A 1264 Yard Rockchuck

My nephew, Gus, took a rockchuck at 1264 yards.

Here’s the hero shot.  (Red arrow shows the location of the rockchuck.)

Hero Shot
The Hero Shot

And, now the story.

It’s getting close to the time our rockchucks will be going down for the year so I wanted to make a hunt this week.  My youngest son, Ben, has held the family record for the longest rockchuck shot.   He took one this spring at around 1100 yards.   But, since Ben was out of town visiting his brother, I asked my nephew, Gus, if he wanted to go along.  Gus was game so we headed out to try to get to a promising looking canyon I’d seen while hunting the previous week.  The road was horrible but we eventually made it to within a short hike of the canyon. 

 The canyon was wider than I had imagined.  It turned out to be a little over 800 yards across.  We set up on the rim and began glassing.  Eventually I spotted a couple of rockchucks beyond the far rim of the canyon standing up in the grass.  They offered good shots but poor spotting.  Gus ranged the area with his Leica 1200 at around 1250 yards.  He only had ten rounds of ammo for his .308 with him.  He told me that the previous two rounds from his .308 had scored on two sage rats and one bear and he wanted to keep his string going.  I suggested that if that was the case, he probably wouldn’t want to start shooting at 1200 yard rockchucks.  But, being the sensible young man that he is, he decided he might as well take a poke at them anyway.

Gus had not shot this particular load past 500 yards.  The longest kill he’d made with the gun previously was around 550 yards on a prairie dog on our Wyoming trip two summers ago.  With no drop chart we just discussed things and took a guess based on the drops for my rifle and adding more for the rainbow trajectory of the big 175 grain SMK.  I told him to dial in 48 minutes of angle elevation and five MOA of wind.  It didn’t  instill a lot of confidence in him concerning our dope when I told him I hoped I could see his shot in the field of view of my spotting scope!

Location of shot
Shooting Location

Gus shoots a Remington 700 SPS in a B&C stock (I think) with a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14X scope.  It definitely wasn’t too much magnification for the situation!  He told me later that the horizontal crosshair was covering the whole ‘chuck.  He dialed up, settled behind the rifle and squeezed off the shot.  I was actually able to call the cold-bore shot.  It was within about one minute on windage and several feet low.  I told him to take one minute of wind out and come up another six MOA.  That got us in the ball park on the next shot and he ended up with 58 1/4 minutes of elevation in the scope and three minutes of wind.  For reference, that elevation equates to over 60 feet of holdover at that range!

The shots from that point on were all very close.  He was close enough that he was scaring the rockchucks off with each shot.  We’d then have to wait to find another in a position where I could spot the shot before he could loose another round.  Long story short, on round number seven I saw no dust and the rockchuck took off like a scalded cat across the rocks and onto an angled face of a ledge where it launched itself into the air off a 40 foot cliff!  We could see it wasn’t running correctly but didn’t know whether Gus had just hit it in the leg or what.  He felt good enough about it to want to go check.  I on the other hand wasn’t nearly as excited.

One challenge of long range shooting is the retrieval.  This ‘chuck was a long ways away and across the canyon.  Because of the rimrock, I didn’t know how far we’d have to go just to get to the bottom of the canyon which also happened to have a good sized stream running through it.  But, being the good uncle I am, I went along.  It took us over a half mile and an encounter with one very large rattle snake to get to a spot we could descend into the canyon.  When we got to the stream, the run-off made it more like a small river and that was where the whole Good Uncle thing gave out!

Gus stripped down to his skivvies and carried his pants and shoes across the swollen creek.  I didn’t know if he was going to be able to stay upright in the current but he’s shaped like Gumby so he doesn’t displace lot of water.  He made it out, got dressed and headed up the other side of the canyon.  I watched through the spotting scope as he approached the bottom of the bluff.  A minute or so later he was holding up his 1264 yard rockchuck!  The shot turned out to be a centermass hit with close to a one inch exit.  The rockchuck was dead before he hit the ground.

Fording the creek
Gus refording the creek with his trophy

It took nearly three hours to get to the ‘chuck and make it back to our shooting location where we finished the “photo shoot”.   Gus took several readings with his range finder.  The average turned out to be 1264 yards.

Gus was really looking forward to rubbing his new record in his cousin’s face.  Ben had pretty well stopped reaching out past about 1100 yards thinking his family record was safe.  I can already envision Ben’s drive to move beyond 1264 yards.  He’s got his work cut out for him but somehow I think he’s up to the task!

I never fired a shot but it was good day with a good kid and one exceptional shot.

Mix and Match Varmints

My son, Ben, is my varmint hunting partner.  I’m not sure if the relationship will last when he has enough gas money to strike out on his own but, for now, its working.  We had a nice day on tap so we set out to look over some new rockchuck country.  The day turned into a mix and match of varmints and rifles as events unfolded and we adapted to what the day provided.

As we four-wheeled through the desert, we glassed likely looking areas for rockchucks.  Unless we spot several rockchucks, we usually just keep hunting allowing the singles or doubles a chance to propagate.  Eventually we spotted a number of ‘chucks scattered among some rocks in a sage basin.  This wasn’t typical rockchuck habitat with a rim and scattered boulders on a hillside.   But we take it as we find it and Ben got out his .17 Fireball to try for the first ‘chucks we found that were within 250 yards of our location.

Ben shoots 25 grain Hornady hollowpoints and, more recently, 25 grain Berger Match Varmint bullets from his .17.  These do double duty on varmints and predators so even though there is not as much splat factor for the red mist crowd, it allows him shoot one load from his rifle.  Ben took a couple of rockchucks from our first position then graciously offered to let me take one with his rifle since I had only brought my RF binos along.  The little Fireball was a pleasure to shoot and allowed me to take my first .17 centerfire varmint with virtually zero recoil.

From our initial vantage we began to glass further into the basin and saw a fair number of rockchucks out beyond 300 yards so we decided to go back to the truck for our longer range rifles.  I was in between scopes on my .243AI so I got my Cooper M21 Varminter in .204 out and Ben got out his M700 .243AI.  We skirted behind a low ridge and came over the top as if we were on a big game hunt and rolled out the shooting mat setting up just over the ridge.  After removing some grass from in front of the hide, we settled in and began to alternate shots from 365 yards to 475 yards.  The lone shot at 475 went just wide but we took several of the ‘chucks from 365 to 425 yards.

When we felt we’d done enough damage to the local population, we went out to take a survey of our shots.  We took some photographs but were interrupted several times by jack rabbits as they moved through the sage.  Not to let a wayward varmint go to waste, I took several off-hand shots at the rabbits from 75 to 125 yards but I quickly learned that I needed to get off my bipod and do some more position shooting!  The rabbits were obviously not very wary as they would only run a few yards and stop thinking of fangs rather than bullets.  The couple that did meet with my 39 grain Sierra BlitzKings showed some serious splat factor. 

We returned to the truck and went a little farther down the two-track before sighting a rockchuck on a point of rocks at 545 yards.  This time we broke out the portable shooting bench from the back of the truck.  The wind was almost full value at 15 mph from left to right.  Ben doped it almost perfectly and his first shot went within inches of the rockchuck.  A quick adjustment and the second shot rolled the rockchuck off his perch.

I glassed around while Ben went after his rockchuck carrying my Savage .17HMR.  Shots at jack rabbits sounded as he made his way out and back with his “trophy”.  I found a few more ‘chucks in the opposite direction so I turned the bench around and took a large one off a rock pile to the north with a perfect headshot.  When Ben got back, we traded shots on another rim to the east shooting at around 330 yards.  Again, Ben got some HMR shots at rabbits as we went out to bring back the rockchucks for a picture.

Some good times and some good shooting on a mix and match varmint day.  We left the sage rats alone for our guided hunt customers or we could have made it a varmint hunting trifecta.  There will be time for them later as there is No Off Season!

Sage Rats Go Mainstream

No Off Season just finished filming a sage rat hunt with Scott Haugan for an upcoming episode of his show, Game Chasers, on the Outdoor Network.  Scott and Tiffany Haugan with their two sons, Braxton (9) and Kazden (7), and their cameraman, Travis Ralls, came to southeast Oregon this week to film the episode.  Scott was focusing on the opportunity to start young shooters and train with multiple weapons for other hunting endeavors.  They also spent a lot of time documenting the damage caused by sage rats and the need to control these destructive varmints.

Scott and Kazden
Scott and Kazden

 The weather was terrible the day they arrived.  Ice cold winds of 25 mph were the order but the kids as well as the adults were able to get some decent shooting in between warm-ups in the truck!  The second day was much better with sunshine and only a moderate breeze.  The looks on the boys’ faces as they whacked ‘rat after ‘rat was priceless.  Although they may have to edit it out of the final cut, the boys giggling as they made a good shot or the sage rats did acrobatics just makes me happy!  (There were a few giggles out of the adults too!) 

 They all shot with everything from .22 single shots to AR15’s.  Scott and Tiffany as well as the boys did quite a bit of archery shooting with Judo points and they even did a little shotgun shooting off sticks to get the kids ready for upcoming turkey hunts.  These boys have literally hunted all over the world.  Braxton shot a zebra and Kazden shot his first wildebeast in Zimbabwe last year but both of them thought the sage rat hunting was over-the-top for volume and action! 


 They all enjoyed just hanging out and experiencing ranch life.  Two of the local buckaroos roped a couple bull calves that my brother, Todd, needed to castrate–just impromptu entertainment on a working ranch. A game of horseshoes whiled-away some time while Scott and Travis filmed and did interviews.  (I had to sign a “Model Agreement” for Travis to use some interview footage.  If you saw my old, fat butt, the last thing you’d expect is for me to sign a “Model Agreement”!) 

 They stayed in the B&B on the ranch and we fed them BBQ and dutch oven desert but they never required nor asked for (and didn’t receive) any special treatment.  Although I didn’t know what to expect going into this project, the Haugan’s are just a neat family with very well-mannered kids.  I dealt with Scott in the planning and throughout the filming and never saw him make a bobble with me or his family–just a genuinely nice and very likeable guy.  

Scott, Braxton and Kazden
Scott, Braxton and Kazden

The weather just kept getting better with warming temperatures and less and less wind  They made some shots at over 200 yards with the centerfire rifles and plenty of close range shots that kept the kids interested.  We missed an opportunity at a badger on the final morning.  It left the field before Scott could get on it. 

 It was an enjoyable hunt for everyone.  The episode will air next March on Scott’s show Game Chasers on the Outdoor Channel. 

Travis the Cameraman
Travis the camera man

 No Off Season and sage rats are going main stream!  Stay tuned!

More information on our guided hunts

and Check out Scott’s blog  

Calling all Long Range Varmint Shooters!

We’re going through a transition.  I hate that word.  Transition generally denotes change and change is not always comfortable but I find the transitions in the predator and varmint hunting world are easier because they hold promise.  I love to call predators.  It’s one of the most exhilarating things in the world but after a long, cold winter of piling on layers and fighting the snow, the varmint fields start to look pretty inviting.   The colony varmints are starting to come out now—actually they’ve been starting to come out for weeks but the transition in the weather isn’t keeping up with the desire of my mind!  Our sage rats are trying to get out between rain showers and snow squalls and icy winds .  The “‘rats” don’t offer the heart pounding excitement of a charging predator but, hey, there’s something to be said for a hunting sport that doesn’t require a 4:30 alarm and can see hundreds of rounds fired per day! 

The sage rats offer the shooter an unequalled opportunity to burn ammunition and utilize that last quarter inch you wrung out of your handloads at the range.  This early season ground squirrel and prairie dog shooting is made for the accurate centerfire rifle.  It’s just as hard for the grass to go above ground as it is for the squirrels so the cover is almost non-existent.  With relatively exposed targets and large ones at that, we get to stretch the legs on the heavy barrel rifles with the Hubble-like scopes.   Accuracy trumps terminal bullet performance now and laser trajectories make reaching the practical limits of your rifle’s accuracy on a target that only spans two inches less than a mathematical, computer-driven event and more a relaxed chance for trigger time.  We just bust out the benches and shoot!  That said, the rockchucks have been peeking out about as long as the sage rats.

Our country doesn’t hold a lot of rockchucks so we have to practice self-imposed conservation measures to keep from shooting them out.  What that means for others is up to you but for us, we’ve put a self-imposed limit of “No rockchucks under 1000 yards ‘til May.”  A few years ago 400 yards would have been just as realistic in conserving the resource.  For you, the minimum range may be much further.  My son, Ben, connected on his first rockchuck of the season last year at 1044 yards so, “Game On!” as they say .  The size of rockchucks makes them a viable long range target.  They will weigh up to maybe fifteen pounds in our area.  So, now the need for a dedicated long range rig comes into play and, yes, you better get to the computer or, better yet, carry one with you.  One nice thing about long range rockchuck shooting is that there are generally multiple targets at similar ranges and they don’t necessarily run off when the shots are coming out of the next zip code.   This allows a shooter with a spotter to “walk” onto target.  It doesn’t make it pure sniper “one shot, one kill” stuff but it allows newer long range shooters a chance to work their way into the game.  “One shot, One kill” stuff can be progressed into as the LR shooter gains experience.

A few good sage rat shoots have kept the reloading press busy already this spring but the big events have been our LR rockchuck attempts.   The first two attempts resulted in more data-gathering sessions than killfests.  Does  “No animals were harmed in the process of this shooting” mean anything to you?  On the third try of the year, it started to come together.   My son, Ben, and I each connected on 1000+ yard rockchucks in one evening. 

You can read the whole story here: 

1000+yard Rockchuck

It felt like sweet success but I’ve also come to know that “Pride comes before the fall.” So I won’t hold my breath that the feat can be repeated any time soon.  But, you know what?  Today is another of those rare-for-this-spring sunny and calm days.  Maybe we should go out to see if it was just a fluke or not…..