Farmers in the great plains of North America are having a tough time these days. Fuel prices are at an all-time high, and fertilizers and other farm chemicals have doubled or tripled in price. In some areas, dry weather is severely limiting crop production. The consequences of reduced rainfall always mean more grasshoppers and ground squirrels eating what's left of the crops. Both of those pests can substantially reduce a farmer's yield. And while shooters can't help control grasshoppers, there are lots we can do on the ground squirrel front.
In my part of the world, ground squirrels are called gophers, but whatever the local name, there's no question overpopulation can damage crop production. A couple of friends and I recently loaded up our trucks and headed out to do some gopher control. It turned into a three-day hunt with about eight hours of trigger pulling every day, and when the time came to leave for home, there were still many little pests left.
With their voracious appetites and large numbers, Richardson ground squirrels can be devastating to a farmer's crop yield.
A pair of rifles in my truck were MDT-equipped guns, one being a rimfire and the other a centerfire. There's no question that rimfire rifles are the most cost-effective guns to use for ground squirrels. Still, it's also true that centerfires give more reach and have more spectacular results when contact is made. This makes one of each a good battery of guns to have on hand for working over an infested field.
My MDT-equipped rimfire on this trip was a bolt-action Ruger American in .22 LR. This is not the Precision model but rather the standard hunter version with a slim barrel and originally equipped with a synthetic stock. When the rifle was new, I immediately encountered sporadic feeding issues with it. I tried different magazines and various kinds of ammo with no success. I suspected the rifle's fit in the stock might be the problem; this was confirmed by swapping the factory stock for MDT's rimfire LSS chassis. The feeding problems vanished like a morning fog, and accuracy improved.
An adapter that holds three Ruger 10-round magazines and keeps 30 rounds of ELEY hollow point on tap gives me the firepower I need when the varmints charge. A Bushnell scope provides accurate sighting, and the gophers die when I fulfill my part.
The MDT LSS chassis for the Ruger American proved to be an effective way to improve feeding and accuracy.
I brought along a Savage 110 in .224 Valkyrie for centerfire work, appropriately named the Prairie Hunter model. This gun was discontinued shortly after its introduction and only exists on the used market now. Still, it's an economical option for shooting the .224 Valkyrie in a bolt gun. It too came with a synthetic stock and had magazine problems when I first bought it. The magazine was defective, but Savage was great about replacing it. As lovely as Savage's Accu-Fit stock is, adding an MDT XRS chassis brought out the best in this rifle.
This gun favors Hornady's 73-grain ELD-Match bullets, but that's overkill for ground squirrels, so I worked up a handload using Hornady's 40-grain V-Max bullets. I loaded every empty piece of brass I had with these bullets but throttled back the power level to make them roughly the equivalent of a .22 Hornet, about 2700 fps. See my previous post on reduced loads here. Accuracy proved to be about a minute of angle.
More: A Look at Reduced Loads
These reduced loads, directed by a Leupold 5-15X scope, proved to be a good move as they kept me shooting without burning out my barrel when the action got hot. Nothing was lost in explosive target performance as this gun has a 1–7-inch barrel twist. That high rpm rate may have contributed to the frequently encountered hits generating helicopter-like results.
Unfortunately, those stubby bullets wouldn't feed from the magazine (yes, MDT makes a magazine for the .224 Valkyrie). Still, single loading isn't a problem, and what I usually do when using a centerfire in a gopher patch anyway.
A Savage .224 Valkyrie nestled in an MDT XRS chassis proved effective on distant ground squirrels.
While we thankfully didn't burn out any barrels on this trip, we were exhausted after three days of the continual focus required to hit small skittering targets. But now, with guns cleaned and some rest, it's not hard to start dreaming about heading back for another round of pest control. An MDT chassis conversion's stability, accuracy, and reliability make this farmer-assistance work easier and more enjoyable.
A "clicker" used to record kills showed this tally after three days of shooting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Voth calls himself a "student of the gun." Retired from a 35-year career in law enforcement, including nine years on an Emergency Response Team, he now works as an editor, freelance writer, and photographer, in addition to keeping active as a consultant in the field he most recently left behind—forensic firearm examination. He is a court-qualified expert in that forensic discipline, having worked in that capacity in three countries. These days, when he's not working, you'll likely find him hunting varmints and predators (the 4-legged variety).