Duke’s years as a varmint shooter

Remington to rock chucks, he’s tried it all
; .

Duke’s sole varmint rifle today — his Remington Model 700 ADL .222 Remington
Magnum — is used to stop coyotes from making a meal of their dogs or cats.

Readers of my work over the decades may be surprised to learn my primary rifle interest in the late 1970s to early 1980s was varmint rifles and many of my early articles concerned them. Prior to moving lock, stock and barrel to Montana in the mid-1970s I was mostly a handgun shooter. In southwestern West Virginia where I grew up, there simply was not much purpose for rifles. I did buy a Model 1903A3 Springfield with which I made my introduction to bullet casting for rifles. Before moving to Montana I doubt if I’d ever fired any rifle at a target more than 75 yards distant.


About 15 years ago Duke was invited on a “ground squirrel safari” in Oregon. He attended
with this Savage Model 11F .223 Remington and fired over 1,000 rounds in five days.

Target-Rich Environment

The area of Montana where I made my home had prairie dogs, “gophers” (actually ground squirrels), rock chucks and coyotes. In order to hit the ground running so as to become a rifleman, I bought a dedicated varmint rifle ahead of time. That’s when I learned buying anything with no experience in the subject was bound to be a mistake.

The rifle I bought was a Ruger No. 1 single shot with varmint-weight barrel chambered for .22-250. It wasn’t too much of a mistake. The real problem was I put a 20X Lyman Super Targetspot scope on it. I discovered my error on my very first outing. Two local fellows invited me along to shoot “gophers” out to about 200 yards. I don’t remember the makes of their rifles except they were bolt actions chambered for the .222 Remington. I do remember they had moderate power scopes. They would call out the location of a “gopher” such as, “Look just to the left of that boulder!” In the narrow field of view with the 20X scope I couldn’t even find the boulder before one of them zapped the gopher. I didn’t get off very many shots that day.

However, the experience launched me into varmint shooting. Quickly the Ruger single-shot rifle and Lyman scope were traded and I purchased a Ruger Model 77 .22-250 bolt action. Its scope was a 6X Leupold. With this outfit I could at least hit a few gophers on my next outing. However, a little math showed I was burning about twice the powder my cohorts were using in their .222 Remingtons. So the Ruger was sold and replaced with a .222 Remington Model 700V (heavyweight barrel). For its scope I purchased one of the new Weaver T10s. Instead of using ordinary reloading dies and press, I switched over to Bonanza’s competition dies and one of their nifty presses with its seating-die/shell holder alignment system.

Finally, with a bit of load development trying different powders and bullets, I hit upon a load combination that would consistently shoot 1″ five-shot groups at 100 yards. Still I wasn’t satisfied. Next I bought a slightly used Model 700V .222 Remington because it had a synthetic stock with an aluminum bedding block. Brother, was that thing accurate!

Sub-1″ groups were common. For a time I turned into an accuracy nut. I wanted tighter groups and by selling off some “stuff” I bought a Remington 40X-BR .222 Remington and a case-neck-turning kit (brand unremembered). Atop the Remington I mounted a Lyman LWBR 20X scope. (LWBR stood for light weight bench rest.) Now I could shoot half-inch 100 yard groups and sometimes quarter-inch groups. It was fun and educational but I was back to too much scope and a difficult rifle to pack about.


Duke’s varmint choices: (L-R) .222 Remington, .223 Remington and the .222 Remington Magnum.

Duke kept his .222 Remington Magnum M700 because it shoots groups such as this.

It’s Only Money

Being unmarried in those days, when cash was available it went for more varmint rifles. Walkabout ones with standard-weight barrels became my fancy such as a Remington Model 700 .222 Remington Magnum. A Remington Model 600 6mm, a Ruger Model 77 .243 Winchester, a Ruger Model 77 .220 Swift and a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 .220 Swift were purchased. I even got a couple of .25-06s loading them with 75-grain bullets at very high velocities.

Then I burned out and my inborn interests in history returned. All those rifles were sold bar one — the standard-weight .222 Remington Magnum Model 700 ADL. I still have it.

About 15 years back I was invited on a ground squirrel shoot in Oregon. There wasn’t enough brass for my .222 Mag so I bought a Savage Model 11F .223 Remington. I shot over 1,000 rounds through it in five days, then later gave it to a friend’s son when he turned 13. My only varmint rifle now is my trusty .222 Remington Magnum. It serves for the occasional coyote trying for an easy meal with one of our pets.

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