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Bernie Kuntz: An afternoon of gopher shooting

"We could just drive around in my pickup if you are up to it," John said on the phone. "Shoot out of the cab. The grass it too high to see gophers in the fields but we could shoot them in the two-tracks."

"Yeah, I am feeling better and would love to get out of the house for half a day and do some shooting. I'll be ready at 1 p.m."

Laurie retrieved my L. L. Bean fanny pack from beneath my reloading bench. The pack is filled with .22 rimfire ammo and magazines for my 10-22 Ruger.

An hour later John and I are driving a two-track road on a ranch 20 miles west of Bozeman.

"Right there!" John says. "Two of them on the edge of the grass." I lean out the window, squeeze off two shots and get them both. Minutes later I shoot two more on the two-track.

"Four in a row!" John exclaims.

The pasture grass is a foot to four feet high, even with rotational grazing the ranch employs. With four inches above normal rainfall for the year, neither of us is surprised at the tall grass.

After that we take turns shooting. If the ground squirrel is on John's side of the road, he takes the shot; if it appears on my side, I have the opportunity.

"It's good to be able to see again," I say. "Last spring I couldn't see well at all...had cataract surgery in February and that has made all the difference."

I am using my "gopher rifle"—a 10-22 Ruger stainless that I won many years ago at a Ducks Unlimited fundraiser. Initially, I put a hundred-dollar Swift scope on the rifle, only to have the crosshairs break. I sent the scope in for repair and received a postcard from the company, telling me it would cost $72 to repair the scope. I wrote back, told them what I thought of them and their scopes and told them to throw the damned thing away.

Shortly thereafter I bought a Burris 4-1/2X-14X variable on sale for $199 and it was an excellent choice. Admittedly, it is more scope than one needs on a .22 rimfire, but for the money I couldn't go wrong. Set on 8X I can kill gophers out to 100 yards. For close shots I crank it down to 4-1/2X.

Later in the afternoon we find a winter wheat field on John's side of the truck where he has some ferocious shooting.

My tally for the afternoon is about 17 gophers and John certainly has killed as many. On the way out of the ranch, the ranch manager and his wife flag us down and thank us for coming out to shoot gophers.

"How do you like that?" I say after they leave. "THEY thank US for shooting gophers. You found a gold mine here, John."