Shooting: It's not a hunt per se

  • Prairie dog shoot from the video "Varmints"

    High Plains Films photo
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

The man in the baseball cap sits in a chair at a table, a high-powered rifle in hand.

"Right there, he's standing straight up right in front of you," says his companion. "Get him."

"I got him," says Randy.

Boom! The rifle sounds, and almost simultaneously, 100 yards away, the shattered carcass of a prairie dog flies like a rag through the air.

"Ohh! Ohh! Look at the other one run away."

Welcome to the world of prairie dog shooting, as shown in the video Varmints (HCN, 1/18/99), produced last year by Doug Hawes-Davis of Missoula, Mont. The video captures some of the picnic-style atmosphere that often surrounds a prairie dog shoot. Some marksmen sit in lawn chairs, while some lie flat on the ground. Others sit at pieces of homemade furniture resembling school desks, where they can rest their elbows while taking aim. Coolers full of food and beverage often sit in nearby motor vehicles.

The action can be fast and furious. "They usually shoot from 250 to 500 rounds in a day," " says Dan Stier, a hunting guide from Humboldt, S.D. "They hit a prairie dog about 30 percent of the time. It's not a hunt per se. It tests one's shooting ability." "

At Buffalo Gap, shooters kill from 50 to 100 animals each a day. At Thunder Basin National Grasslands in Wyoming, they claim to shoot anywhere from 250 to 1,000 animals per day.

The marksmen also pump tons of cash into local rural economies. Some landowners charge shooters for access to dog-towns on private property, while local guides often outfit and drive shooters to colonies on public lands. The visitors also patronize local stores and restaurants.

"I couldn't survive without them," " said Candy Kalal, owner of a motel and garage in Zortman, Mont., where the closing of a gold mine recently hurt the town's economy.

Many conservationists want the shooting banned, or at least controlled, on public lands. "The purpose of prairie dogs on federal lands should be to provide for biodiversity and not recreational shooting," says biologist Craig Knowles. "Some ranchers and Indian tribes make a lot of money off prairie dog shooting. Private landowners should not have to compete with free shooting on public lands." "

However, Chuck Cornett, of Fresno, Calif., who organizes an annual invitational shoot on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, calls any shooting ban "part of the plot to cut down on people's ability to go out and hunt."

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