Chuck Hunting with the 50 BMG

By: Daniel Lilja

My friend Jim and I had been contacting each other all winter about an upcoming rock chuck hunting trip we had planned in Idaho, once the weather turned nice. Jim lives in Washington state and I live in western Montana. Our plan was to get in on some good chuck shooting in an area that was reasonably close to both of us.

We chose an area Jim had hunted before in southern Idaho. I had also hunted in the same general area a few years earlier and knew that if the weather cooperated, we were in for some great shooting.

We made plans for all of the gear we would bring, including of course, our rifles and optics and portable benches. I planned to shoot just at long-range and had decided on my long barreled 338-416 Rigby, a 240 Weatherby, and my 50 BMG. When I mentioned my 50 to Jim he got all excited as he had never shot or been around a 50. He had the usual questions about recoil, expenses, etc. I assured him that my 50 pound 50 BMG was a pussy cat to shoot and that those chucks laying around out past 1000 yards were in for a real surprise.

My 50 is built on a McBros single shot action. I put on a fluted stainless steel barrel with a McBros muzzle brake threaded on the end. The stock is a Six Enterprises, Shilen pattern unlimited, fiberglass with an extended fore end. I asked Lee Six to add weight to the stock when he molded it, bringing the stock weight up to about 25 pounds. I’ve used this same rifle in the Heavy Gun class FCSA matches.

Our trip was planned for the middle of May and after each of us drove about 8 hours, we meet at a motel near our shooting grounds. We were going to shoot on private land and Jim had arrived there before me and had already contacted the rancher. He had also been out shooting before I arrived that evening, pruning the population a little at closer ranges.

The next morning we drove back out to the ranch and setup our equipment. I got out my rangefinder, bench, binoculars and the 50. Within a few minutes we spotted some chucks out on a rocky reef that ran, roughly speaking, perpendicular to our line of fire. Most of the reef was at least 900 yards away, and out at the far end it was about 1200 yards.

I had brought along some cartridges loaded with the 750 grain Hornady A-MAX bullet and about 230 grains of T870. This was loaded into IMI brass with the necks lathe-turned to fit the .550″ diameter neck of my chamber. The muzzle velocity was about 2750 fps. I printed out a computer drop chart at home and used a C1 ballistic coefficient of 1.05 for this bullet. I have a
Leupold Mk4 scope on this rifle boosted to 20x by Wally Siebert. The clicks in this scope are exactly 1/4 MOA, meaning that each click is worth .262″ at 100 yards. I used this click value in my computer calculations, giving me a very accurate drop chart on out to 2000 yards.

Fortunately there was not much wind blowing that morning and I was soon dialed in and shooting chucks on the reef. I could tell Jim was getting anxious and before long I let him shoot the big gun. He had a blast, both figuratively and literally. I soon suggested that we let the barrel cool and try out the 338-416. After and hour or so, we had killed a fair number of chucks and the survivors were getting a little wary. We decided to unleash the 50 again and I let Jim start out with it. He got lined up on an old, grizzled looking, chuck sitting alone on the peak of a small rock. He was out a long way, well beyond the big reef. I ranged the chuck in, using the rangefinder, at about 1550 yards. Referring to the drop chart, Jim dialed the elevation into the Mk 4 scope and took a shot. This was our farthest shot with the 50 so far. I was watching through a big pair of 20x binoculars and saw the bullet hit to the chuck’s right about a foot. The chuck just sat on the rock like he hadn’t a care in the world. Jim reloaded and made a sight correction based on my spotting. Well, he turned loose with another Hornady and missed again. I spotted the bullet and Jim made another correction. He missed again and several more times after that.

We decided that at that range he was probably shooting all around the chuck just because of the accuracy potential of the bullet. This was the first time that I had shot that bullet at longer distances and we were a little disappointed in the accuracy at long-range. Although we nailed a fair number of the varmints around the 1000 yard mark, beyond that we found accuracy to be lacking. At least it was greater than Minute Of Chuck.

On Jim’s last shot he came mighty close and sprayed the big chuck with rock and bullet fragments. The big fellow dove off of the rock and we didn’t see him out again. Actually I’m surprised that the sonic crack from the big Hornady, breaking around him with each shot, hadn’t sent him packin’ his lunch sooner. Perhaps at his advanced age his hearing was going?

As it turned out, that morning was to be the best as far as the weather was concerned. That afternoon it started to rain, and although we left before it quit, it rained steady for several days. We had a lot of fun though, shooting chucks with the 50 BMG. With an accurate rifle, a good range finder, and an experienced spotter, its surprising how well these big guns will shoot way out where the chucks like to play.