Getting your scope, rifle and ammo in sync at the range before heading out for a prairie dog hunt is critical for optimal success. (Photo: Mark Kayser)
So you’re thinking a prairie dog safari might be a good idea this summer? If you’re planning on heading West or East, depending on your zip code, brush up on some prairie dog facts to ensure you’ll time the trip right, have the proper gear and sort out any details to maximize fun, and minimize headaches.
Here are some frequently asked questions about pursuing these poodles of the prairie.
Do I Need a License?
Of course it depends on the state you focus your efforts, but several states like Wyoming and Montana do not require licensing to hunt prairie dogs. South Dakota and Nebraska do require permits. You also need to research to see if you need a permit to hunt on state-owned lands. Montana does require a permit to hunt on state lands.
Hunting prairie dogs on American Indian reservations in the West is a good option. Many tribal lands are treated as public and open to access. Understanding how each tribe manages its land and hunting regulations is important to a successful tribal hunt. Reservations are their own nation within a state and thus set their own seasons, and license fees.
What About Hunting Restricitions?
Although most prairie dog hunters utilize predator hunting rifles and calibers, you can test your skills with archery equipment, muzzleloaders or even a shotgun in the majority of states. Even so it is best to check regulations.
What is the Best Time of Year?
Since prairie dogs don’t hibernate in a true sense you can hunt them year-round. They oftentimes show themselves on warm, winter days.
Nevertheless, the three top months to hunt prairie dogs include May, June and July. By this time period the young prairie dogs begin to emerge from dens giving you more opportunities for shooting.
The craziness of springtime in the West is also beginning to calm with warmer days and fewer surprise weather events other than occasional summer thundershowers.
Prairie dogs are active all day, but you will notice a characteristic for more activity in the mornings and early evenings. During the hottest part of the day prairie dogs may siesta, or simply hang out more in their cooler burrows.
Be Aware of These Things
Your biggest danger during a summer prairie dog safari is sunburn. Take sunscreen, long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat to reduce your exposure to the sun. Biting insects occasionally pester you so a Thermacell is also recommended.
Regarding a true danger, pay special attention to where you step. Rattlesnakes inhabit many prairie dog towns and although they generally rattle a warning, high winds or even a young snake could bite unannounced.
As noted earlier, pay special attention to changing weather. Large thunderstorms can dump inches of rain, deliver damaging hail, spur high winds and even spawn tornadoes in some locales. A drenching rain could turn the claylike soil to muck and strand you.
Does Shooting Prairie Dogs Harm Populations?
The black-tailed prairie dog is the target of shooters on safari. Despite being at low numbers as compared to historical observations, black-tailed prairie dogs thrive throughout their range. Disease and habitat changes have a far greater impact on their density than shooters.
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