Sage Rat Hunting Sight-in Strategies

Sage rat hunting in Oregon has exploded in popularity.  More and more hunters are taking to the fields  of Southeast Oregon each year to take advantage of the target-rich environment set up by the habitat found in the alfalfa pivots in this region.  The alfalfa pivots are The Perfect Storm of soil, weather and nutrition that cause unnatural overpopulation of sage rats (Belding’s Ground Squirrels).  So, how do we get the most out of our firearms to maximize our hits (and fun) when shooting sage rats?  We’ll give you some ideas that may help!

Your sight-in strategy matters!

First off, sage rats are small targets.   The body of a sage rat is not much larger than the cardboard inside a roll of toilet paper, and when the babies appear, the targets sometimes more closely resemble a walnut in size!  Precision and accuracy are necessary to consistently hit them but your sight-in strategy can also make the difference as to whether you or your buddy takes home the hit-percentage bragging rights!  Sight-in too closely and it increases the number of targets on which you need to hold over.  Sight-in too far away and mid-range misses can rob you of your sharpshooter title!  We’ll look at some sight-in distances for common cartridges used in the sage rat fields.


Rimfires are not all created equal.  Historically, more sage rats have died at the hands of .22 long rifle (LR) shooters than any other firearm.  Of those, the Ruger 10-22 has probably accounted for the vast majority of those kills.  The 10-.22 is fast, accurate and inexpensive to shoot and does so with virtually zero recoil and a mild report.  It’s a blast (pun intended) to walk your shots onto target well past 100 yards but the .22 works best at point-blank to 100 yards in the hands of most shooters.  A strategic sight-in with a 75 yard zero will give you a great opportunity to make good hits in the effective range of this great little cartridge.  (Choose hollow-point (hp) bullets for the best chance of anchoring your targets quickly and beware of ricochets!)

A new King?  Around No Off Season a new king has emerged.  The .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) has supplanted the .22 LR in popularity and ammunition expended.  Accuracy and range are almost ideal for sage rat shooting, and although not as inexpensive as .22 LR, the ammunition is reasonably priced especially if you shop sales during the year.  This round makes 150 yard shots relatively easy unless the wind is really blowing!  You will give up little with a 100 yard zero for your .17 HMR rifle but 125 yards may be even better.  With your groups printing in the center of a 125 yard bullseye, you won’t really think about holdover out to 150 yards, then holding at the top of the back or head (standing targets are much more forgiving in elevation) will garner quite a few extra yards to your effective range.  A 150 yard zero is not a bad option for the experienced shooter who naturally holds a little low on the targets at the height of midrange trajectory around 100 yards.  (Poly-tipped ammunition anchors ‘rats better and has fewer ricochets than the hollow-point bullets.)

The .22 WMR (Commonly referred to as a “.22 Magnum” or  a .22 Mag” for short.) is the parent case for the  .17 HMR.  The .22 WMR cartridge carries more energy than the HMR but isn’t quite as flat shooting.  A similar sight-in strategy will still get you in the ballpark.  Bullet construction deserves a deeper look with this cartridge. 

Purchasing poly-tipped .22 WMR ammo (i.e. Hornady V-max) is suggested.  A .22 WMR with the original solid and hollow-point ammo is one of the highest ricocheting combinations requiring  more care around irrigation pivots.  In the hands of experienced shooters using sufficient restraint, it will work fine but less so with other shooters.  While more expensive, you may find the poly-tipped ammo to be more accurate, flatter shooting  and more deadly than the older, blunt-nose ammunition.

Finally, the relative newcomer to the rimfire ‘rat cartridges is a little speedster known as the .17 WSM.  Utilizing cases for nail guns used in the construction field, this cartridge bridges the gap between the rimfire and centerfire worlds.  For those wanting more reach but not wanting to handload, this is a great option.  The report of the WSM is slightly louder than the HMR but the sound of the bullets hitting target is audibly louder as well.  Calm days make this a legitimate 250 yard rimfire!  Your sight-in strategy should reflect this.  A 150 yard zero is the minimum suggested sight-in distance for this little rimfire.  A 200 yard zero for the experienced shooters is a viable option.  (Poly-tips versus hollow-points are still a great idea to minimize ricochets and maximize lethality.)

The Centerfire Zone

Centerfire varmint cartridges enter an entirely new realm of reach, energy and target reactivity!  The .223 Rem is still at the top of the hill especially with those who don’t handload their ammunition.  Other offerings include a multitude of .17, .204, and .22 caliber cartridges and wildcats that work splendidly for sage rats.  Centerfires particularly offer something over the rimfires on the windy days which seem to happen frequently in sage rat country.  Slightly heavier bullets deflect less in wind and the larger cases can push them faster creating laser-like trajectories and minimum wind deflection.  A 200 yard zero will require only slight adjustments on horizontal targets at the height of mid-range trajectory usually occurring around 150 to 175 yards.    

Although it has little to do with sight-in strategies, a few more tips on bullet selection are in order when you graduate to centerfires. 

A major caveat when shooting the .223 cartridge is to resist the urge to buy the bargain basement, full metal jacket ammunition.  It’s cheap, it’s tempting, and it’s dangerous!  Full metal jacket bullets can be abbreviated “FMJ”.  It may also be called “Green-tip” or “Ball ammunition”.  If there is not a hollow point, exposed lead or a poly tip, it is full metal jacket construction.  FMJ bullets ricochet terribly and are a major hazard to irrigation equipment, livestock and neighbors!  No Off Season and other outfitters and landowners will not allow any FMJ bullets on their fields.  Some hollow-point target ammunition also utilize tough bullet jackets that tend to ricochet.  Always listen for the “zing” of skipping bullets.  If it is occurring on a regular basis regardless of the cartridge or bullet, be extra careful about what is beyond your target.  Every cartridge ricochets in certain condition; some are just worse than others. 

Higher caliber varmint cartridges (6mm/.243 on up) as well as long range rifles/cartridges require the right circumstances to be safe.  Another consideration for the larger cartridges is recoil.  Larger cases and heavier bullets create more recoil.  Even larger .22 caliber cartridges such as the .22-250 and .220 Swift, while extremely deadly and more effective in the wind, will likely cause the rifle to jump off target requiring a spotter to call the shot and robbing the shooter of some in-scope action.  This can be mitigated with a suppressor or a muzzle brake but the latter increases muzzle blast significantly.

Sage rat hunting is one of the most fun past times the shooting sports has to offer.  These sight-in strategies will help increase your effectiveness on these small, challenging targets and may help you get bragging rights when the dust settles and you’re rehashing the day’s sage rat shooting with your family and friends!

NOS’ First Major Sports Show

No Off Season is back from our first-ever major trade show, The Pacific Northwest Sportsman’s Show, held at the Expo Center in Portland, Oregon.After finding out No Off Season was headed for Portland, a friend of mine who has done many trade shows in another industry asked if we shouldn’t maybe go to Eugene or Central Oregon for our first show.I simply replied, “No.Portland is our market.”The PNW Sportsman’s Show is billed as “The Biggest Sports Show West of the Mississippi” with an attendance of some 60,000 to 70,000 people.They expected 25,000 people through the doors on Saturday alone!Talk about jumping in with both feet!To top it off, after a very busy winter, we didn’t pull the trigger on this venture (or adventure) and secure our booth until a week prior to the show opening.Needless to say between ordering supplies and materials, arranging printing, ordering an additional banner, arranging travel and accommodations, packing displays and inventory and all the other small things it takes to set up an effective booth, it was a challenge just to get to the Show.

2012 PNW Sportsman Show booth

John Collett, my sales rep for the show, was extremely helpful and secured a great booth for us.  NOS had a corner location at the end of an aisle giving us extra room to interact with the public and display the NO Off Season wares.And, interact with the public we did!Thank you to all of the great people who stopped by and waited patiently to learn about our hunts and our products.And, my apologies to those who stopped and weren’t able to stay long enough for us to meet you.We really appreciate the overwhelming support and attention you all paid to our display.Sales and bookings exceeded our expectations.We are just now coming up for air after booking the many hunts and shipping the many orders for products that were placed at our booth and on-line after the show!

The taxidermy mount of Ben’s 1044 yard rockchuck was a real hit as was the fluttering MOJO Critter and Jack Attack decoy. The long range rifle display caught the eye of many of the hardcore shooters at the show.I joked that by the end of the first day my MOJO decoy had already attracted more hunters than it ever had coyotes but then it was in front of more hunters in a single day at the PNWSS than it ever had been on coyotes!Interacting with so many predator hunters and varmint shooters was a treat for us.We learned a lot about the products that drew special interest and those that are better served with on-line marketing.And, the calendar has filled significantly with sagerat hunters interested in an above-average varmint shooting experience.I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. A little experience goes a long way and even with the overwhelming success of this show, we hope to be even better prepared to take care of our customers the next time around.Without you, No Off Season is nothing!

Thanks to O’Laughlin Trade Shows for putting on an outstanding event and a special thanks to my wife, Lori, and to my son, Ben, for all the hard work and help you both were in making this happen.You guys are awesome! No Off Season has offered to do seminars for the 2013 Show on either Coyotes 201: Advanced Tactics or Long Range Varmint Hunting.Let O’Laughlin Trade Shows know if you like the idea of one or both topics.The e-mail address is or call them at 503/246-8291.Let them know you are interested in Tim Titus and No Off Season doing some seminars.

Thanks again for your support and for your business!


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