Hazards Found in Prairie Dog Country

Hunting prairie dogs is a great way to sharpen your shooting and spotting skills. But the open country where these varmints live isn't always a bed of roses.

Hazards Found in Prairie Dog Country

Varmint hunting is great fun for off-season work on your spotting and shooting skills. Take a friend or family member for even more fun. (Photo: Mark Kayser)

Springtime temperatures signal the start of varmint hunting across the country. From the tiny target of gophers to the chubby silhouette of a woodchuck, varmint hunters have ample opportunities.

One of the greatest adventures is a western prairie dog hunt. The black-tailed prairie dog is alive and well throughout the foothills, basins and prairies of the West. Whether you take a weekend trip from your Western home or travel across the country to challenge yourself with prairie dog management, be aware that this activity comes with risks.

Landscape and Weather

First, be alert to the landscape, especially with climatic surprises. Snow isn’t out of the question during any month of the year in the West, but the real danger is rain. Most terrain friendly to prairie dog digging consists of claylike soil.

If an unexpected downpour occurs it changes the consistency of this soil to slime. Escape could be futile, particularly if the subsoil moisture is high already. You may be stranded for the day or worse. Check the forecast and bring extraction gear in case of bad judgement.

Black-tailed prairie dogs offer hunters great opportunities in spring and summer but beware of risks out in the open country. (Photo: Mark Kayser)
Black-tailed prairie dogs offer hunters great opportunities in spring and summer but beware of risks out in the open country. (Photo: Mark Kayser)

Your attempt to flee could result in the scarring of the landscape while leaving huge ruts. Tread lightly. The damage irritates landowners and causes public land managers to place closures limiting future access for all. Lastly, the mountains and ridges of the West can whip a storm into a quick frenzy. Extreme winds and large hail could accompany the downpour leaving you with blemishes on your 2018 Ford 150.  


Nobody likes to be sick while on a hunt so for Pete’s sake don’t touch any prairie dogs after you shoot them. They are known to carry a bacterium that causes the sylvatic plague for their species and can spread bubonic plague to you.

Treatment with antibiotics can cure the disorder, but if left untreated your relatives may have to plan an unforeseen funeral. A couple in Mongolia recently dined on a rodent and contracted the disease, leading to their death. Don’t follow Mongolia culture. Plus, if you bring your pooch along, don’t let them run unchecked through the prairie dog town, either. They also can pick up the bacterium and spread it to you.


Speaking of taking a stroll through P.D. Town; prairie dog towns attract another dangerous species. Rattlesnakes utilize the burrows of prairie dog towns for shelter. You can find them denning there in winter and seeking relief from the sun in summer. They also hunt prairie dogs and other species living in the town ecosystem.

It’s not at all uncommon to hear the buzz of a disturbed rattlesnake as you maneuver around a town for shooting opportunities. You don’t need to wear rattlesnake boots, but if the wind is creating background noise you need to move slowly and with focus.

Sunburn? Ouch!

Finally, you’re more likely to feel the sun’s heat than the Burt Bacharach’s hit song “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Most prairie dog country is treeless so take care to shield yourself and avoid a cancerous outcome.

According to the National Cancer Institute skin cancer is the No. 1 form of cancer and sun exposure is a significant threat. Guard yourself with sunscreen rated at 15 SPF or above on any exposed skin. Wear long sleeves and guard your pot with a wide-brimmed hat such as a military-style boonie hat.

A Western trip to pursue prairie dogs gives you real-world shooting practice and a chance to keep your skills sharp when furs are not prime. Plan for everything, including the dangers associated with this adventure.


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