I got out for another prairie dog hunt this week, and I had two specific goals when I left the house. First, was to get into the town that I couldn't access the last time out, and second, test out my newly invented Prairie Dog Recovery Tool.
A couple of blog stories back, I was lamenting the fact that a lot of times, I cannot recover the prairie dogs that I shoot. Sometimes, I can see the tops of their heads, but they are just out of reach, unless I want to lay on my belly in the dirt, fleas, and prairie dog poop, to reach into the burrow and try to grab them. Or, I know they are in a specific burrow, but they have slid down inside of it, just out of sight, and there is no way that I can recover them.
I want to recover them for several reasons. I want to see where I hit them compared to where I was holding, or I want to get some pictures for a story that I'm going to write, and also, I want to leave them above ground for the coyotes, turkey vultures, and ravens to consume. Nothing gets wasted.
On that last hunt, I came up with an idea for a tool that would let me recover a much higher percentage of my kills, while keeping me out of the fleas, dirt, dust, and poop.
This year, we've had a Hantavirus warning for some areas of Northern Arizona, and even though, it is usually associated with breathing the dust from the feces of infected deer mice, not prairie dog droppings, deer mice have been known to inhabit prairie dog burrows, and I don't want to take any chances.
Another area of concern is, according to a Game and Fish Biologist, that I talked to in the field this week, some of the fleas in some of the dog towns out there, are testing positive for Sylvatic Plague. Sylvatic Plague, manifests itself as Bubonic Plague in humans.
So plenty of reasons not to get too up close and personal with the prairie dogs that I kill. I wear camo pants, that I can blouse over my boots, and spray my boots and pant legs with insect replant. So far so good, because I've never had a problem, but better safe than sorry.
The foundation for the tool is a replacement rabbit ear, telescoping TV antenna. Next is a number 6 fish hook, and some quick setting epoxy.
I cut the eyelet off of the fish hook, so that the hook shaft would lay flush up against the antenna shaft. Next, I used a small piece of blue masking tape, wrapped around the fishhook and antenna, to hold the hook in place while I applied the epoxy. A drop of super glue would probably work also, but I didn't have any on hand.
The antenna that I chose to use, has 10 elements, and fully extended, is 45.5 inches long. When fully collapsed, it is only 7 inches long, and easily fits in my pants pocket. The base is 3/8ths of an inch across. This is important, because any smaller than that, and the individual telescoping components are too small in diameter, and the finished unit will be too flimsy. I know, because I tried one of those first.
After letting everything set up for 24 hours, I was ready for a field test. Here's the unit, showing the epoxied fish hook, and the cardboard tube that I use to cover the hook end while it's in my pocket.
Time to get on to the fun stuff. I had been watching the weather reports, for the area that I couldn't access the last time out. The problem that time, was a seriously mud bogged road, that I couldn't get down. It hadn't rained there since then, and the temps had been in the high eighties, to low nineties, with winds running 15 to 20 miles per hour. With those conditions, it doesn't take long for things to dry out.
I loaded up my gear and headed for that town again. The good news is, this time, I was able to get down the two track, into the town, no problem. As I was gearing up, I could see a few prairie dogs out on their mounds. By the time I had finished, they had all disappeared, so I decided to slowly hunt my way through the town to, see what I might find.
About twenty minutes into the hunt, I spot one sitting erect on the side of its mound. I hit it with my range finder and get a range of 73 yards. I'm zeroed at 75 yards. A pretty brisk wind was coming directly into my face, so I didn't allow for any hold off, and knowing the head wind is going to make the pellet hit a bit low, I held on its head, and launched the 34 grain 25 cal pellet. The impact knocked the dog backwards, and it disappeared into the mound, and out of sight.
This was going to be interesting. I never know if the dog will have disappeared completely, or if I might be able to recover it. I get up to the mound, and here's what I find.
EXCELLENT! I can recover this guy no problem, and I can do it without getting down on my hands and knees, with my head stuck in the dusty burrow, while I reach in and grab it.
Out comes my brand new PDRT, for its first field test. Extending it to its full 45.5 inch length, I guide the hook into the burrow, snag the prairie dog by the skin on its back, and haul it out onto the top of the mound. No dust, no poop, no nothing.
Nice start to the morning. I get a few pics, gather up my tripod and rifle, and go on the hunt again. Over the next hour or so, I saw plenty of prairie dogs, but just couldn't get within air gun range. Finally, as I was coming up over a small rise, in the dog town, I spot one on its mound at 85 yards. I checked my trajectory plot, and holding a half of a hashmark high, launch a pellet. The wind is coming from about 2 o'clock, and I missed right. I can't seem to get it through my head, that I don't need to hold off as much with these new 34 grain JSB's, as I think I do.
I racked the side lever, to load another pellet, settled into the scope, and sent pellet number two down range. This time, there was a resounding THWOCK, and the dog launched off of the back of the mound, and out of sight. I'm real sure, that when I get up to the mound, I'm going to find one very dead prairie dog laying in the dirt.
WRONG! When I get up there, what I find is a blood stain in the dirt, but no dog. CRAP! I hate it when this happens. Okay, the search is on. I know it didn't go down the mound it was sitting on, because I would have seen it if it had.
I'm sure this is going to be another heart lung shot. The thing with heart lung shots is, many times, there is enough oxygen in their bloodstreams, and brains, that they can get to a nearby escape burrow, and disappear before they give up the ghost.
Now the detective work begins. In addition to the obvious main burrow, like the one that I shot this guy off of, they will have multiple less obvious escape burrows nearby. I set about checking each of those. The first three I check, I get no joy. However, the fourth one is a bingo. It's under a small bush, and I can see a couple of small blood stains at the entrance. Shown below.
Okay, now I know where it went, but I can't see it in the burrow. Many times, they dive into these escape burrows head first, slide in there three feet and expire. Normally, I would be out of luck, as far as being able to recover it is concerned. But, maybe not this time. I pull the PDRT out of my pocket, extend it to its full 45.5 inch length, and go prairie dog fishing.
I'm slowly working the tool into the burrow, when about 2.5 to 3 feet in, I feel it run into something soft and mushy. The only thing down there, that is likely to be soft and mushy, is a dead prairie dog. I slowly spin the tool, while gently pulling on it, and feel it hook into something. I try to pull whatever I've hooked into out of the burrow, but it won't budge. I manipulate the tool, until I can feel that it's no longer hooked into anything. Then, pulling the tool out a few inches, I maneuvered it, until I felt the hook catch again.
This time when I tried to pull, whatever I had hooked into out of the burrow, it slid out easily, and much to my delight, I had caught myself one very dead, large, male prairie dog.
I think, what happened on the first attempt, was that I had hooked it up near the head, and when I pulled on it, the dog was trying to double back over on itself, plugged the hole, and wasn't going to budge. Anticipating something like this could happen, I had removed the barb from the hook. I had no trouble getting the hook out from the first grab, moving it a bit, and hooking the dog in such a way, that it easily slid back out of the burrow.
It turned out, that those were the only two prairie dogs that I would get a shot at, but they gave me a chance to try out my new recovery tool, and I had a great time.
Anyone that hunts prairie dogs, or ground squirrels, might want to add one of these to their hunting equipment. It easily fits in your pocket, and sure makes it a lot easier to recover these critters, without getting down and dirty with them.
Until next time, thanks for reading.