Squirrels are for Girls
By Gary Lewis
Jennifer was so far ahead with her studies I calculated she could take two days off from her school books to go on a ground squirrel shoot. At least that's what I told her.
What I didn't tell her was that she was going to get lessons in economics, multiplication, addition and agriculture with American history thrown in for good measure. And a whole lot of triggernometry.
"What I don't get," she said, "is why we need a guide. I mean, they're just squirrels." By this time, we were pointed east toward Burns and beyond.
"We can probably get our guide to load the rifle for you," I said. That seemed to satisfy her.
"Tomorrow we're going to conserve ammunition," I told my 16-year-old daughter. "We want to make every shot a good shot. You're going to see a lot of rats, but wait until you have a good sight picture and high probability of a hit, before you squeeze the trigger."
East of Burns, we passed miles and miles of natural habitat for Belding's Ground Squirrels, more commonly known in these parts as sage rats. We were headed for Crystal Crane Hot Springs and a morning appointment on an irrigation pivot.
The sage rat is an eating machine that emerges sometime in the month of February. Females give birth to a litter of five to eight young, which are reared without the help of multiple deadbeat dad sires. The feeding binge lasts till July.
One squirrel can eat 14.55 pounds of alfalfa in a four month period. Some farmers lose up to 45% or more of the first cutting of an alfalfa crop to ground squirrels.
Crystal Crane Hot Springs
We rolled into the parking lot at Crystal Crane Hot Springs and Nikki Aamodt was there to greet us. Nikki is the owner of Diamond A Guides, 541-573-6080, an outfit specializing in varmint control, based in Hines, Oregon.
After dinner, Jennifer and I relaxed in the hot springs. The pool was once a mud hole in the desert and before that was at the bottom of a prehistoric lake bed. Beneath the stars and the light of a quarter moon, it was not hard to imagine Paiute lodges gathered around the bubbling mud flats, their ancient music drifting in the steam that rose from the water.
An excavated pool, the natural outdoor spring reservoir reaches a depth of six feet with a pebble bottom. At an average temp of 100 to 105 degrees, it is comfortable enough to swim year-round.
Appointment with the Pest of the Pivot
Our guide was 17-year-old Mitchell Ebar, from Burns, driving an old Chevy farm truck with a shooting house in the bed. From the top floor, eight feet above the ground, we looked out over a cultivated field pocked with sage rat mounds.
As the morning sun warmed the ground, the rats emerged from burrows and chased each other between the irrigation ditches. Jennifer started with the Ruger 10/22 and I uncased its handgun cousin, the Ruger Charger topped with a 4-power scope. Mitchell thumbed rounds into empty magazines to keep us in the game.
Over the course of the morning, we used approximately 350 rounds of .22 rimfire. After two hours, we switched to the CZ bolt-action in 17 HMR and a 250 Savage to reach out to 200 yards and beyond.
The 250 Savage, also known as the .250-3000 was originally chambered for the Savage Model 99. And it was the basis for the very popular 22-250. A 25-caliber seems a little large for this game until the first round is fired. The Remington 722 was very comfortable for long range shooting. I had to pace myself to keep from overheating the barrel.
Throughout the morning, we kept a running total of hits versus expended ammunition. Final tally was 88 squirrels for the elder Lewis, 54 squirrels for the daughter and an unspecified number for Ebar for 350 rounds of 22 rimfire, 85 rounds of 17HMR and 48 rounds of 250 Savage.
By our calculations, we saved 2,066 pounds of hay in four hours of shooting. Most of all, she learned a lesson about superior firepower and how a rifle with long-range reach can be put to good use when the fundamentals are applied.
With the action fresh in her mind, we talked about the athletics of the long shot, the fundamentals of breath control, heartbeat awareness, sight picture, timing and squeeze.
The squirrels kept their heads down until we were well out of sight. A good education was had by all.