The sound of a high velocity round striking the target is unmistakable.
That welcome sound, as well as the smiles and exclamations of a job well done, came often from myself and the other shooters at a recent Wyoming prairie dog hunt sponsored by Sierra Bullets.
The hunt was to highlight the Prairie Enemy line of loaded ammunition introduced by Sierra last year. Like tens of thousands of shooters, I’ve been loading Sierra bullets into brass cases for decades, but I had no idea they had started selling loaded ammunition.
If there was ever a place to show it off, the Spur Ranch near Encampment, Wyoming was it. Although I have failed to draw a tag for four years in a row now, (getting a little bitter about that) I have hunted Wyoming for antelope in the past. It’s a breathtaking place.
Just across the Snowy Mountain Range, the area we hunted was still ringed with white peaks atop timbered hillsides and floored by immense valleys and fields. I have heard Wyoming’s climate described as “11 months of winter and rodeo week.” The Equality State lived up to that reputation, and I was happy it did. It was 105 degrees at my home in the Texas Hill Country, and in the low 40s when I woke up at the Spur Ranch near the western town of Encampment.
The Wyoming wind, an inconsistent nemesis for all long range shooters, never ceases. The conditions are ideal for testing both shooters and their equipment.
So is the prey.
Although I’ve seen them taken as targets of opportunity, I’ve never been on a dedicated prairie dog hunt. I had no idea of their numbers, or the impact they have on farm land. I expected to have a successful hunt measured in dozens of varmints taken. And dozens of prairie dogs taken per day would be a completely reasonable number. If you were hunting with a slingshot. And if you weren’t any good with it.
Successful hunts are measured in the hundreds. The ground is littered with prairie dogs and their holes. In the irrigated fields, I don’t know if there was ever a time that glassing through the grass didn’t find not only pasture-destroying holes, but prairie dogs and ground squirrels darting every direction. I was completely unaware of the density of their population, or the level of destruction of agricultural land they are capable of.
In my section of central Texas, we generally remove any armadillos in fields. This is because of what I assumed was an old wives tale about cows stepping in armadillo holes and breaking their legs. Armadillo holes are fairly far between. Prairie dog holes are not.
We were all witness to the sight of a young bull with a badly broken leg. I can’t be sure that it was a prairie dog hole that broke the leg, but he was standing near one, it would be hard not to, and he had no other obvious injuries. Considering how badly it was broken and the location of the break, I imagine the only financially feasible remedy was to euthanize the bull. A sad, expensive loss to the rancher. Perhaps it’s not an old wives tale after all.
As if the intense damage to agriculture and livestock wasn’t enough, the plague (yes, that plague) runs rampant in the prairie dog population. And yes, although it is very rare, they can spread the disease to humans.
Considering all that, I can understand why land owners want them gone, and fees to hunt them on private land are quite low, especially considering the amount of shooting done and the vastness of the land travelled.
In short, they are destructive, dangerous, and unwanted critters. They’re also small targets at every conceivable range. If anyone in our party wanted to shoot the varmints at pistol range (as I had the pleasure of doing with a Freedom Arms Model 97 in .17 HMR) or out past 400 yards with any of the supplied rifles, we had that chance on this hunt.
Sierra had equipped each of us with a Ruger bolt action rifle for the hunt. Most of these were from Ruger’s budget “American Rifle” line, but a few were from other lines as well, and all topped with Bushnell optics.
The calibers supplied were some of the standards for varmint shooting, including the most common varmint caliber, the .223 Remington. Also supplied were rifles chambered for .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington, and 6.5 Creedmoor, along with Sierra’s Prairie Enemy ammunition to match.
The Prairie Enemy line is topped with Sierra’s premier varmint bullet, the Blitz King.
The Blitz King is no new kid on the block. I’ve used the 50 grain .224 bullet for years, as I’m sure many others have.
Sierra boasts that the Blitz King bullet is held to the same precision standards as their Match King bullets. Having been released in 1999, the Blitz King bullet isn’t brand new, but it’s a baby compared to the venerable Sierra Match King. There are few, if any, dedicated shooters who don’t know the initials “SMK”. It’s been around for at least 40 years and has been a staple of the shooting sports since it came out.
In particular, the 175 gr SMK in .308 Win is practically synonymous with modern NATO military precision rifles, and for good reason. In .308 Win, the M118LR round is supersonic at 1,000 yards in those rifles, delivers plenty of energy downrange, and enough precision to reliably predict the point of impact.
In short, that’s a heck of a standard to hold a dedicated varmint hunting round against.
It should be noted that, at this time, the 69 grain .224″ bullet that sits atop the case for the .223 Remington Prairie Enemy is not available for purchase as a projectile only on Sierra’s website. I hope that changes soon, as I’d love to try these bullets on the small and rangy coyotes we have here in Texas.
As is the case with some bullets, there’s not much chance of jacket separation when using the top speed loads of the .22-250 Remington. All of the .224″ caliber Blitz King bullets are designed to hold together even up to the blistering speed of 4,400 fps.
Unlike Sierra’s other varmint bullet, the Sierra Varminter, the Blitz King is a tipped design, and they generally have higher ballistic coefficients to slip through the air better, and more consistently. Knowing Hornady’s trouble with the polymer tip on their early AMax and VMax designs, I asked the Sierra representative if they had experienced the same issue with the Blitz King. He said they had not, and that this issue just didn’t occur with their design. Sierra confirms ballistic coefficient in several ways, including measuring with radar during flight at the company’s range.
With a lead core and a very thin jacket, the Blitz King is designed to completely disintegrate upon entering thin-skinned, lightweight game. This should be the standard for any varmint round. Although the pelts are often desired, there’s rarely a need to preserve the meat, and expending 100% of the energy into the animal helps to ensure quick kills.
Even if that’s the goal, though, that’s not always what occurs. Fortunately, during this recent varmint shoot, I got to witness several examples of this first hand.
When it came to the smaller prairie dogs and ground squirrels at ranges under 100 yards, pass throughs with the. 223 Rem and .22-250 Rem round were the norm, with absolutely devastating results. Shooting the Prairie Enemy ammunition at these ranges, there was never a question of whether the target was hit. Not to be too graphic, but at these ranges, it looked like the little devils simply exploded. For the larger prairie dogs, rabbits, and rock chucks at farther ranges, bullet entries without exits were far more common.
During one outing, I got to see the intersection of good shooting and a good round first hand. One of the local shooters saw a Rock Chuck at 260 yards. Firing from a Ruger American Rifle in .22-250 Rem, the single round he fired found purchase in the furry prize.
Upon inspecting the animal, a small hole was found in its side, with no corresponding exit wound. The chuck’s body felt like a sack of rice. That kind of external and terminal ballistic performance is exactly what varmint hunters are looking for.
Shooters had ample opportunity to try different rifles and different rounds. I spent most of my time with the simple .223 Remington, but I tried the .22-250 Rem as well. Why not? It was someone else’s ammunition and more importantly, someone else’s barrel.
I also shot one of the few rounds I can always find on the shelves, the .204 Remington. That’s a great little cartridge. One of the hunters shot the Ruger American in 6.5 Creedmoor, but after several hundred rounds fired, he switched to something a little lighter. That was a bit too much bullet anyway.
No matter what rifle they were fired from, Sierra’s Prairie Enemy ammo performed flawlessly.
Of course, this is an ammunition line, not simply a bullet, so things are a bit different for each caliber.
The primer, propellant and case manufacturer are all caliber dependent inside the Prairie Enemy line. Sierra went with whatever combination worked best, and I imagine that best had some cost parameters associated with it. You’ll also note, from the the Sierra website, that although all of the rounds are polymer-tipped, some are flat-based and some are boat-tailed, again, depending on caliber and weight.
Considering the 40 degree swing in temperatures during the day, I took careful notes to see if my trajectory changed due to more than air temp and density altitude, in the hopes of determining if the muzzle velocity was affected by overly sensitive propellant. I don’t know what particular propellant is used in the 69vgr .223 Prairie Enemy ammunition, but temperature sensitivity wasn’t much of a factor, if any.
I asked the Sierra rep, “Why loaded ammunition now?” I mean, Sierra has been “The Bulletsmiths” for over 70 years now, making bullet jackets and projectiles. The answer was simple. “The market was right.”
And man, is it ever. Ammunition of any kind is hard to come by, much less loaded varmint ammo of this quality. I was pretty surprised to find that same 69 grain .223 Rem ammunition that was so effective in-stock on Sierra’s website. You can, (and I did) buy it directly from the Sierra website and have it shipped to your door. Twenty-six dollars for a box of 20 isn’t cheap, but it’s not bad at all for loaded precision hunting ammunition. Especially right now.
I was duly impressed with Sierra’s Prairie Enemy ammunition. I tend to look down on loaded ammunition compared to hand loads, but there’s just no denying the results the Prairie Enemy line gave us on the Spur Ranch. Several shooters, firing a variety of cartridges, were able to make predictable, precise, and devastating shots at ranges from 10 to almost 500 yards.
Ammunition has come a long, long way over the decades. Half the reason we are seeing so many budget rifles shooting sub-MOA groups is because loaded cartridges themselves have gotten so much better.
Sierra, a longtime leader in precision projectiles, has really stepped up and at just the right time, making a great product. Prairie dogs may not appreciate that one bit, but the land, livestock, and the folks who depend on them certainly will.