Since the 1920s, pasture and crop field rodent control has evolved from close-range stalking to long-range sniping. Rimfire 22s and shotguns have been replaced by high velocity varmint rifles shooting cartridges like 223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, 243 Winchester and 25-06 Remington. Riflemen generally set up on stable platforms 200 to 1,000 yards from their quarry to pick them off.
Friends and I prefer 17 better ways.
Our “17 ways” are the 17 Winchester Super magnum rimfire cartridge in a Volquartsen 17 WSM autoloading rifle. With this rig we prowl through rodent country as if stalking pronghorns or mule deer. We take shots as they come: standing, sitting, kneeling and prone, with or without bipods. Sometimes we lean on a fence post, boulder or tree stump.
Because we stay low and the rifle’s report isn’t too loud, we often get one to two dozen shots inside of 100 yards from one position. Stretching shots to 250 yards lets us continue shooting for 50, 70, even 100 rounds. Small ground squirrels and prairie dogs often teem in densities sufficient for that much shooting. Woodchucks and marmots don’t show up in such numbers and dive underground sooner, but the satisfaction in getting the drop on a fat groundhog is worth the attempt.
Playing this game is easy. Just grab cartridges, scoped rifle and whatever shooting supports you prefer and start roaming your hunting grounds. A binocular and rangefinder help you find skulking rodents and aim confidently. I love Swarovski’s EL Range for this. The laser is right in the binocular, so as soon as I spot my quarry, I can press the button and read the distance.
Winchester’s 20-grain 17 WSM load at 3,000 fps can be zeroed .50 inch high at 100 yards to put it dead-on at 135 yards. It will drop 3 inches low at 200 yards and just 8 inches low at 250 yards. Wind deflection in a 10 mph right angle breeze is 2 inches at 100 yards, 8 inches at 200 and 12.5 inches at 250. Learn more about 17 WSM ballistics in this video.
Memorize this data or tape a chart to your rifle stock for quick field reference and you’ll soon be scoring regularly. My Volquartsen 17 WSM consistently shoots MOA or slightly better. This means that at 100 yards each bullet — if I do my part — lands no more than .50 inch from my point of aim. At 200 yards total group dispersion covers a 2-inch circle, meaning every shot will fall no farther than 1-inch from point of aim (given appropriate corrections for drop and drift.)
One of my perennial frustrations when shooting a 22-250 Rem. (a cartridge I love) is its recoil. It doesn’t hurt, but it throws the rifle off target enough that I can’t see if I hit or miss. No such problem with the heavy Volquartsen 17 WSM. The muzzle brake combined with the heavy stock and thick, heavy barrel tame muzzle jump enough that I can see hits and misses. That adds significantly to satisfaction and instruction. You get instant feedback if you’re shooting well or poorly.
The 17 WSM is no long-range match for today’s hottest centerfire varmint cartridges, but it’s a lot less expensive to shoot. A box of 50 rounds runs about $15. Combine that with low recoil, MOA accuracy, 250-yard range, seeing your hits and practicing your stalking skills… What’s not to like?
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