By: Randy Tucker

At the count of three, we both fired. The target was a plastic gallon milk jug floating down South Muddy Creek near Lake Cameahwait.

Before my 230 grain .45 ACP slug even hit the water, the jug exploded into the air, landing on the bank of the creek about 40 yards away. It was easy to pick up the blasted jug and toss it in the back of the truck.

My son Brian’s Savage .204 won the race easily.

With a muzzle velocity in over-the-counter standard ammunition at 3,935 feet per second, it covered the distance to that errant piece of camping trash much faster than the 850 feet per second my .45 slug traveled.

When the 32 grain .204 bullet arrived at the plastic jug, it had almost three times the energy of the much heavier 230 grain .45 round. It was a classic, first-hand study for both of us in the raw power of what many consider the best varmint caliber you can buy.

Energy is a calculation of speed measured in feet per second and mass measured in bullet weight in grains. The tiny .204 packs a punch.

As a kid, my Coast to Coast model, bolt-action .22 was the favored rifle for rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs.

One of my best friends grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and he often comments on how the .22 long rifle cartridge has fed more people than any other caliber. Chico was no doubt correct in his assessment.

When .22 long rifle ammunition became scarce a few years ago, I purchased a .17 HMR. The .17 HMR ammunition has never been in short supply, at least in our area, and it was just as fun as shooting a .22.

When I was a teenager, we saved a few bucks target shooting .22 shorts and .22 longs, saving the larger, more powerful .22 long rifles for hunting. I haven’t found any shorts or longs on the shelves of our local sporting goods stores in a long time.

Brian decided he wanted a little more punch in a varmint rifle, and as a single 20-something guy, with a good job and few expenses, he had a little disposable cash to find just the right rifle.

He settled on the .204, and it was a great choice.

A neighbor had an infestation of prairie dogs in one of his horse pastures. He had a mare step in a prairie dog hole and injure her leg.

In Wyoming, prairie dogs are considered varmints. They have been discovered carrying bubonic plague, and an unfortunate hunter from Sheridan County died of the plague a decade ago after infecting himself while skinning a bobcat that had been feeding on infected prairie dogs. Fleas don’t care which warm-blooded species you are, and neither does the plague.

We weren’t worried much about the plague. Our friend asked if we’d lower the rapidly growing population of burrowing rodents in his pasture. We agreed and set out one Saturday morning with my Marlin .17 HRM, Brian’s .204, and a .22 magnum revolver.

After a few shots, we put the .17 HHR and the .22 magnum back in their carrying cases.

The .204 was incredible.

Brian had a fixed six power scope mounted on the rifle. When you found a prairie dog, set the crosshairs, and squeezed the trigger, it just disappeared.

The almost 4,000 feet per second speed was so fast it seemed like you were punching a detonator, and the prairie dog was gone.

We shot from the bed of my GMC pickup, using the cab as a rest with targets from 50 yards out to the record shot of the day, one taken by Brian at almost 350 yards.

The .204 shoots flat, and is so fast, we finally broke out a spotting scope to watch the action as the bullets hit their target.

In 30 minutes, the prairie dog population returned to manageable levels. Our friend later ran a disc behind his tractor to fill in some of the holes, and he never had another injured horse in that pasture, though you could still spot a few dogs sniffing the wind.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at [email protected].