By Scott Haugen
Few people even consider hunting prairie dogs with a bow, but in varmint towns they can be great fun, and the perfect training ground to improve your bowhunting and shooting skills. By mid-afternoon, and hundreds of shots later, I had to give my body a rest. I’d killed dozens of prairie dogs, but the 104º temperatures and a fatiguing body told me to call it quits. If traveling out West – or if you live near prairie dog country – there’s no better practice than these varmints. Jack rabbits, both white-tailed and black-tailed, as well as Belding’s and Richardson’s ground squirrels are also prolific in many Western states, and offer great targets on which to hone shooting skills.
Not only is it good practice to shoot at live targets, but it’s a good way to help ranchers and farmers control burgeoning varmint numbers whereby reducing crop loss, preserve grazing land and preventing further injury to livestock and farm equipment that often finds the holes and burrows of such animals.
Judging Distances is one of the toughest aspects for bowhunters in open terrain. A guide buddy once had a hunter miss 18 shots at pronghorns. The hunter refused to use a rangefinder, intent on doing it the “right” way. He never even hit an animal. It goes to show how difficult it really can be when it comes to judging open-terrain distances, and there’s no better way to learn than through high repetition on live quarry.
Compensating for shots into and across a wind can also be done in these usually windy environments the varmints call home. Practicing stalking skills, especially on educated varmints, is also valuable.
Finally, high volume varmint shoots allow you to get to know your gear and how it functions, intimately well. I prefer using the same setup I hunt with, right down to the broadheads. In the end, once you start consistently connecting on crosswind and long-range shots, your confidence rises to a new level you likely have never before experienced. After all, if you can routinely pick-off a prairie dog at 70 yards or a jackrabbit at 30 yards, it will make those close shots at big game seem like a slam-dunk!