The Great Oregon Varmint Massacre

By Crazy Charlie


Christmas Valley, OR
Sand rat country. Photo by Nathan Rauzon

First off, let's be clear about the guilty parties to this outrage against innocent rodents. The persons responsible for the Great Oregon Varmint Massacre included Bad Bob, Notorious Nate and Crazy Charlie. Malcontents all, it would be hard to find a more motley trio anywhere.

These weirdoes were armed with an assortment of highly tuned rifles designed to decimate the varmint population of Eastern Oregon. Bad Bob used a pair of Ruger varmint rifles, a .17 HMR Ruger K77/17VMBBZ and a Ruger KM77VT in .220 Swift. Notorious Nate depended on his .17 HMR Savage Model 93R17-BVSS and trusty Savage Model 16FSS in .22-250. And Crazy Charlie relied on his .17 HMR Ruger K77/17VMBBZ and Savage Model 12 Low Profile Varmint in .223 Rem. All of these implements of destruction are bolt action rifles.

For those who care, the loads used for the various calibers were as follows: .220 Swift, handload with 55 grain Hornady SP bullet at about 3600 fps; .22-250, Remington factory load with 55 grain PSP bullet at 3680 fps; .223 Remington, handload with 50 grain Hornady V-MAX bullet at 3300 fps; .17 HMR, Hornady Varmint Express factory load with 17 grain V-MAX bullet at 2550 fps.

All of these rifles were equipped with nasty, high-powered, telescopic sights that allowed the evil trio to deliver their deadly projectiles to their innocent, furry victims with great precision. The poor little fuzz balls never had a chance.

It was a carefree Saturday morning at the beginning of summer when the gang of three left Eugene, Oregon in Bad Bob's SUV. Bad Bob drove them over the Cascade Mountains and all the way to Christmas Valley, in Eastern Oregon. There is no direct route from Eugene to Christmas Valley, so it is necessary to spend about 3 1/2 hours sort of tacking back and forth on various highways to get there.

After stops for breakfast, gas, drinks, a restroom, and random acts of cruelty, they arrived in Christmas Valley late Saturday afternoon, barely in time to do a little scouting on a local farm where they were graciously granted permission to hunt. (The name of The Farm and its owner shall remain anonymous to protect the more or less innocent.) Given permission, that is, to "thin" the varmint population. Or, in other words, allowed to perpetrate what will forever be known as "The Great Oregon Varmint Massacre."

The motley crew spent Saturday night in the vicinity of the coming slaughter, staying at the Silver Lake Motel, where they secured a (very small) room to crash for the princely fee of $31. But, hey, the price included the use of a 12" TV set with basic digital satellite programming! They planned to get a more or less early start on the serious killing Sunday morning, leaving Sunday afternoon for the long drive home with their blood lust temporarily satiated.

And, folks, that is pretty much the way it worked out. After checking into their motel and partially unloading the SUV, the remaining couple of daylight hours after their arrival on Saturday were spent investigating shooting locations for the next day. Well, okay, a few unlucky rodents revealed themselves and paid for the mistake with their lives--it was an armed reconnaissance.

Nate drew first blood with his .17 HMR Savage, blowing the unfortunate sand rat in half at about 50 yards. It's a very bad thing to be a small rodent hit by a .17 HMR slug at short range!

Deceased sand rat

Sand rat after encounter with .17 HMR V-MAX bullet. Photo by Nathan Rauzon

The creature locally termed a sand rat (or sage rat), for those of you who have not hunted in this area, is a small rodent about the size and general shape of a chipmunk, but with a shorter tail. It is an overall light gray-brown in color. They live in burrows like gophers and have the unfortunate (for them) habit of sitting upright like prairie dogs to check out the surrounding territory.

They are social rodents but also cannibalistic, feeding on the bodies of their dead buddies. In fact, Charlie nailed one sand rat by shooting through the freshly dead corpse of the sand rat on which it was feeding. The bullet's impact cartwheeled the little cannibal a couple of feet backward into eternity.

Sunday morning broke clear and beautiful, with a sunny blue sky and white clouds. The high that afternoon would be about 65 F. degrees with a variable westerly wind of perhaps 5 to 20 MPH.

After a swell breakfast and far too much coffee at the Lakeside Terrace restaurant in Christmas Valley (good food and plenty of it), it was off to The Farm. Bad parked their SUV at the edge of the big, circular field previously selected. He and Notorious walked a couple of hundred yards to the east of the vehicle, along the edge of the field, and set up with a field of fire to the east and south. Crazy walked about a hundred yards west of the SUV and set up a by an earth grader conveniently parked at the edge of the (killing) field, with a field of fire to the south and west. Then the slaughter began.

The Farm's amiable owner had told the boys that there were large numbers of sand rats working that field, and he was correct. It was what you might call a target rich environment.

All three killers did most of the damage with their .17 HMR rifles, as the ranges were typically between about 40 and 150 yards, and almost never exceeded 200 yards. The little .17 HMR cartridge seems made to order for sand rat shooting. The centerfire rifles came into play mostly when the wind was at its strongest or for the occasional long shot, but really were not necessary.

Between 40 and 150 yards there was not a lot of difference in the effectiveness of the various calibers. A solid hit resulted in a thoroughly dead sand rat, regardless of the cartridge employed. A quick poll revealed that 4 out of 5 sand rats preferred the 17 grain Hornady V-MAX bullet.

.17 HMR w/V-MAX bullet

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Bad did most of his shooting with his rifle on a Harris Ultralight bipod. Notorious used telescoping shooting sticks for support. Crazy used both a Harris bipod (on his .17) and Stoney Point shooting sticks (with the .223), but did the majority of his shooting with his rifle rested over a hard foam pillow atop one of the steel wheels of the aforementioned earth grader.

Nate's bragging shot was a clean hit on a small sand rat at about 200 yards with his Savage .17 HMR rifle. 200 yards is a long way when the target is only about 3" tall.

Bob nailed a sand rat on the run at maybe 100 yards with his Ruger .17 HMR rifle, a type of shot that no one else attempted. Generally it is best to wait until they stop, since they seldom run far, but Bob had to show off!

Charlie was most proud of a kill at 153 long paces with his .17 HMR varmint rifle. He had focused the front objective of his Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm scope at something over 150 yards, and decided to pace off the distance after the hit to see if it was correct. It was.

Another of Charlie's better shots with his .17 HMR rifle was at about 100 yards in a gusty wind, after a clean miss to the lee side of the rodent. He then held off the critter's head, about an inch into the wind, and hit.

All three shooters did a lot of missing for one reason or another (mostly coffee shakes, wind, and the lack of a really steady rest), but also a fair amount of hitting. Probably around (gulp!) 125 sand rats went to their reward on that single weekend.

After a couple of hours of pretty intense shooting, and being fundamentally lazy, Crazy Charlie wandered back to Bad Bob's SUV to sit in the shade for a while and read a book. He reclined comfortably in the passenger's seat, with the vehicle's doors open to the prevailing breeze. Sand rats were running around within 40-100 yards of the vehicle, and after a while Crazy couldn't resist. So he popped a couple with his .17 caliber rifle, using the vehicle as an impromptu rest. That temporarily quieted the local sand rat activity, but within about 15 minutes more innocent little rodents were carelessly exposing themselves to destruction. Charlie laid aside his novel and popped a couple more, then returned to his reading. That pattern was repeated for the rest of the afternoon. Hunting the lazy man's way!

The fields are growing fast on The Farm, as they do in the early summer, and the sand rats can hide in the tall growth. But soon it will be haying time. Then the fields will again be laid bare and the little rodents exposed. There could be more tough times ahead for The Farm's sand rat population!




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