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White River Squirrel Hunt

Discussion in 'Shooting Related Threads' started by Brian in Oregon, Jun 13, 2010.

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  1. Brian in Oregon

    Brian in Oregon Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Deplorable Bitter Clinger in Liberal La La Land
    Sean and I went on a gray digger hunt Saturday. For those who haven't read my posts about gray diggers before, these are California ground squirrels that are considered pests in Oregon. We went over to the White River Game Management Area on the east side of Mt. Hood.

    Beautiful day, one of the first really nice days we've had this year, due to constant rains, often heavy. We're at least a month overdue for decent weather, if not two.

    The first area we hit had a couple in high grass, but they were very wary. We've probably hit them a little too hard, and they would not come back out of their holes.

    We moved on and ran into a lot of vehicles near the next stand. The Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife were working with volunteers from the Hoodland and Portland chapters of the Oregon Hunters Association, gathering up dead pine trees and boughs into piles. Apparently there is a big pine bark beetle infestation killing the pine trees off, and a lot of fuel on the ground is threatening a big blaze should carelessness or lightning strike. Because of their proximity to this stand, we moved up to another area.

    Finally, some success in about an acre of downed timber and in a woods. Nothing spectacular, though. Sean kept on going, and I backtracked to the Land Cruiser to leap frog ahead of him to the next area.

    We'd normally bypass this area, because there are ad hoc campsite and often they are devoid of large populations of squirrels. But on a previous trip I found a couple of areas that were promising. We decided to give it a try and see what developed.

    Moving away from the campsites, we found several infested areas. Started shooting lots of squirrels.

    We've found that often a rifle is lacking for hits at close range. Gray diggers are very wary, and often you only have a couple of seconds at most to get on them and make a shot, and running shots are difficult when they are running in grass or brush. Shotguns work best under these conditions. But, shotguns are short range. Even though it is extra work, and at times awkward, we carry both a rifle and a shotgun. This has upped the body count, as we take off guns depending on terrain and foliage. On this trip I was using my Remington R15 carbine, and short barreled 1187. Sean was carrying his Savage 223 Predator Hunter, and his short barreled 1187. Both shotguns had super full turkey chokes, and rifle sights. We were using 2-3/4" #6 shot pheasant loads, but were not getting consistent instant kills. The best loads I've previously used were cheap 3" heavy waterfowl steel high speed loads with #4 shot, through a full choke, which patterns closer to a super full turkey choke. We'll probably switch back to these for future trips. The rifle sights really help when using these tight chokes. Patterns, btw, are much better with the steel shot, as steel cannot be compressed in a choke. The lead shot, especially cheap promotional loads, can blow their patterns if the shot is squeezed out of shape because it's too soft. One a previous trip, one digger that was hit center of mass while standing at a range of about 8 feet had a perfect 1" hole cored through him using steel shot. This is why rifle sights come in handy.

    As for 223 ammo, Sean was using Fiocchi 223 55 gr softpoints, while I was using Hornaday 55 gr 223 TAP, Hornaday 55gr 223 Ballistic Tips (which appear to be ballistic and velocity twins, hitting to the same POI), and some old 55 gr reloads I made with Hornaday SXSP bullets, which match at closer ranges but definitely are off for elevation at long range compared to the others. If there was any difference in terminal results for these bullets I could not see it on gray diggers.

    By noon a strong wind had kicked up. I was trying for some diggers on a pile of boulders across a field, about 250 yards out. My bullet was being blown all over by the inconsistent wind, and no diggers were hit. This also showed the limitations of the 3-9x scope on the R15. I went with this scope with the express purpose of coyote hunting in mind, and wanted a lower magnification range at the expense of higher magnification for closer work. A 4-12x would probably have been a better choice for a dual purpose coyote-varmint gun. This rifle was not intended for varmints, though, but since there are more gray diggers than coyotes for target opportunities, I've been taking it digger hunting for practice. Anyway, because of the wind, I moved over to where some brush in the field covered my approach, and got closer. This helped with the wind, and I picked some off from about 100 yards. Then moved closer still down a swale. There was a lot of activity as small baby diggers were running back and forth between the boulders and their holes, but they were in tall grass. Set up on a small rise, laid prone, and sniped them with the shotgun, which worked much better in the grass, as they were only a blur as they moved, and it was difficult to track them with the rifle scope.

    Speaking of wind, it was a good thing Sean took his 223 and his usual favorite, a Savage bull barreled 17 HMR. We watch the weather reports carefully for varmint trips to check wind conditions, though this can still be imperfect.

    At one walk though I saw a young digger fleeing me, but he made a beeline towards Sean. Shouted to Sean he had incoming from 12 o'clock. This digger "charged" right at Sean, apparently having no clue in its panic that he was there. Sean opened up with the 1187, and emptied five rounds, all hitting just behind the digger. Sean has shot plenty going away from him, but forgot to reverse his lead for incoming. Sean ran empty as the digger went down a hole at his feet. He tried to kick it, but missed.

    We tried the boulders again. Sean got in some good kills with his Savage. He rcently swapped out the scope I loaned him for a Nikon Coyote Special 4.5-14x. This has a bullet drop reticle, but it's only useful at 14x, which while good for varminting, is, I feel, less than useful for coyote hunting. We were about 200 yards out, with no wind. He had a couple of close misses, then started nailing them. The reticle point for 200 yards worked well.

    In the area where we had lunch, we'd put a bunch of the bodies, about 18 of them. Later, the pile was down to 7. There were some hawks coming in for free meals, and who knows what else was devouring them? Raven had been picking them over too, but I don't think they're capable of carrying off the bodies.

    One digger Sean hit with the shotgun looked dead. Sean tried to pick it up and it hissed at him. BTW, we don't have plague or other diseases here in Oregon, so it's relatively safe to handle these critters, unlike some other states.

    By the time they bedded down for the night, I had 26 confirmed kills and 7 probables, while Sean had 27 confirmed and 6 probables. By probables, we could not find a body, but had seen the hits and had a decent blood trail that indicated they made it to their burrow, but the wound was probably fatal. I've been hunting gray diggers in this area since I was a kid, and a really good day is usually about a dozen total. We wound up with confirmed 53 total. (The high volume varmints here are sage rats, with body counts in the 100 to 200 range per day per person, but the areas they populate are much further to the east, and aren't a day trip. Plus you have to time the trips right, because they infest alfalfa fields and the best times are after mowing.) Even though gray diggers are more difficult to hunt, they do teach stalking and fast shots, whereas sage rats are mainly about long range shooting from a fixed position. It's also a game of spotting them before they spot you, or at least before they go into panic mode and run for cover or their holes. They blend in very well with sagebrush, and the gray bark of fallen trees or brush piles.

    We should have done an overnight trip, or go back today, but I'm stiff and sore from miles of walking. I ain't a 20 year old kid anymore, and even Sean is worn out, so I guess I did OK. Tempted to take a day off mid-week and go back.
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