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Sage Rats

Bob Anderson

I had missed the first hunt because of schedule conflicts and the stories told by my two friends who did make it, made my heart race even more as I anticipated the upcoming hunt.

I have always hunted sage rats or ground squirrels from a shooting bench using only center fire rifles. Typically it would be 22 Hornet or the 222 Remington. Occasionally, I would step up to 22-250 or a 6x47 if the range was beyond 200 yards. This time, I was going with only a Ruger 10-22. Of course, it is not just any Ruger; it is outfitted with a Green Mountain heavy match barrel, a
 

Boyt thumbhole stock and a trigger tuned down to 3 pounds. The rifle was then topped off with a Simmons 22 mag 3x9 AO scope. The range at which we shoot will only be out to 125 yards or so, which means the 22 long rifle is more than adequate.
My friends had made certain that I was properly outfitted for my new adventure. I acquired a 5 gallon plastic bucket which is now painted brown and fitted out with a Cabela’s swivel camouflaged seat and then, as an afterthought, it was decked out with a bright blue tool pouch arrangement that slides over the bucket. This holds my four 25 round magazines. So much for camouflage. Hah! I then made a set of cross sticks that I will also use at Quigley. So, sitting on a swivel seat and moveable cross sticks allows one to cover 90 degrees easily, but can also cover 360 degrees, though it is awkward.

Monday morning I was at Bob’s house, another Bob, and we hooked up his utility trailer to Big Blue, my Chev crewcab. His trailer is a converted one ton Ford pickup box with a tall canopy on it. All our camping gear, tent, and miscellaneous gear was put in the trailer. Guns and ice chests went into the pickup. Gary loaded his gear and we hit the road.

The drive over Mt. Hood was uneventful, which is not always the case.  Four hours later found us deep into Eastern Oregon. By 1 p.m. we had arrived where we were going to camp for the next three days and dropped off the trailer. We then headed out for the ranch.

The ranch we were going to hunt is quite picturesque with green pastures, cattle, and many acres of alfalfa. We checked in with the rancher and headed for the field we would be hunting. It was clear and sunny and the wind was starting to blow and I do mean blow. We got out the buckets, cross sticks and rifles and headed out into the field. The little critters were running all over the place, so we set up rather quickly and began shooting. Bob had picked up a counter for me to
 Rat Countree

hang on the cross sticks and keep track of the number of kills. It is one of those small chrome plated gadgets that has a push button on it to make your count. By the time we were settled in, the wind was beyond blowing; it was howling. Gary measured it at up to 30+ mph. The dust was flying and the grit was getting into my eyes. Ugh! I regret that I didn’t bring the sunglasses that my son had given to me when he returned from his first deployment. Wiley makes an incredible glass with a rubber gasket, essentially a pair of goggles.

The critters have dens like prairie dogs and stand up the same way. Like little living tent pegs. I put the crosshairs on one and pulled the trigger and the bullet hit a little to the right. Time for Kentucky windage. I made my adjustment and bowled him over and I got to make my first click on the counter.  My count for the afternoon was only about 18. Bob and Gary had taken about 70 each. Sounds like a lot, but there are a lot of these little guys running around. Thousands of them scattered over 80 acres.

We finally broke it off for the day and headed back to our camp to set up the tent and have dinner. The tent takes about twenty minutes to set up and dinner is about half an hour. Then out comes the little DVD player, a B action movie and then bed.

We were up early, fed, out the door and on the field by 8 a.m. The sun was bright and there was virtually no wind. The prediction was for another day of high winds. When the wind blows, the squirrels stay pretty much in their dens. This morning it was perfect for shooting and we were not disappointed. I set up and had my four 25 round magazines in the pouches on my bucket. I also had four 10 round magazines in the bucket, a Leica range finder, Zeiss 7x40 binoculars, 22 cal bore snake, Rem Oil and a screw driver. The stock screw shoots loose and needs to be tightened periodically.

My first shot was at about 70 yards and I held dead on and fired. There was that satisfying “Thunk” of hitting him solid and he was down. Then there were two youngsters standing on the next mound and I shot one and the other didn’t have the sense to move, so I shot him too. It Old one shot himselfwent like this all morning. Once, a group of four was together and I broke my discipline. I was raised as a bull’s eye shooter. I shot junior NRA in Texas as a kid, before moving to Seattle. I always shot just one shot and then reacquired the target and shot again. Once, I even had the nickname of One Shot Bob, when deer and elk hunting. Four squirrels together though, was too much to resist. I placed my cross hairs on the middle of the group and ripped off five or six shots. Three went down and the last one was packing the mail so fast, there was no chance of hitting him. I was laughing too hard.

As the day progressed, so did the wind and by 2 p.m. it was ripping down the valley and we decided to bag it and return to camp. My count for the day was 116 and I was a happy dirt encrusted fellow. Our camp was located a few miles up a side canyon and there was no wind. So, out came the pistols and our steel targets and we managed to burn through a few hundred rounds of 9mm and 357 mag. Thank God for free lead and bullet molds.

The next morning we were up, fed and out the door early as this was the last day and we could only shoot until noon. That day there was a prediction of virtually no wind. This time we set up on the other side of the irrigation wheel. I set in this field and began shooting. They were everywhere and it was one shot one kill for a while as there was no wind. I then walked up to the crest of a shallow draw that ran a couple of hundred yards left to right in front of me and set up my bucket. I began shooting out at about a hundred yards, but squirrels would pop up right in front of me or off to the side.

I caught motion in my peripheral vision to the right. At first I thought it was a squirrel that had dropped into a hole. A moment later, I saw it again and it was a little weasel hauling a dead squirrel into his den. He repeated this about three or four more times. I then saw a squirrel off to my right about ten yards and blasted him. Suddenly the weasel was there, stretching up on his hind legs peeking over the alfalfa. When he saw the squirrel, he leaped over and grabbed it. It must have moved, because he leaped up into the air and landed on the other side of the alfalfa again. Then he jumped back and grabbed it again and drug it into his den. Then, for the rest of the day, he would sit in his den peeking out and when I shot, he would jump up to see where the squirrel was.

The other thing that was interesting was having Redtail hawks and even a Bald Eagle land on the hillside in front of me, picking up my kills. This did cut a bit into our shooting, but it was worth it to watch them in our binos. The shooting was so good that we decided to stay a couple of extra hours and then beat feet back to camp. We carefully broke camp and rolled up our tent.  We stowed it and the poles and pegs in a special duffel back and then repacked everything as good as it was when we had arrived. The trip back was just as long as it was going over, but we made a traditional stop in one town and each ordered an incredible ice cream cone.

There is nothing like northwest rich creamy ice cream; especially strawberry.

I won’t mention our total for the three days as no one would believe us. I did however, use up one box of 525 count Remington 22’s. The rancher is quite pleased and hopefully will not have to poison to keep down the rodent population. And so ends another squirrel hunt. We usually only do two hunts a year as once the alfalfa starts growing, it is virtually impossible for us to coordinate getting together between cutting and bailing and the crop growing too high to see the little critters.