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Long Range Groundhogs

September 1, 2009
By Ralph Scherder, Hunting Editor
I’m lucky to live in farm country where crop fields are plentiful – and so are groundhogs. August and early September are probably my favorite months for hog hunting. By then a deer’s antlers are fully grown and I can combine a little hog hunting with my preseason deer scouting. I’ve spotted many nice bucks while hog hunting.

My favorite method of hunting groundhogs is with a rifle. A .257 Roberts, to be exact, and preferably at long range. With the availability of so many varmint calibers such as the .223, .22-250, etc, why do I prefer the .257 Roberts?

Where I live consists of rolling hills and the opportunity for very long shots across valleys. During mid-day, the wind currents in those valleys can be tricky, making it almost impossible to predict how a bullet will drift over long ranges.

After high school graduation, I didn’t keep these factors in mind and bought a .223 Remington VLS. With no schoolwork holding me back, I could devote all my time to varmint hunting. Or, as I liked to think of it, I was turning pro, and I needed a quality varmint rifle. After all, one farmer had offered me a $5 bounty for each groundhog I shot on his farm.

Off of a bench rest at the shooting range, a controlled environment, the .223 was a tack driver. It consistently placed three shots in a dime-sized circle at 100 yards and a quarter-sized circle at 200 yards. But in the field was a different story. Wind currents played havoc on those 55-grain bullets on shots 200 yards and beyond. On several occasions on shots around 300 yards I squeezed the trigger and the bullet hit three or four feet to the left or right of the groundhog. On exceptionally blustery days, even a 150-yard shot was not a “gimme.” The only times I consistently made all the shots at all ranges were mornings and evenings, when the wind was calm. Under those conditions, the .223 excelled.

Eventually I tired of the .223. It was a beautiful rifle, but not quite suitable for what I wanted or expected. I missed almost as many groundhogs as I hit, which was hard on the ego. I wanted a rifle that would make all of the shots all of the time – within reason, of course.

I switched over to the .257, which I’d used prior to purchasing the .223, and noticed an immediate difference on those long range shots. The heavier bullet of the .257 – a 90-grain hollow point – bucked the wind much better, and the only misses thereafter were a result of shooter error or misjudged yardage. I had one streak of 17 straight kills on groundhogs 250-plus yards. The farthest was 475 yards, according to the range finder.

I don’t mean to champion one caliber over another, but the .257 Roberts eased a lot of my frustrations. I’ve known guys in this area who hunt varmints with a .243 for the same reasons mentioned above. Regardless of the caliber of rifle used, though, fundamentals remain the same. They are especially critical when shooting long range.

First and foremost, find a solid rifle rest. I use to carry a backpack with two sand bags every time I went groundhog hunting. Once I found a desirable vantage point, I set up a solid base using a rock or a fallen tree plus the sand bags. Then for a while I switched to a bipod, and that worked very well, but I didn’t like the additional weight on the actual rifle. Nowadays I’m a fan of shooting sticks. I like their portability and feel that they provide a rock solid rest without modifying the appearance of the rifle.

Know the range and know how your rifle shoots at those ranges. Range finders are amazing tools. I rarely go afield without mine. Once I know the range, I know how high to hold off target. For instance, I sight in my scope to shoot two inches high at 100 yards. With the loads I use, that sighting is almost dead-on at 200 yards. At 300 yards, all I have to do is break daylight above the groundhog’s head.

Add to these a steady and smooth trigger pull, and you have a recipe for long range success. It’s that simple.

Long range shooting can be addicting. Many times I find that I don’t move in for closer shots on groundhogs – I back up. After a couple months of shooting hogs at 250+ yards, a whitetail looks mighty big. At any range.

Fact Box

First and foremost, find a solid rifle rest. I use to carry a backpack with two sand bags every time I went groundhog hunting.



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