serious sighting, it is imperative that we take our guns to the workbench for pre-season conditioning. Each spring, I carefully disassemble my guns (using the appropriately-sized gunsmithing screwdrivers to avoid marring the weapons’ factory screws) by separating the gunstock and action. Once separated, I inspect the stock (wooden or synthetic) for any signs of performance-inhibiting damage or wear. Sometimes, repair or refinishing is required.

Once stock work is complete, I examine the metalwork and the sighting equipment (scope or iron sights) to assure that everything is ‘tight’ and in proper operating condition. It is critical that scope mounts are secure and that nothing is loose or rattling. Loose mounts and/or rings will likely cause your gun to shoot eratically, and in many cases, are the prime suspects for mysterious, unexplained misses in the field!

Be sure to torque the mounting screws down appropriately, not excessively! Also, adjust the trigger for safe, reliable functioning and the proper ‘pull characteristics.’

When everything is in order, protect the metalwork with a very ‘light’ film of oil or protectant. Many experienced folks prefer synthetic oil, such as CLP. My recommendation is Remington’s famous Rem Oil. It’s a marvelous cleaner, lube, and protectant — all in one. Make sure to mop up any lingering oil.

On range day, be sure to set your rifle on a stable shooting platform. Many ranges have wonderfully rigid wooden or concrete benches. I like to cradle my gun in a Caldwell Dead Sled set upon my range’s concrete benches for a rock-solid rest. When placing target boards, be sure to set them at the distances you anticipate most of your shooting opportunities will present themselves.

Typically, I zero my .22 LR for the common 50-100 yard shoots that the ground squirrels and prairie dogs offer, my .22 Magnum for 100-150 yard pokes, and my .223 for 200-250, the distances that most coyotes come running to predator calls.

Fire your aimed shots slowly and deliberately, following basic marksmanship protocol. By firing two or three different types of ammunition, you’ll discover which ammo type your particular gun prefers. Complete your final sighting with this preferred brand/style of ammo for optimum accuracy.

Recent testing has shown that my Ruger American .22 Mag dotes on Hornady Varmint Express 30 gr. V-Max cartridges, while the Ruger American .22 LR does it best work with CCI Mini Mag 36 gr. copper plated hollow point slugs.

My favorite long-range varminter is a well-seasoned Mossberg MVP 5.56. This laminate-stocked doll is a real hot rod — up close and at distance — when fed Hornady Varmint Express .223 cartridges loaded with 55 gr. V-Max bullets.

Once your guns are carefully dialed in, it’s time to leave the shooting bench and set out on your own two feet. Prepare and polish your field skills during several walkabout sessions. The object here is to strike out across country (where its legal and safe, of course), taking pinpointed shots at informal targets at both known and estimated distances.

Shooting aids commonly used in the field — such as shooting sticks and bipods — are welcome aids. With deliberate practice, you’ll become a competent plinker and a more humane varminter: crediting both our sport and our shooting traditions. Enjoy and celebrate your 2nd Amendment freedoms this spring!

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