Sage Rat Hunting: Choosing a time

Someone said that “The best time to go hunting is when you can.”  That’s probably true,  but timing your sage rat hunting requires some planning!  Several factors will help determine how to maximize your fun shooting these prolific little varmints.  Weather, hay growth and cartridges of choice all influence when you will find the most satisfaction hunting sage rats.  The timing of the babies surfacing is another factor affecting target numbers and high-volume shooting. 

The weather on a given day influences target number more than any other factor.  As with anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the weather tends to get better as we move from winter into spring.  Generally, the later the hunt, the better the weather tends to be.  Any given day can be cold and blustery in the High Desert country of Eastern Oregon, but the temperatures gradually creep up and the likelihood of precipitation gradually decreases. 

Calm, sunny days are what everyone hopes, and, while optimal, they are not absolutely critical for good shooting.  There’s no welfare in ‘Ratville, so the sage rats still have to come out and make a living sometime!  Cold, windy weather just causes them to come up a little later, hug the ground a little closer and run for their dens with less provocation. 

The downside of those sunny, warm days is hay growth.  The warmer and sunnier the year, the more quickly the alfalfa grows.  The taller the hay grows, the more difficult it is to spot targets.  These are the trade-offs.   Everything has its advantages and disadvantages! 

As with the weather, the timing of the babies coming above ground can’t be predicted.  We have seen a few of babies as early as the first week of April but it is usually latter April before they begin to come up in numbers.  There is always a good supply of next-generation targets by the first week of May.

So, what’s the best time to book your hunt? 

To fully answer that question, the cartridges you like to shoot also come into play. 

For hunters who prefer to shoot primarily centerfire cartridges, early hunting has some advantages.  Early season hunts risk poor weather but they also provide the sage rat shooter the first crack at a population that’s had months to forget the report of a rifle.  Early hunts also offer larger targets.  (The larger males seem to be the first to arrive above ground as they are moving among the burrows, taking care of business, and providing for the next crop of targets.)  Perhaps most importantly, there is rarely much hay growth in early April.  The short hay makes almost every ‘rat in the field visible, so a centerfire shooter can really stretch the barrel of their varmint rifle!

For those who prefer shooting .22 LR, later hunts work well since it’s fairly certain that the babies will be up providing more targets within the reach of the .22’s.  No Off Season recommends May hunts for those wanting to primarily run rounds through their favorite .22.  The risk of hay growth is offset by the number of targets providing closer shooting.

For the full arsenal hunters, especially those with a .17HMR or a .17WSM in their stable, the time of year is far less important.  These versatile rounds can reach out in the early season and are still affordable in the target rich environment of May. 

Knowing the factors affecting shooting can help you zero in on the best shooting possible.  But, within these parameters, it’s still true that “The best time to go sagerat hunting is when you can!”

Tim Titus

Remember, “No crowds, no limits, no seasons…no bad days!”