The Prairie Dog Conference 1999

By Bill Wade

Well after many many miles of driving, the wife and I made it to Chinook, Montana for the 1999 Prairie Dog Conference.

Twelve editors/writers and 65 other shooters descended on Chinook to make up "The Conference". The parking lots at the motels looked liked used truck lots. Pickups, SUV's and trailers clad with shooting benches and equipment for the event.

The annual event is brought together by Chuck Cornett, AKA- "Dog Father"
. I had never met Chuck, so it was a pleasure to get to visit with him. He is a character. His assistant, Denise, was also at the event and obviously had a great part in putting the event together.

The shooting was to be done at the Ft Belknap Reservation, about 25 miles east of Chinook. Using Indian guides, 6 groups of cars would be taken to various dog towns on the reservation.

The first day out I had the honor of shooting with Layne Simpson and Michael Pack. Yes, the real Layne Simpson. I thought it was pretty cool, too. The guide set us up on a town where we could shoot out to 400 yards and about a 100-degree arc in front of us. The wind was not in our favor and only got worse as the day progressed, but at least the dogs were up.

We had enough equipment combined to put a dent in the prairie dog population of Montana: A bench, a mat, bi-pods, rests, spotting scopes, binoculars, several guns and a couple thousand rounds of ammunition.

I can summarize rifle and accuracy requirements pretty easily. If it is a centerfire, and you enjoy shooting it several times in a row, use it. Accuracy seemed to have very little effect considering someone had to spot for you and tell you how many FEET left, right, short or long you were hitting. Half-inch groups at the range meant NOTHING.

Granted, if your rifle shoots exactly the same place every time, it could help, but one little puff of wind and it just does not matter anymore. I saw a several dogs killed on the first shot and I won't even tell you how many shots it took for some of them. At one point, it got to be pretty humorous as the brass kept mounding and the dog kept standing. We won, but like deer
hunting, the price per pound of meat was much higher than lobster.

Later in the day, Michael and I decided to walk down and confirm some shots. If you have ever deer hunted in heavy timber, you will be able to relate to the fact that as soon as you stand up, all of the depth perception and
landmarks, take on a different appearance.

We made our stroll partially because I had just nailed a dog with my .243 and I wanted to see the results. We were never certain we found him. All the mounds looked the same, and there were so many mounds, it was nearly impossible to stand up and walk directly to a mound, especially when you had to keep looking at your feet to make sure you put your foot down in the
right place.

As we neared the edge of our shooting area, we discovered that there was a bowl shaped section of our shooting area that was not visible from where we had been sitting. Guess what? It was full of prairie dogs. Probably a 10-acre section full of the little devils. We trotted back and grabbed rifles, bi-pods and ammo. In 15 minutes, I fired 45 times. Killed 1 dog. Just kidding. I don't know exactly how many I killed in that section but several, and mostly because walking in on them, we could spot them, stop and shoot. Move a little further and shoot some more. Most of those shots were 100 to 200 yards and the wind did not give us the problems it had earlier.

The second day, Layne Simpson opted to shoot with the folks from Prairie Gun Works. Michael Pack and I got the vehicle in line and away we went. We drove for miles across open prairie and were certain that just over the next ridge, the guide would stop and set us up. We got tickled when Michael said, "White man follow anywhere". Guess you had to be there, but I think that day we drove some 100 plus miles through the prairie before we got back to asphalt.

The guides gave us the go ahead to move around a little more on the second day. Pointed us in the general direction that the dog town ran and they went to scout out some other areas. We drove until we spotted a cluster of mounds and then we would walk out away from the vehicle and shoot a while. We rearranged things in the back of the Jimmy so the guns were more accessible and as we drove from cluster to cluster, we could set up quickly and start shooting.

Michael was shooting a short action laminated Savage in 22-250. He had polished the fluted barrel and bolt with Flitz, to an almost chrome appearance. Made the gun pretty sharp. He had swapped out the trigger for one of the adjustable after market models and no other modifications had been made. The gun was very accurate and between wind gusts he made some
great one shot kills.

Both of us had camcorders with us so I filmed with his camera for him and got some great shots of bullet performance. He was shooting moly-coated bullets, but I am not sure what bullet.

I had taken 4 rifles with me, 220 Swift, .243, 22 Hornet and 22 rimfire; Never even used the Hornet or rimfire. Ninety percent of my shooting was done with the Swift. I could not resist. The heavy barrel and fantastic scope made it my favorite right away.

I discussed the number of kills with a gunsmith from Montana who was shooting with our group and we agreed that shooting volume was nearly as rewarding as scoring. Sure we could have sat at the range and punched paper but it just would not have been the same.

Time to socialize seemed short but I met a bunch of great folks and had a ball. The wives and/or significant others who attended the event were taken on tours at surrounding attractions and as it was reported to me, had a great time. As the event came to a close Saturday evening, the women were exchanging business cards, email addresses and scheming about plans for next

The industry involvement in this event was impressive. I can't begin to list all of the companies represented but to them I say thank you. Your support is appreciated.

Bill Wade