Varmint Target Review
There are a few things I have come to appreciate over the years and one of them is reactive targets. While growing up around the mining industry, there was never a shortage of sediment ponds for shooting floating targets in the water and doing so was a good way to break the monotony of the day. Today there are probably hundreds of dollars in lead, broken glass and rusted tin cans waiting to be discovered by future archeologists as a result of my shooting adventures. Later in life, some of my first home built reactive targets were tennis balls and cans tied to strings and hung from limbs. Over the past several years, I have found myself purchasing more and more manufactured reactive targets. I will be honest that I would prefer to shoot something that moves or makes sound far more than any paper targets on the market. I'm not knocking paper targets, because there is a clear need and I use a lot of them. I'm just trying to make the point that when it comes to boosting the fun, something other than paper typically wins.
A new reactive target that was introduced this year is the Varmint Target. The key features that make the Varmint Target unique are that the target has a self healing urethane prairie dog that pops up from a can when you turn the target on. Once you shoot the target, the prairie dog will flip over, retract into the can, reset to a vertical position and then pop up again. When I first checked out the Varmint Target website, I immediately thought of the "whack-a-mole" game where moles stick their heads up and you whack them down with a club. Varmint Target actually has a video showing multiple targets setup with the prairie dogs popping up in a random pattern. I like this concept of a resetting target so I had to get one for a review.
During my reviews I like to compare my results to the manufacturer's claims where possible so the following text in colored italics was taken directly from the Varmint Target website on 10/24/12 and gives the Key Features and Specifications for the Varmint Target. The , and are my way to keep up with details that I have covered in this review with either photos, commentary or both.
When you purchase a Varmint Target it will come boxed as shown below.
After removing the components from the box, you see the box contained the Varmint Target, Charger and Instruction Manual.
As you can see below, the target housing is made from a molded black polymer material which has a can or bucket shape and a 1/4" thick steel curved plate is bolted on the front half to give some armor protection to the mechanical workings inside the can.
The polymer can housing is made from two parts (front and back). You can see in the photo below the four bolts that attach the two halves together and the standard warnings label on the back of the can.
The warning on the back of the can is show below. The Instruction Manual lists some additional warnings like:
These next two photos show the top and bottom of the target.
To remove the can (bucket) lid, you must twist the lid using the handle. Also the handle can be used for carrying the target when the lid is properly installed. The bottom of the lid has a metal bar that engages under tabs on the bucket to secure the lid. There is also a lip that extends down on the lower surface of the lid that holds the lid in proper alignment. Overall I feel the lid would do a pretty good job of keeping moisture out of the bucket. If you were to leave the target out in the rain, and if it were a blowing rain, there is a chance you might get some moisture to seep under the lid since the lip is on the inside of the bucket.
With the lid removed, you get your first peek into the inside of the Varmint Target bucket. Everything seems to be well built and gives the impression of durability.
On the right side of the battery compartment is a simple "On/Off" switch. This basic model Varmint Target does not have any "game modes". I'm not exactly sure what game modes would be available other than one where the target pops up at random times and stays up for random durations. When the switch is "On", the target will pop up. When the target is flipped over, it will retract inside the bucket causing the target to flip back forward (reset) into the up position and will cycle the target back up.
On the left side of the battery compartment is the plug connector for charging the battery. The connector is hooked in a clip to keep it from dangling around. You can slip the connector out of the clip to help with plugging the connector into the charger.
The charger plugs into a standard 120V outlet and is designed to charge 12V Sealed Lead-Acid batteries. The charger has two lights; one showing that the battery is charging and the other showing when the battery is fully charged. Since the Instruction Manual didn't give much detail on how long you should charge the battery (it said "at least one hour"), I searched and found the specifications related to this charger and you can see them by going to this link. The text below was taken directly from the specifications and gives you a good idea on how the charger works.
The 12BC0500D-1 charger begins its charge cycle on “fast-charge”, providing the battery with constant voltage of 15VDC, and regulated current of 500mA. This charge cycle is indicated by the red LED. As the charging cycle progresses, the terminal voltage of the battery will rise to an eventual 15VDC. At this point, the charger senses this voltage, and the fast-charge circuit cuts-off, also turning off the red LED. The “float-charge” circuit then comes on along with the green LED, providing the battery with a constant voltage of 13.8VDC. This voltage can be left on the battery indefinitely without damage, and keeps the battery fully charged, ready for use at all times.
When I plugged the charger in and started charging the battery, the red "charging" light was on. I let it charge for 24 hours and the green "charged" light did not come on. After the 24 hour charge, I used the target for all my remaining range tests.
Removing the battery cover was easily done by first removing the two screws at the front top edge of the battery compartment. With the cover removed, you can see the battery, fuse, on/off switch and simple controller.
When looking inside the target, you see the motor, rotation arm and post which the target slides on. Make sure you watch the video below to see exactly how the target operates.
Each of the self healing targets has a magnet embedded in the bottom right corner of the target. This magnet triggers something inside the sensor. When you flip the target, the magnet moves away from the sensor causing the motor to cycle. When the target is reset and cycled back to the top position, the sensor recognizes the magnet and turns the motor off.
When the self healing target (prairie dog) is full extended out of the bucket, it stands about 8" tall and 4" wide at the widest point. The target is made from some type of urethane material and the Instruction Manual states that targets should be replaced every 6 months or 300-600 rounds. Varmint Target sells replacement targets in a pack of 5 for $60. Since 300-600 rounds could easily be a single shooting session, especially if you have multiple shooters using rimfire ammunition, I suggest you shoot smart. Start shooting at the head and work yourself down to get the most out of a single target.
Changing targets is simple. You pull the spring clip and then pull the cross pin at the base of the target. Make sure the target is turned off when doing this so it will not try to retract as you remove the pin.
This next video covers some of the information above and gives you some more details on how the Varmint Target actually works and shows the target taking some hits out at the hunting camp.
Other than practicing normal gun safety, there are a couple of things to remember when setting up your Varmint Target.
All of the above information gives you a good idea on what you get when you purchase a Varmint Target, but I feel a couple of the key features that people are wanting when purchasing a target system like this are convenience, novelty and fun. Varmint Target produced a video illustrating the convenience and fun of their target and it is worth a watch. Convenience, novelty and fun are pretty subjective aspects of a target and are clearly hard to measure because they are based on each individual's preference. Here are a few of my comments on each of these aspects.
Lastly, I have to talk about the price. At an MSRP of $249 (was originally $334), I'm sure a few of you may still feel sticker shock. Fortunately, Varmint Target provides free shipping and handling which can be between a $20 and $30 dollar savings depending on your location. There is no doubt that this target has a high complexity factor when you consider it combines custom molded parts, weldment, armor plate, rechargeable battery, electronics, sensors and a self healing target, all of which add to the cost. After getting more information on the Varmint Target, I found out that this Target is a true "Made in the USA" product. The owners know that they could send the plans overseas and get them built cheaper, but doing that defeats what the makers of the Varmint Target are trying to do. It is more important for them to keep jobs in the USA, potentially limiting their customer base, than maximize profits. For me, I don't mind paying a little more for an American made product because in the end I feel that I'm investing in America which is a good thing. Since the Varmint Target was introduced at the beginning of 2012, they have had good success and are getting interest from the NRA and the Boy Scouts of America. Hopefully in time production rates will increase which may bring costs down and make them affordable to a greater number of shooters.
The photo below shows my 14 year old niece having fun shooting the target for the first time.
The urethane prairie dog does a good job as handling the rimfire ammunition. You can also see that the armor plate took a couple of hits. There was a very slight dimple where the round impacted the plate, but I wouldn't consider the dimple as any type of significant damage to the plate.
These next few photos show the bullet impacts to the prairie dog (front and back) and the armor plate.
From everything I have seen and evaluated, the Varmint Target looks like a good product. It seems well built and should give you years of fun provided you follow the instructions for setting up the target to ensure you don't shoot inside the target by accident. It is not an inexpensive target, but if you've priced decent targets, you already know that many of them are pricey. American made is a big plus and should be considered when comparing costs with other targets. Also, Varmint Target provides free shipping and handling which should be considered when comparing targets. This basic model does not come with any game modes and having some could add to the potential fun. Replacement targets seem reasonably priced at $60 for a 5-pack and you should be able to easily replace most of the components yourself should you have an issue in the future. If you are in the market for a reactive target with character, take a close look at the Varmint Targets when considering the next addition to your shooting range.
Varmint Target has been able to reduce the price down from an MSRP of $334 to $249 which is a huge difference. They also now offer the target without the steel front for those wanting to burry the target and save a little money. This new target has an MSRP of $199.