Firearms | How To | Hunting
Hone your hunting skills with a suppressed varmint hunt

Hone your hunting skills with a suppressed varmint hunt

Hone your hunting skills with a suppressed varmint hunt

“Clean miss, low right,” my buddy proclaimed in a slightly mocking tone for the obvious prairie dog miss. In my defense, the shot was more than 400 yards with a stiff, bullet-altering breeze that created a mathematical conundrum of calculations. Had the prairie dog been a pronghorn my buddy would now be thinking pack out instead of preparing for his next taunting when I missed again.

A lineup of factors facilitated a great day of summer varmint hunting. The prairie dog town we targeted had not been hammered by the recent outbreaks of bubonic plague. Adults and pups busied themselves throughout the colony. The winds were breezy, but not gale force as often occurs across the prairies. Temperatures settled in the 80s, very different from searing 100-degree temperatures common in July. Adding to the pleasure of the day was the fact we adorned our rifles with suppressors. The ability to talk without yelling at each other and share information in a normal fashion between shots boosted the educational value of sending projectiles downrange.

If you do not own a suppressor by now, you are missing a world of stifled rifle cracks. Silencer Central can put you on track to the ideal model that mates with your firearm or in the case of many of their models, teams with all your firearms. Summer varmint hunting provides a hunting platform to assess your suppressed rifle and so much more.

Prairie Dog

Black-tailed prairie dogs reign as the king for varmint hunting pursuits, but ground hogs, gophers and even hogs provide offseason varmint hunting opportunities. Photo by Mark Kayser

Shoot more – Spook less

Without question, the continuous bang of a rifle with echoes resonating across a valley soon make varmints weary. Your hunt may focus on the popular prairie dog with colonies found across the Great Plains and throughout Western basins. They thrive on many public lands including National Grasslands and Bureau of Land Management tracts. You don’t live near a prairie dog, nor have time to travel to their ZIP code? No worries.

In the East you can pursue Punxsutawney Phil’s brethren in farm fields north and south. Famers appreciate the removal of these diggers. Varmint hunters of the northern tier of American seek out the Richardson’s ground squirrel. Midwestern varmint hunters visit pastures to place crosshairs on the small thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Even California has a varmint problem with their abundant California ground squirrel.

Some of you may skip the rodents altogether and keep summer busy with hog hunts in states where the problem allows hunting year-round, day or night. Those varmints even offer a chance to feed your barbecue cravings if successful.

Regardless of your varmint hunting mission, the use of a suppressor reduces the loudness on most modern centerfire rifles to levels the Occupational, Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) deems as not harmful to your hearing. This is especially true in a repeated setting like an afternoon of varmint hunting. In addition to preserving your hearing, suppressed shooting spooks varmints less, particularly if you set yourself a distance away from the varmint home territory. Instead of getting less than 10 shots in before the varmint alarm bells ring, you could spend the entire day at a location.

Multiple rifles

Taking two or more rifles along to hunt varmints gives you the opportunity to let one rifle cool while you test the other. Taking your big game rifle into the field provides you with a warmup to hunting seasons ahead. Photo by Mark Kayser

Testing a rifle

Varmint hunting provides the perfect workshop to test rifles. No doubt your .22-250 Remington, .223 Remington, 6mm ARC, or (name your favorite varmint caliber), will make it into your truck. To make your day even more of a learning experience, bring along your preferred big game caliber. Sure, it will be overkill, but except for a hog or possibly a pudgy ground hog, you likely have no plans to bring back a heap of prairie dogs for a Beverly Hillbillies-style potluck.

Varying shooting positions, changing climatic conditions and fluctuating distances, combined with your fall shooting iron, gives you valuable insight on how your rifle performs beyond the rifle range. I routinely bring along my two big game rifles, both Bergaras chambered in the old school .300 Winchester magnum and the newer 7mm PRC.

Launching several rounds from these canons adds to varmint management in a big way, but how bullets perform in the real arena is invaluable. A suppressor helps tame calibers like this by reducing recoil. That is important since recoil, combined with the loud report of a rifle has direct links to flinching. Suppress and test your hunting caliber for a fall warmup on a varmint outing.

The Best Suppressors for Varmint Hunting

BANISH 30.3011.2-14.3 oz.7-9 in.$999
YHM RESONATOR K .3012.4 oz.5.65 in.$699.95
COASTAL XDS .223 .22328 oz.8.5 in.$550
BANISH BACKCOUNTRY.307.8 oz.5.5 in.$1,099
DEAD AIR NOMAD 30 .3014.5 oz.6.5 in.$949
HUXWRX VENTUM 762 .3014.5 oz.6.7 in.$996
SILENCERCO OMEGA 300 .3014.8 oz.7.08 in.$699

Varmint hunting gives you an opportunity to team with your rifle and understand its character in the field. Photo by Mark Kayser

Honing your shooting skills

Whether shooting with a varmint caliber or your big game pet caliber, honing your skills while testing calibers on varmints benefits your future hunts. One of the challenges members of our hunting party sets up is distance estimation. Sure, distances today are available with the tap of a button. My Sig Sauer BDX knocks out accurate ranges to 1,000 yards and beyond and serves up in easy-to-read LCD readouts. But what happens if that device fails, batteries die, or the bull of a lifetime only gives you a fleeting second to shoot? Can you come up with an estimated range in the blink of an eye? Choose targets and do not range them beforehand. Or, if you do not want to miss, estimate the range beforehand and then have your partner zap the precise distance to see if you win.

Memorizing the trajectory of your favorite hunting caliber helps when you need to make a snap decision. Attaching a DOPE card (data on previous engagement) provides a cheat sheet secured to your buttstock for quick reference. Also, shooting a caliber with a flat trajectory and high ballistic coefficient improves your odds of landing a bullet in a pie plate target, common for big game.

Ranging your shot

Using a suppressor while varmint hunting helps you veil your hunting with suppressed shots, plus talk to your hunting partners as you estimate distance and call the shots for them. Photo by Mark Kayser

When you quickly need to arrive at a distance, compare the space between you and the target with something you already know. The most common distance to memorize is 100 yards, a football field’s distance, and then mentally calculate how many fields to the target. Come up with your own football field unit as a measurement but work with it to use as a crutch if your rangefinder is not readily available.

Judging the wind also plays a critical role, especially for the long shot. I could write volumes on how to read a wind mirage, vegetation movement and how to estimate wind that could be blowing harder on the other side of a canyon. Yes, it is a science. Nevertheless, shooting in varying winds at varying distances gives you a feel for drift and how heavier bullets from larger calibers handle that wind over a smaller projectile. Play in the wind!

Working on stealth

Prairie dogsFinally, test your stealth with varmints. OK, some gophers may not require a ghillie suit, total camouflage and a crawling approach, but Punxsutawney Phil and his cousins have been known to run for the hills when they see a vertical shape approaching. Put yourself in stealth mode when needed to get your mind in the hunting season mood.

Public land prairie dogs offer a readily available hunting experience, but even these small-brained creatures understand that trucks and upright forms equals danger by the time the Fourth of July arrives. Popular shooting areas soon educate varmints to the point that a cloaked arrival in combination with suppressed shooting extends your opportunities. On several occasions I suggested to shooting partners that if we crawl to a rise and commence shooting first from prone, before deploying shooting tables, we will get an hour or more extra of shooting. And as noted, using a suppressor just aids in that veiled approach.

Varmint hunting may not offer the delicious reward of a backstrap (unless hogs are your goal), but the outing provides the perfect classroom to make your rifle a qualified collaborator on your next big game hunt.

About the Author

Author Mark KayserTo many of you, Mark Kayser needs no introduction. An acclaimed outdoor writer, Kayser has written for most major hunting publications including American Hunter, Outdoor Life, North American Whitetail  and many more.

He is also a regular guest on the Deer & Deer Hunting podcast, and on many hunting television shows. He is based in the heart of big-game hunting – Sheridan Wyoming.