More than 50 adults relived their childhoods this week. Some even enjoyed the nostalgia with their children. For the third year, the Gamo Squirrel Master Classic provided hunters nationwide a remembrance of a simpler time, back when their love for hunting started with bagging squirrels. The event was founded by Buckmasters’ Jackie Bushman and Bone Collector’s Michael Waddell and is sponsored by Gamo, which provided accurate and easy-to-use air rifles for the event.
The message surrounding the event was clear, and was repeated several times: The introduction of hunting often starts with squirrel hunting, and that’s what makes hunting small game so important for the future.
That message was spread to more than a dozen 4-H participants, who had just as much fun as the celebrity hunters and writers. Teams were led by Waddell; Bushman; Hardcore Hunting TV’s Kevin Meacham, Keith Burgess, Chris Ashley and Cody Kelley; World Champion shooter Doug Koenig; Pigman TV’s Pigman; and Archer’s Choice’s Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo. Every team had at least one 4-H participant, one writer, one celebrity and a dog handler.
In the end, Team Bone Collector blew away the competition, finishing with 34 squirrels, to repeat as champions. Winning-team members were Michael Waddell, Edwin Waddell, Nick Mundt, T-Bone Turner, Gamo’s Fedor Palacios, gun hunter Larry Teague, 4-H’s Jake Mitchell, dog handler Danny Williams and a host of other 4-H participants. My team, Team Hardcore, finished second with 21 squirrels. Grand View Outdoors group managing editor Hilary Dyer was also a competitor. Her team, Team Pigman, had a rough day and finished with two squirrels.
Everyone wants to win the unique Squirrel Master Classic trophy, but Hilary’s account of the day showed it’s not just about winning. Team Pigman got off to a rocky start, meeting for lunch at the Southern Sportsman Lodge with no squirrels. Hilary noted they knew they weren’t going to win, especially not with Bone Collector already having 13 squirrels at that time. And yet, that didn’t stop the Pigman team from having fun. Unless I’m mistaken, Hilary said they had more fun than if they were competing for the title. That’s what it’s all about!
Team Hardcore, on the other hand, was right in the thick of things at lunch. We loaded up into three trucks and hit four locations early during the chilly morning. Using our .22-caliber Gamo USA Whisper Fusion Mach 1 air rifles, we bagged 11 squirrels as the morning sun warmed the woods. The quality of the guns surprised me. If you grew up hunting with pellet guns, you might be surprised at how much technology has advanced over the years. These are serious small-game guns capable of better accuracy than you ever thought possible from an air rifle.
Our first stop produced a squirrel within five minutes — though we had to chase it nearly 100 yards before getting a shot. But at least it took only one shot — what a way to open the day! We picked up two more squirrels in that area but also lost our first of many when it burrowed into a hole.
Our second stop was so-so and provided a squirrel or two, but the third stop provided plenty. The biggest turning point came when a male and female split trees. The four Hardcore guys, writers Jacob Eaton and Rob Newman, 16-year-old Justin Mitchell from 4-H, dog handler Butch Morton and myself split up to take advantage of a rare opportunity. It took a few minutes, but both squirrels fell within about 30 seconds of each other, putting our momentary total to nine.
It felt like the swing we needed, and the excitement escalated with the realization of being in position of potentially winning. We left lunch two squirrels behind Team Bone Collector and two in front of third-place Archer’s Choice.
Our first location of the afternoon, a small strip of woods by a creek, provided plenty of shooting opportunities. We saw a squirrel in literally the first minute on location but unfortunately lost it in a hole. It didn’t take long for the holed squirrel to be forgotten. We shook nearly every vine we saw with a nest, and the squirrels were willing to make a run for it. We bagged four squirrels in about 15 minutes from the simple tactic. Our dogs, B.B. and Mexico, definitely played their roles, as well. One squirrel jumped from the tree without a shot being fired. It landed next to Mexico, who started and finished the job. Great job, Mexico!
We managed six squirrels on our first stop before moving on around 2 p.m. It was a great start that we believed gave us a chance to catch Team Bone Collector. Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon wouldn’t be as friendly.
We hit four spots over the next three hours. It became rare to see a squirrel, despite shaking nearly every vine in each section of woods. The midday excitement of possibly winning started draining — although we had no idea Team Bone Collector was in the midst of killing 21 afternoon squirrels.
A break came when Jacob shook a fox squirrel, which counts as two points, from a nest in a swamp-loaded wooded area. Jacob got my attention, which got Butch’s attention, which got the rest of the team’s attention. The mammoth squirrel jumped from tree to tree in what turned into an all-out mission by Team Hardcore. It took a good while, but we were able to bag the squirrel, which gave us a “Hey, maybe this isn’t over” feeling of hope.
However, the competition was over — but the fun wasn’t!
The final few hours of the hunt provided several miles of the 10.9 miles I walked. It was also a chance to get to know my teammates a little better. They’re all great guys!
Despite the realization of a possible win — and a work desk that includes the amazing Squirrel Master Classic trophy — turning into the realization of defeat, the experience was amazing. Absolutely amazing!
The slight irony of Jackie Bushman and a handful of others spreading the message to the 4-H kids of small-game hunting being an introduction to hunting, adding to introduce their friends, is I’m just as new to it as a lot of them. The Classic was my first organized hunting trip since I was maybe 12. And it’s definitely something I look forward to doing it in the future.