Since 2006, I've been invited to attend a number of varmint hunting expeditions due to a curious combination of factors. Smith & Wesson had just brought out its AR system carbine, the M&P15T.
I was invited due to my affiliation with the more defensive combat type of publications and my police background. The venue is superb for field testing firearms with high round count shoots and the M&P carbine line was just entering the AR market.
The venue was the Silver Spur Ranch. With properties stringing through New Mexico, Colorado and into Wyoming, the Spur has around 55,000 acres of its own in the area of Encampment, Wyoming. A beautiful place, during wet years it's lush with sage and alfalfa. It's a place favored by the white-tailed prairie dog and Richardson's ground squirrels, to the detriment of vegetation and the livestock that has to stumble over the huge burrows.
Of the countermeasures available, the two most viable are hunting pressure and poisons. The ranch boss is disinclined to use poisons for environmental reasons.
To facilitate transportation around the place, Yamaha provided some ATVs. The new one was the 2015 Viking VI EPS six-person Side-by-Side Extended cab. Different size from the 3-seater version we used at Gunsite in May, this thing can haul six though we tended to run with three or four. The crews were enthusiastic about the new SXS. The Yamaha Electric Power Steering was cited as a boon to transportation as it was at our previous Yamaha event. The cargo bed had room for coolers, ammo, rifle cases and packs. Security was high as the seat belts and handholds came in handy in rough country.
The last thing you want is to be ejected.
The Yamaha 700cc-class engine provided ample power. We were well-equipped on this trip with plenty of firearms, ammunition and rolling stock.
Most recently, Smith and Wesson purchased Thompson/Center, maker of fine hunting firearms. Starting with their Contender, more recent incarnations are the Encore ProHunter line. They also have remarkably accurate value-priced bolt-action rifles in their Venture series.
With some models retailing at less than $600 and with the MOA guarantee, it's a deal that's hard to resist. Due to my background - police service, writing for the more 'tactical' type publications, I had plenty of use of the AR carbines in previous soirees. I opted this time to spend time with the more traditional iron.
I also used the Encore ProHunter, a single-shot rifle that appeared to be stainless steel or to have a finish consistent with stainless. The stock and fore end were synthetic with "soft-touch" panels - the FlexTech composite stock system. The barrel, around 24" in length, was in .17HMR.
The optic on the test gun was Bushnell's AR-Rimfire scope. Designed with a BDC for .22 LR out of an AR clone, it served admirably on the little .17 TC. The cartridge was the Hornady .17, loaded with the 17-grain V-MAX bullet. I thought that was a bit light even with the advertised 2,550 fps out of the 24 inch test barrel - hot for such a mild shooter.
I also carried the Thompson/Center Venture Compact. The short length of pull combined with the 20-inch barrel made it truly compact. The stock is composite with Hogue panels. It was chambered for .22-250 Remington, a veritable screamer. The three round magazine was plenty for the junior-grade cannon.
Those with a short sleeve length will appreciate such a rifle - and it fits more of us properly than one might expect. The scope was the Bushnell Legend 3-9x40. We had Hornady Varmint Express 50 grain V-Max to feed the Compact.
Shooting partner Dick Williams selected the Thompson/Center Venture Predator, a camo-dipped rifle in .204 Ruger. Also wearing Bushnell glass, the Legend 3-9x40, the rifle was loaded with Hornady 32 grain V-MAX "Superformance" load. This round pushes the V-MAX bullet to around 4,200 fps at the muzzle - a lot of power.
As we were on private property and not game hunting - there was lots of ground to be covered and the white-tailed prairie dog is not a close community rodent - we were driving and shooting. One of our first engagements was across a valley onto an opposing hillside. I wasted several rounds of the valuable Hornady Varmint Express stuff when I realized I had no idea where the Venture Compact was hitting.
I grabbed a spare M&P15 - the "Optics Ready" variant with the Bushnell AR Optics 3-12x 40mm Riflescope mounted in Warne rings and mounts - and set out to engage the distant critters. The first round fired was a hit. Lesson: familiarity means something. The trigger on the M&P15 was "service-grade," meaning it was not nearly as clean and light as the Venture Compact's trigger. I know the standard M&P15 won't stand up to the Venture in the accuracy department either. The M&P15 accounted for several prairie dogs that morning, a few at ridiculous distances for a 16" carbine.
I went to using the Encore ProHunter .17HMR on nearer targets as the day progressed. The resounding "thump!" sound made when the tiny V-MAX bullet struck its mark was impressive. My best effort with the ProHunter - which Dick Williams referred to as my "Magic Wand" - was around 140 yards. The .17HMR out of the ProHunter was quite humane, a very quick stopper compared to the .22 LR we also had on-board.
In the afternoon, I engaged some hundred-yard non-animated targets and figured where I was shooting with the .22-250 Venture Compact. Once I was dialed in, I started working on prairie dogs. The power of the heavy .22-250 load was impressive. It was quite similar to the quicker-but-smaller pill from Dick's .204 Predator.
I likely fired around 60 rounds of .22-250 from the Compact. There was no discomfort, no stoppages. Over a couple of days, Dick probably put well over 100 rounds through the Venture Predator, with a very high hit percentage and no reliability issues. The .17 HMR in the ProHunter was very mild to shoot and, simple rifle that it is, it just worked every single time.
The Encore ProHunter rifle with a .17 HMR barrel would be an incredible utility gun for the property owner with pest problems. The Venture Compact is precise, accurate and reliable and easily handles the .22-250. It's also available in .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester and 7mm-08.
-- Rich Grassi