One thing is for certain in the hunting community: We are losing hunters at an alarming rate. Many studies have been conducted to determine why this is the case. Findings suggest loss of access to hunting land, generations moving from the rural landscape to suburban and urban settings, apathy among older hunters, and the list goes on and on.
As a group, hunters admit that we need to recruit more hunters into the lifestyle we all love. But how? Many states have enacted programs to mentor youth and others into the outdoors. My home state has a “Take One Make One” program that is designed for experienced adult hunters to take non-hunters afield and introduce them to the sport.
But let’s face it – is it smart to take someone who has never hunted and place them in a deer stand for four hours and expect them to enjoy being in nature? Rarely does this method work. Many experienced sportsmen and women agree that small game hunting is the best method of introducing new hunters to the lifestyle.
Admittedly, my foray into hunting was through chasing squirrels in the South Carolina Piedmont hardwoods. My father didn’t care for the outdoors unless it involved chasing a white ball around manicured pastures. Reading stories of Daniel Boone, Jedidiah Smith and Aldo Leopold sparked a flame I have been fanning ever since. Thankfully, other writers like Jack O’Connor, Gene Hill, and Terry Madewell all fed the fire and kept it going. As a fourteen-year-old, I requested a .22 rifle from Sears and Roebuck for Christmas, and the rest is history.
Day after day I spent my time plodding through overgrown pastures, crossing creeks and hunting anything I could. Those days afield transformed my life to the point where today, I make my living by writing about the outdoors and pursuing game across the country.
Thankfully, there are organizations that still promote the shooting sports. 4-H is one of the leading organizations that does this for young boys and girls. With their archery, .22 rifle and airgun program, 4-H is leading the way with introducing the youth to the shooting sports. Over 300,000 youth participate in 4-H shooting programs across the country. But moving youth from shooting targets to hunting has proven to be a challenge in many cases. Most cite access and a pure lack of knowledge as the reason.
Jackie Bushman, founder and CEO of Buckmasters, recognized this several years ago and partnered with Gamo airguns to sponsor what has grown into and is touted as the “largest small game event in the world.” By bringing together outdoor television show hosts, media and kids from 4-H programs, we are introducing kids to the wonderful sport of squirrel hunting with dogs. At this year’s event, six 4-H kids from Alabama joined us. Russell Joiner, Abigail Sumner, Jonathan Sumner, Danielle Chapman, Declan Patty, and Braxton Delgado were paired with different teams to form this year’s competition.
Gamo air rifles are supreme tools for introducing new hunters. The Swarm Magnum we used on this hunt is an excellent gun for beginners who are hunting small game. The Swarm Magnum is a break-barrel action with a 10-shot clip that pushes .22 caliber pellets at 1,300 FPS. Another great rifle is the Gamo Swarm Maxxium. Similar to the Magnum, the Maxxium is easier to cock for younger shooters and carries .22 caliber pellets at 1,100 FPS. As a point of reference, anything over 900 FPS is very effective for small game.
At this year’s hunt, television personalities from Realtree, Realtree’s Roadtrips, Buck Commander (my team), Raised Hunting, Bone Collector, and Buckmasters competed in a two-day squirrel hunt and shooting competitions that pitted media members, TV hosts and 4-H shooters against one another. Even with dodging rain showers, the event was a huge success.
All six 4-H shooters competed in the shooting event and for the third time in a row, a female shooter won the event! Abigail Sumner proved, once again, that hunting and shooting are not for the boys only. During the hunts, each team was given two squirrel dogs and a handler to control the dogs.
If you have not had the pleasure of hunting squirrels with dogs, you are missing some of the most exciting hunting around. Trained squirrel dogs romp through the woods looking and sniffing for squirrels. Once a squirrel is found, the dogs chase the squirrel up a tree, and the hunters move in. Most squirrel dogs are either a type of Feist, Cur or a mixture of these. As an interesting note, our dogs were a mix between a Cur and Red Tick coon hound. This was very helpful in hearing their bark.
The use of Gamo airguns, exclusively, made for exciting hunts. Southern hardwoods are giant trees, and the squirrels like to climb to the top of these trees when trying to escape the dogs and hunters. Hunters surround the tree and look for the squirrel. Once found, the Gamo Swarm Magnum proved extremely efficient in killing the squirrel.
Make no mistake, the Gamo Swarm magnum is not a child’s airgun. It is designed for adults or youth with adult supervision. These airguns quickly and humanely dispatch squirrels and other small game as efficiently as any rimfire gun available.
Many new hunters and nonhunters have stated they are afraid of guns because of the noise and recoil many produce. Timid and shy teens seem to repel against the report of a shotgun or rimfire rifle. The Gamo Swarm Maxxium and Swarm Magnum are .22 caliber airguns that offer little to no recoil and little report at the shot. With the ten-shot clip, simply cocking the gun and firing again at reactive targets, paper targets or soda cans is an excellent way to introduce new hunters to the fold.
Hunters all need to understand that in order for the hunting lifestyle to advance, we have to recruit new members. There are many ways to do this. One is to bring them along on small game hunts. Squirrel hunts, rabbit hunts, and varmint hunts in the West are all excellent methods of getting young and new hunters into the fold.
As someone who has spent nearly four decades trapesing over hill and dale in pursuit of all things that fly, hop, run or crawl, I can attest that life is better when spent outdoors.
Thankfully, there are people like Gamo, Buckmasters and the other TV hosts who recognize this and take the time to come together and promote the great sport of small game hunting and bring along some new hunters for the experience. The Squirrel Masters Classic is one of the finest run events in the country and is the highlight of my year. I am already counting the days until next year when we can, once again, get to chase Alabama squirrels with the kids of 4-H and some fine dogs.