My friend and fellow Gun Shots contributor, John Snow, calls prairie dogs “the third rail of American wildlife” for their ability to fatally polarize an otherwise coherent discussion of shooting, conservation and even land use.
It’s hard to be neutral about prairie dogs, whether you drive a thousand miles to shoot them or you believe that they’re the crucial ingredient of a healthy Western landscape. But if they divide folks, they also suck any intelligence out of discourse about their proper management.
Take, for instance, a fairly routine article this week in the Billings (Mont.) Gazette about a proposal to import a handful of Wyoming white-tailed prairie dogs into a sliver of southern Montana to supplement struggling populations.
The story itself raised the usual risk of draconian Endangered Species Act prohibitions without proactive management, but it’s the comments on the story – more than 70 at last check – that reveal the fertile field of incoherence that defines most discussions of prairie dogs these days.
As you can read, most comments advocate the immediate and selective long-distance removal of prairie dogs with 55-grain eviction pills. Other comments proclaim that prairie dogs did more to create prairie ecosystems than glaciers and wind. And almost all the comments deteriorate into insults, the eco-ninnies calling shooters drunk and primitive, the red-misters calling the prairie dog advocates rodent-huggers and pedophiles.
Lest you dismiss all this vehemence as inapplicable nonsense, you need to know that the landscape is shifting for varmint shooters in much of the West. In one of the most eyebrow-raising episodes of the last year, the lunatic fringe convinced Colorado’s wildlife agency to at least consider banning recreational prairie dog shooting in that state. A decision is expected next month.
If I can sift through a great deal of nonsense to the basis of their complaint, it appears that these varmint advocates have a germ of a case: Prairie dog shooters do not utilize the meat or hide of their quarry, one of the fundamental tenants of fair-chase hunting.
Bon appetite. And remember that a mil-dot covers the chest of a prairie dog at about 400 yards.
– Andrew McKean_