ARs for Varmint Shooting

ARs for Varmint Shooting
ARs have low recoil and lots of room in their magazines, and they are easy to accessorize for your style of hunting. Ground squirrels and prairie dogs didn't care for the M&P15 in .223 (pictured with a Trijicon Reflex) and its little brother, the M&P15-22 in .22LR. Photo by John Geiger.

Prairie dogs make holes. Lots and lots of holes. Cattle and horses can step in them and break legs. Farm equipment grinds to a halt on dirt mounds. Native grasses have a hard time getting a foothold in these p-dog towns.

So I'm happy to do my part helping ranchers control the population. The rascally rodents also make great targets, and that helps me shoot better.

Luckily, gun makers have been pumping out quality rifles and handguns to help us bring the out-of-control rodent population back in check.

On a recent shoot in Wyoming, my friend Steve Gash and I hauled out long-range Thompson Center Icons and T/C Venture Predators in .223 and .204 to knolls and rolling hills near Encampment on the Spur Ranch. We'd ride two tracks till we saw what looked like a mortar-training area -- holes with light-colored sandy dirt spread around -- that indicated an infestation. Then we'd get to work.

If the spot looked like a prairie dog city with hundred of rodent residents, then we'd break out the tables, spotting scopes and Lead Sleds for long-range action.

Gash, a longtime gun writer, is a nut for the "walking varminter," the Venture in .204, and you can't blame him.

"When it goes off, recoil is so slight the barrel barely jumps," said Gash. "You can see where you hit, and see where you need to hold next time, if you miss. You can view it all through the scope. I like that."

And he especially liked it when it was on target. A whoop went up with each satisfying pink cloud.

We'd pop p-dogs out 300, 400 and 500 yards. Gash had one beauty at 617 from one ridge to another. It took him 10 shots with the .204 as a spotter directed.

"High and left by 10 inches. Left, 6 inches. Bingo!" said Everett Degger of Hornady Ammunition. He said it was as much fun spotting as pulling the trigger. I don't know if I'd agree with that, but to each his own.

Occasionally we would arrive at a location that wasn't awash with black-tails. We felt it was our duty to keep it that way. Instead of setting up a table, and perhaps taking it down soon after due to a lack of targets, we'd load up on guns and ammo and hoof it.

A holstered S&W 617 revolver was a popular choice. A walking varminter was another gun-for-the-road. But I picked up a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22. This is a faithful reproduction of an M&P15, but instead of .223 the 15-22 is in .22 Long Rifle.

Right off the bat, you knew you were cutting your effective range by at least 75 percent as compared to the Ventures or even the M&P15 in .223. But this was close-in work as we mopped up p-dog towns, or walked moon-cratered prairies on the lookout for Richardson's ground squirrels or scurrying, barking p-dogs. (The genus Cynomys in their scientific name, Cynomys ludovicianus, is Greek for "dog mouse.")

The trade-off in effective range is made up in the compact, light gun that is super-cheap to shoot.

When I first picked up the M&P15-22, a few things came to mind.

1. This is plastic.

2. This is light.

I liked how light it was, but will the plastic fail me when I am pulling the trigger?

The M&P15-22 has both a polymer lower and upper. The 16-inch barrel is match-grade carbon steel. But just about everything else, save the bolt and trigger group, is plastic, a "high-strength polymer," according to S&W, which sponsored the shoot.

If there was a good proving ground for this gun, I was standing in it. With small, deserving targets all around, I did my best to fire up that p-dog town and produce a Failure To Feed or Failure To Eject. Hundreds of CCI and Federal Champion rounds later, and many rodents down for the count, I had not seen an FTF, FTE or any jam or failure at all.

That's saying something.

If the gun came up short, it's the trigger. It ships with a 7-pound trigger. There's some creep and travel. The good news is it will take a standard AR trigger group.

Similar semi-auto guns are the Sig Sauer 522, modeled after the 556, and Ruger SR22. Both of those .22LR-chambered guns have been around longer than the M&P15-22, and are both quality guns at similar prices. Major differences include triggers (Sig probably tops of the bunch), accessories (M&P takes AR furniture) and accuracy (Ruger may have this category topped).

If you have to choose just one, it's tough to go wrong. P-dogs don't like any of them.

Recommended for You


Quick Tips: How to Spot and Stalk a Hog

Ian Nance - May 28, 2019

Try these tips to improve your wild boar hunting skill set.


Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Pure Fishing's Andrew Wheeler tells Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead all about the brand new Abu Garcia Virtual rod that integrates Bluetooth technology through a free ANGLR smartphone app.

MLF Pro Tips: Go-To Baits for the Spawn

Major League Fishing pros talk about the first lure they choose when targeting spawning bass.

Lure Lock Options Includes LED Light Boxes & More

Pro angler Jonathan VanDam showcases new offerings at ICAST 2019, including the ultra-thin, big bait boxes, LED-lighted boxes and backpack-able gear lockers. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...


12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.


10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper - April 02, 2015

We all have our "swear by" bait for catfish. For me, it is chicken liver, live shad or my...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.