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Prairie Dog Gun
July 2012
Wade Heim

A little while ago I was invited along on a prairie dog hunt with Mike Kelly. I had never been on such an excursion, and thought that would be a great opportunity to try out some of my more “accurate” rifles. I quickly discovered that I did not have the right tools to get the most out of the trip, and spent a lot of time watching Mike make red mist of the critters.

This was the beginning of another project, because this was just too much fun not to participate. Key ingredients had to be ¼ to ½ MOA accuracy between 200-500 yards, and the recoil had to be nil in order to see the hits.

This was going to require a custom build, and the first step was to identify the action type. For factory actions, Remington and Savage seem to have the lead in this arena. Additionally, there are several full custom shops that build ground up fully blueprinted actions for benchrest competition. My choice was to start with a Remington 700 short action. This required finding a suitable donor rifle at a reasonable price since the only thing that would live on after the build would be the action and bolt. So off to the Cabelas used racks and local pawn shops I went.

Within a couple weeks, I found a suitable Rem 700 in 243 Win for a reasonable price, and home it came. The previous owners shortened both the barrel and stock, which was of no importance since they would be junked as part of the process. In the approximately 12 month window between purchasing the donor rifle and going to the gunsmiths, Brownells got in a batch of new Remington 700 short actions. So instead of using the old busted down donor rifle I bought a new action for the build. But now I have an excuse for another build.

The next step was to determine a round that would meet the requirements previously discussed. This decision would change several times over the course of the next several months, but had to be determined before purchasing a barrel. Caliber and cartridge discussions with Mike Kelly filled many a trip to Wickenburg for the Wickenburg Sportmen's Club’s practical pistol shoots. Every time seemed to bring a new cartridge to the forefront – 22BR, 22-250AI, 6BR, 6PPC, 6XC, 6-250, 6-250AI, and I am sure there were others.

Several things would need to be considered for this choice, such as availability of brass (commercial vs fireformed), and loading dies (commercial vs custom), as well as known performance in the worlds of competition and varminting. In the end I chose the 6BR, a cartridge well known for its accuracy. Plus, brass and loading dies are commercially available for this round. The 6mm bullet would be good for wind and the small cartridge kept the recoil to a minimum. With this decision a barrel could be purchased. I chose a Kreiger barrel with a heavy varmint profile. This is easily the heaviest part of the whole firearm, which currently tips the scales at over 13 pounds.

Reaching out to 250 yards

One last thing before I could go the gunsmith, what stock to choose? For stability the stock had to be either a wood laminate or a composite synthetic. I already had another 700 with an HS Precision (composite) stock that I really liked, and Remington happens to use HS Precision stocks on their factory police and heavy varmint rifles. So I starting searching the internet, and it wasn’t long before I found someone selling a “new take-off” stock from their Model 700 VS, and the price was well within reason. So a deal was made and the stock found a new home.

Then off to the gunsmith went the parts to be reworked and assembled. In addition to installing and chambering the barrel, the action was fully blue-printed. Before coming home a Sako extractor was installed on the trued bolt, a Vais muzzle break was added to the barrel to reduce felt recoil, the barrel channel on the stock was opened up to accept the heavy varmint barrel and bedded to the action, and a Jewel trigger installed.

Once home the optics went on, and I headed to the range to break it in. I couldn’t have been happier with the results. Now all I need to do is fine-tune the loads and head back to the dog towns.

That opportunity came last June, Gerhard and I took a trip up north to the dog towns, and what a difference the right equipment makes. Gerhard and I took turns on the table switching out every five shots or so. It took a little to get the feel for the distances and I still need a lot of work on reading the wind, but I was putting hits on the targets. Let’s just say it was a very ”explosive” morning. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to head to the dog towns.

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