The Predator and Varmint Hunter's Guidebook: Tactics, skills and gear for successful predator & varmint hunting

The Predator and Varmint Hunter's Guidebook: Tactics, skills and gear for successful predator & varmint hunting

by Patrick Meitin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440248504
Publisher: F+W Media
Publication date: 12/18/2018
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Patrick Meitin was born and raised in the American West, was taught to safely shoot firearms at the age of 8, and hunting and reloading soon followed as a teenager. Trapping and predator hunting payed the bills after high school, and although his passion for big-game hunting eventually changed to the use of bows and arrows, his pursuit of varmints and predators with firearms has paralleled his intense pursuit of archery. Precision long-range shooting and handloading ammunition remain his focus, as well as tinkering with several firearm combinations to pursue performance. Meitin has written thousands of articles for numerous publications including Deer & Deer Hunting, Peterson's Bowhunting, Outdoor Life and more, and is the author of three previous books: Bowhunters' Digest 6th Edition, Bowhunting Modern Elk and The Bowhunter's Guide to Better Shooting.

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Why Predators & Varmints?

Born and raised in the West and close to open spaces, I began hunting early, tagging my first rifle mule deer when 10 or 11 and my first elk at 14 (with my own handloads). Because of this early initiation, the transition into muzzleloaders and then serious bowhunting was a predictable progression. By the time I graduated high school, I'd forsaken big-game hunting with rifles, becoming a dyed-in-the-wool bowhunter in my late teens and not shooting a big-game animal with rifle for more than 25 years. Yet I maintained a full arsenal of rifles and handguns and continued avidly handloading, forever seeking more accurate loads for every firearm I owned. This had everything to do with varmints and, to a larger extent, predator hunting, as I never have seen a coyote I didn't desperately want to shoot. Despite bowhunting as the cornerstone to my big-game journey, I never lost my fascination with firearms and their use in pursuing small varmints and predators.

Varmint is a term tossed about loosely, with many inclined to include any small-game species. The official definition is an American-English colloquialism of vermin, representing animals that are considered a nuisance to man, and/ or unprotected by game laws. Further, varmints are animals widely believed to spread disease or inclined to destroy crops, livestock or other private property. Strictly speaking, varmints do not include common small-game species such as cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares or tree squirrels, though those species often exhibit pest-like behavior — just ask the backyard gardener or bird-feeder enthusiast. These popular small-game animals are rightly official game in most states in addition to providing excellent table fare. There is also the designation of predator — including foxes, bobcats and coyotes — and these are often afforded seasons, but also frequently considered vermin.

So, licensing and/or season restrictions are no sure demarcation between varmint and genuine small-game or furbearer status, as many states require permits to shoot even nongame species. Idaho, for example, requires a hunting license to shoot ground squirrels (definite vermin) and coyotes (known livestock killers), and Oregon requires hunting licenses for varmints on public but not private lands. Colorado requires a hunting license for varmints such as marmots or prairie dogs (and rattlesnakes) and has instituted highly defined seasons — the sure mark of a blue state. Texas, despite exploding populations of invasive feral hogs and resulting depredation, requires nonresidents to purchase a nongame license even while hunting private lands that Texas Parks and Wildlife invests zero resources to maintain. This, of course, says as much of the bureaucrats' lust for revenue as it does management concerns.

And let's get something straight from the beginning: I'm the farthest thing from a conquer-the-wilderness, Manifest Destiny type who believes every corner of North America must be made comfortable for livestock at the expense of all other living creatures. There is a balance to everything, even varmints and predators, and besides, if an animal is going to be eliminated from the landscape, it isn't going to be by my bullets but rather a landowner's poison. And for our purposes, just to keep things tidy, varmint will specify smaller rodents and birds meeting the aforementioned definitions, and predator will mean common furbearing fauna such as foxes, bobcats and coyotes.

So the legitimate question becomes, why all the fuss about varmints and predators? The easy answer is that varmint shooting and predator hunting (calling usually) is just plain fun. The more involved answer is that varmints, predators and nongame species offer a fun, relaxing, rewarding and extremely affordable way for average blue-collar sportsmen (and ladies) to more thoroughly enjoy the shooting sports. And let's be frank: Although we might work under the mantle of pest elimination, we shoot not with the veniality of day traders but the zeal of children devouring ice cream.

Another harsh reality: Big-game hunting has become increasingly expensive with each decade. Quality big-game property has grown progressively more difficult to access, mostly because of the bane of the modern hunting lease and well-heeled hunters' willingness to pay top dollar to keep prime habitats to themselves. Even in areas with abundant public lands, top-quality big-game licenses in proven trophy areas are secured only through low-odds lottery drawings after accumulating the correct number of preference points or by purchasing expensive landowner tags. It's easy for the average working man to feel left out.

Varmint and predator hunting allow easier access to private lands (by helping thin destructive pests), year-round seasons for many species and fewer regulations and permit requirements — in short, the ability for a serious firearms enthusiast to stay engaged and sated. Interestingly, even varmints go only to the highest bidder in select locations, and guided varmint shoots and lodges are now more common than ever. But in the bigger picture, varmints are still largely wide open to those willing to do their homework.

For many, varmint shooting and predator hunting offer welcome off-season sport. Here in northern Idaho, for example, after the last general big-game season passes in early December, there's nothing to look forward to but a long, tedious winter of ice-fishing (no thanks), snowmobiling (can't afford it) or skiing (over it). Predator calling becomes my way of avoiding the creeping shack nasties, getting me out of the house and busy with something challenging and rewarding that sometimes actually pays for itself via the raw-fur trade. In New Mexico, when winter doldrums got me down, there was productive predator calling in the offing, but for an uncomplicated, carefree afternoon stroll, it was difficult to beat jackrabbit hunting.

In fact, superfluous jackrabbits (and prairie dogs) are what I honed my rifle-shooting skills on while young and building big-game ambitions. I was lucky to work on large ranches during summer vacations, bucking hay for 10 cents a bale, or traversing large ranchlands pitching hay to starving cows and checking watering tanks during drought months, years before I earned an official driver's license. A rifle of some sort invariably rode along. Throughout my formative years, I treated my .243 Win. Remington 700 ADL like a .22 Long Rifle, handloading 100 rounds of Sierra 60-grain hollow-points at a time and shooting every one of them at jacks, prairie dogs or occasional thirteen-lined ground squirrels while making ranch rounds. Another landowner, an alfalfa farmer I worked for sporadically, supplied a friend and me bricks of .22 LR shells, a farm pickup and 10-cent-each bounty for jacks, encouraging nighttime spotlighting on his sprawling alfalfa fields. We regularly filled pickup beds with dead hares.

The raw-fur market also hit all-time highs while I was in middle and high school, spawning an intense interest in predator calling that persists today. A $30 to $60 coyote and $50 gray fox (late '70s through '80s prices) was big money for a teenager — a $200 to $400 bobcat akin to winning a lottery. By the time I'd earned a driver's license at 15, I bought my own car and insurance, and owned only the best rifles, scopes and other sporting equipment, all financed with fur money.

Varmints and predators offer the ultimate big-game preparation. The tendency in varmint shooting is for ever-greater challenges — running or longer shots, and smaller targets or handguns. After all, unlike big game, in which a wounded animal spells disaster, imperfect hits on smaller varmints translate into sure kills 98 percent of the time; a hit-or-miss proposition. A big-game season can hinge on one trigger pull. The best varmint shoots include hundreds of shots fired daily. Breath and trigger control, wind, doping trajectories and better understanding cartridge capabilities become second nature.

Varmint and predator shooting takes the edge off. I mean, when you can snipe a woodchuck, prairie dog or ground squirrel with regularity at 200, 300 or 400 yards, hitting big game at any reasonable range seems like child's play. It was no mistake I used that .243 Win. to tag many elk and mule deer while still attending high school. Varmints had ingrained prerequisite shooting skills and absolute confidence.

Meanwhile, you're helping control unwanted or harmful pests. Those nighttime spotlighting missions for alfalfa-raiding jackrabbits weren't just for amusement (though we had a hoot while doing it). Ten black-tailed jackrabbits consume as much alfalfa annually as a cow. Multiply that by pickup-beds of jacks and you can imagine the damage inflicted on a farmer's cash crop. Likewise, during those droughty years of my eastern New Mexico youth, cattle were having a difficult time surviving. Abundant jackrabbits only compounded the problem. Interestingly, the Western jackrabbit seems to thrive during drought conditions, likely because more of its prolific young surviving during hot, dry conditions.

Woodchucks, prairie dogs and ground squirrels, because of their proclivity for digging, have become enemies of most agricultural producers. Not only does their extensive burrowing and tunneling threaten livestock and farm equipment, but the vegetation they consume and clear away from burrow entrances to better view approaching danger adds up quickly when they're congregated in large colonies. Ground squirrels are especially notorious for undermining roads, which cave away during wet winter months, and breaching livestock-pond dams, which then require costly repairs.

With feral hogs, you're entering a unique realm of destruction. Wild boars, as I like to call them, ravage agricultural fields, push holes through woven fences, root and wallow in livestock pastures, undermine or pollute stock tanks and chew through waterlines, and generally compete with native species such as deer, turkeys and quail for food. In Texas, where deer leases are big business, off-season hog hunts can be arranged for affordable daily fees, prices dependant on how much of a nuisance hogs are at the time and lodging facilities provided. I've never hunted Texas free — aside from the generosity of friends — but have enjoyed productive hog hunts (say, five to seven hogs per diem) for $50 to $100 daily fees. Likely because Texas has little public land, there seems to be an unwritten law among Texas landowners that no gratis hunting be allowed.

In eastern Oregon, where we enjoy our most productive high-volume ground squirrel shooting, you'll find the highest concentrations around and across irrigated hay and alfalfa fields. Outlying areas harbor these Belding's "sage rats," but irrigated crop circles have artificially inflated their numbers, so a young or cut field can resemble the migrating herds of Africa's Serengeti in miniature. Shoot 400 or 500 rats one day, leaving a field looking like a battle scene from a Sylvester Stallone movie, convinced you've made a considerable dent, and you'll return the next morning to find the fallen have disappeared (ground squirrels greedily eat one another) and been replaced by fresh volunteers. There seems to be no end to them. They're a bane to farmers if a great boon to the rifleman. I mean, where else can you effortlessly burn 1,000 rounds of .22 LR and centerfire ammo in a weekend? It's the epitome of varmint shooting ecstasy; a howling good time, while also honing shooting skills to a razor's edge. And landowners love you for it — provided you avoid shooting holes in irrigation pipes and machinery.

Which is another huge benefit of simple varmint shooting: I can name many properties where I've easily gained permission to shoot varmints or predators but where game-bird and/or big-game hunting was restricted or came only at a hefty price. I've enjoyed open access to ranches where I could call coyotes any time, but hunting the desert mule deer sharing the same ground was forbidden. I recall knocking on Montana doors, begging trespass permission. The answer was usually an unapologetic no, until I pointed out I only wanted to snipe a few prairie dogs, upon which I was welcomed with open arms, ranchers often taking time out of their busy day to lead me to productive pastures they wanted thinned. Our shooting property in eastern Oregon was accessed only because of destructive ground squirrels, but the abundant upland birds and big game were strictly off limits. And so the story goes in too many places to relate here.

Also, because prime varmint and predator seasons generally occur during off-seasons — ground squirrels and prairie dogs in spring and early summer, the predators in late winter — you disturb no one, namely big-game hunters paying to hunt a piece of real estate or enjoy a guided hunt.

I've also observed through the years that varmint/predator shooting gets my foot in the door initially, and a prolonged relationship with a landowner who observes courteous and reliable behavior often leads to eventual invitations to hunt big game or game birds. This means closing gates behind you, picking up after yourself, avoiding shooting equipment or creating ruts in wet fields or roads, and, well, you know, exercising basic common sense. It doesn't hurt to drop in and show a rancher a couple of dead coyotes once in a while, remember them at Christmas with a bottle of hooch or brick of .22 shells, or offering a cold beer and pausing to chat a while when you run into them in the field. Farmers and ranchers often live isolated, solitary lives, so chewing the fat is generally welcomed. Just remember to say, "Yes sir," and, "No sir," look them in the eye while speaking, and take your hat off before entering their house or addressing the missus. Rural residents still appreciate such old-fashioned gestures, even if the rest of the world has abandoned basic manners.

After many years of shooting "rats" on that eastern Oregon spread, my father has become genuine friends with the landowner, allowing me to shirttail into the deal. We have run of the place and are welcomed to hook up to his electricity and water while camping. He stops by camp to share a beer and see how we've done. He recently offered a pronghorn landowner tag in a state where such tags are highly coveted. Only because of ground squirrel shooting did this cozy relationship develop.

For the gun-loony shooter, varmint hunting offers it all. If you like to shoot guns of all kinds and burn a lot of powder, varmint shooting and predator hunting allows that opportunity, providing abundant targets and shooting volume big-game hunters never experience. Generous off-season opportunities and plenty of shooting ultimately lead to more finely honed shooting skills, whether that means shooting jackrabbits offhand at reasonable ranges with rimfire rifles or pistols, or pushing the envelope of centerfire range capabilities from a portable bench among a colony of copious prairie dogs or ground squirrels. This confidence follows you into big-game arenas, though interestingly, many shooting enthusiasts I know shoot only varmints, leaving big game to those with more ambition or thicker wallets.

While you're enjoying all this shooting fun, you're also doing your part to thin destructive pests or predators that cost landowners money or damage habitats for more desirable game species. This dynamic opens doors to further hunting opportunity, igniting lasting relationships with landowners who provide a place to shoot for years to come — and just maybe future upland-bird or big-game invitations.


Excerpted from "The Predator and Varmint Hunter's Guidebook"
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Table of Contents

Dedication, 3,
CHAPTER 1: Why Predators & Varmints?, 6,
CHAPTER 2: Species of Interest, 16,
CHAPTER 3: Varmint Approaches, 44,
CHAPTER 4: Calling All Predators, 64,
CHAPTER 5: Feral Hogs, Stemming the Tide, 84,
CHAPTER 6: Varmint & Predator Cartriges, Rimfire to Centerfire, 104,
CHAPTER 7: Varmint Rifles, 122,
CHAPTER 8: Handgun Varmints, 138,
CHAPTER 9: Varmint Scopes, 150,
CHAPTER 10: Handloading to Needs, 168,
CHAPTER 11: Pelt Shooting, 186,
CHAPTER 12: Give It A Rest, 202,
CHAPTER 13: Long-Range Primer, 214,
CHAPTER 14: The Shooter's Field Bag, 234,
CHAPTER 15: Author's Gear Picks, 245,

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