Close-Up Plinking
ground squirrel

Groundsquirrels are a popular springtime target
for varmint shooters

On recent spring weekends, I seem to have lost my husband and hunting companion to something he and a few technical-brained male friends call “big boomers.” It all sounds a little suspicious and kinky to me.

I think they’re talking about some kind of deer rifle that doesn’t actually shoot deer-sized bullets. The tiny bullets they do shoot evidently go very fast, but I’m not sure since I’ve never seen even a slow bullet in flight. These guns have scopes big enough to stargaze through. They also have little forked metal sticks on the front end for propping up heavy barrels much too thick for the tiny holes drilled in them.

My husband and his ballistics-babbling friends used these strange weapons to assassinate rock chucks (yellow-bellied marmots) and ground squirrels in distant counties without actually traveling there. Which is silly, because there are lots of chucks and squirrels much closer than that, I know, because I shoot them sometimes with my .22 autoloader. My husband used to .22-plink with me before I lost him to that “big boomer” bunch.

I see no reason to shoot at animals many hundreds of yards away when it’s easy to sneak up close and drill ‘em with one quiet little shot. It also worries me when certain male Neanderthals whoop and shout upon splattering a distant rock chuck all over the hillside with their expensive supercannons. We live in Idaho farm country, and I know alfalfa-eating rodent colonies need to be held down. But a little sporting dignity, please!

My .22 cost about $100. used. It’s got a bigger scope like the one on my .308 deer rifle, which really does help in shooting at small targets in low light. That scope cost only $20 at a yard sale. Meanwhile, I overhear the men-talk about $1000. hot-shot rifles and $500. scopes and $300. for handloading sets! Each bullet from my .22 now costs about fifteen cents. Each handloaded blast from those varmint bazookas, I’m told runs about, what? 50 cents? And, I think I’ve figured out that regular store-bought ammunition for my beloved’s spring wargames would run an easy $1.00+ per shot!

A second national defense budget isn’t needed to wipe out squirrels and chucks! With a regular .22 you get the thrill of making a close-up stalk after a healthy hike through lovely spring hills. When you miss a shot, squirrels and chucks don’t always head for their holes as my husband says. Often they stick around for two or three more tries, which is easy when using a quiet .22 autoloader. Besides, I rarely miss my first shot as those lazy road-cruisers evidently do.

Personally, I think it has a lot to do with firing very loud, hard-kicking guns from 300 yards away. Plus maybe they’re getting fat and uncoordinated from too little exercise! OK, so now I’m getting a bit snarly. Besides, it’s really being “out there” for me. The little critters don’t need a whole lot of “management,” especially now that nearby ranchers have cut down their cattle production quite a bit. Let the badgers  and coyotes have something to eat.

My numbers-happy husband figured out that he and his pals can cover 36 times the area I do with my “little popgun.” After much argument over geometric formulas, I had to agree he was sort of right. But they forget to mention that a plinker like myself is constantly moving around while they sit on their duffs overlooking a big canyon (My bad). While they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting for a terrified chuck to come up, I’m moving along quietly and surprising unmolested game over every new hill.

They brag about how they can carry along shooting benches, spotting scopes, extra rifles, lunch and cold beer in their hunting vehicles. Well, using hi-tech weaponry that puts them at such a disadvantage, I suppose they need all that stuff. All I need is hiking boots, autoloader .22, a few bullets, binoculars, and a set of hinged wooden sticks for steadying the gun on longer shots. This last device was my husband’s clever parting contribution to close-up plinking before he “graduated” to heavy artillery. (K.I.S.S. has always been my formula for life’s adventures, though I admit it takes more effort to maintain that philosophy as I get older. Complications keep creepin’ in.)

Yes, I have heard my bullets ricochet, but rarely. I’m usually careful to shoot directly into a soft dirt bank, and never over a ridge. The flip side of  the “danger” argument is that the bullets used by my noisy competition can carry for a scary five miles. I suppose they’ll soon want bigger scopes so they can shoot at things that far away.

Anybody who hunts anything is bound to wound game now and then. I really hate to see a wounded squirrel or chuck reach its hole, so I try not to fire ‘till I’m sure of the shot. I also check carefully to make sure my target is either dead or cleanly missed. Those guys up on the hill are shooting nuclear-tipped hollow-point eradicators or some such thing – but I notice they rarely hike across the canyon to check out their random bomb craters. So, let’s back off, mister, on that stuff about wounding more game with a .22 rimfire.

I understand some members of my husband’s new shooting club even use their ground squirrel guns on deer in the fall. That sounds pretty nutty to me, though I’m told their bullets fairly vaporize whatever they hit. I don’t want to vaporize a deer. I want to do as little damage as possible, while making a clean kill, so I can bring home more meat. I mean, you can’t eat vaporized venison steaks. Take head shots? Baloney. Too risky. I found a dead deer once with its nose shot off.

I think I’ll just stick with my .308 for deer, and keep hauling out a .22 autoloader when I want a pleasant spring hunt for rock chucks and ground squirrels.

And, I have brought them home to the table. American Indians loved rock chuck, for dinner, even though they are greasy and somewhat smelly. Another reason why, I don’t shoot too many.

Just my take on things.

An updated version of article published May, 1988 Idaho Outdoor Digest.




Dutch Oven Rockchuck Southern Burgoo