The Varmint Rifle

There’s a “perfect” rifle for every man; but it takes study, time and know-how to find it

There are two broad, general schools of traditional varmint-hunting devotees. For this particular narrative we shall classify them in this manner, anyway, to spare you a belaboring of way-out aspects of the game. The first type we’ll define as “The Stalker.” This good chap gets his jollies by stealthily approaching Farmer Rogowski’s north pasture in quest of a grizzled trophy-type woodchuck. He cautiously peeks through the hedgerow with the skill of a Sioux warrior contemplating a mayhem on a hapless sodbuster. When our hero locates a good woodchuck specimen munching away with contented abandon on Brother Rogowski’s alfalfa, his joy knows no bounds. With exaggerated concern, he moistens a forefinger and tests the wind with the care of a top grizzly guide. He observes the contour of the terrain and mentally notes each bush, tree, knoll and other area of concealment. His purpose is to get as close as possible to the quarry.

When he achieves this (and it isn’t easy to do), he is often within 50 feet of the trophy. He sometimes shoots it in the head or neck, carefully placing his bullet for the ideal instantaneous kill. His rifle? It more often than not is a .22 rimfire with open sights.

The other breed of varmint hunter, extravagantly overwhelming in numbers (and popularity), we can safely refer to as “The Rifleman.” While his ultimate goal (a clean kill) is the same as the Stalker’s, he goes at it a bit differently. His objective (in a manner of speaking) is to get, within reasonable limits, as far from the mark as seems prudent. Instead of stalking-type terrain, he seeks a good open shot – with a safe background so that his bullet fragments (in the event of a miss) will not jeopardize person, beast or property. In passing, varmint bullets from high-velocity rifles do not ricochet, as do .22s and other low velocity cartridges – hence, they are safe even in settled areas.

But to resume – the farther away from the chuck (or whichever) The Rifleman can get, within the capabilities of his rifle, the better he likes it. His rifle, It’s a flat-shooting precision centerfire with telescope sight. He often locates his varmint with binocular and even studies it with spotting scope (checking mirage). He has to learn to be an excellent judge of distance and wind, else he’ll miss more than a hit. (Many advanced varmint hunters would just as soon have a close miss as a hit. If they strike within an inch or two of the chuck, they consider it a hit.)

It is significant that in each instance the technique strongly resembles that of serious big-game hunting. It is no secret that long-experienced varmint hunters are the most successful big-game trophy hunters on the continent. For when the chips are done, they rarely fail to anchor their ram, grizzly or other species. Woodchuck hunting is, these days, the very best training for big-game marksmanship, for the methods are quite similar – and any fellow used to knocking off a wary woodchuck with regularity is going to have no trouble getting a bullet into the lung cavity of big game. Even if he has a “touch of the buck,” as all humans do on occasion, he automatically and subconsciously shoots well, because of his long training in the field with comparatively tiny beasts at unknown ranges. Not to say that other varmint hunting isn’t excellent too – such as gunning for jackrabbits, coyotes, crows, marpies, prairie dogs, ground squirrels and so forth. It is all good and all fun.

I have employed both techniques, but my interest is irrevocably entrenched in that of the Rifleman. I get no particular kick out of stalking close to varmints, unless it is for study or photographic purposes. This is merely a matter of personal preference, nothing more, and is akin to the fact that some guys get a glazed look at the sight a voluptuous blonde whereas others assume the expression of a stricken moose calf when they feast their eyes upon a svelte brunette.

I have an affliction concerning rifles that could best be described as a recurring ailment. We’ve all heard tales of how the moon affects animals and people. A well-designed and accurate example of the gun art is a source of infinite joy and satisfaction to its owner.