The annual Squirrel Master Classic goes virtual this year…and you can join in the fun!
by Larry Case
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, squirrel hunting is a blast. These little tree rodents are found in most every state in the nation and are often plentiful on public ground. You don’t need a lot of fancy gear and expensive leases to get you going on squirrels. In good squirrel country, you may get multiple opportunities in a day of rambling around in the woods. Lots of action and shooting are fun for any hunter, but this is the key for keeping young hunters or anyone new to the sport interested and wanting to come back.
Jackie Bushman had a great idea. Declining hunter numbers have been a problem for some time. Bushman, founder of the deer hunting’s Buckmasters, was thinking about this one day at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge in Alabama. How do we get more new hunters—young and old—into hunting? What kind of hunting has easy access, lots of opportunities for success, and not a lot of fancy gear required? Squirrel hunting! That’s the kind of hunting many of us grew up on and how we learned how to hunt. Now, how to create an event and draw attention to this type of hunting?
From this, the Squirrel Master Classic was born. Bushman was joined in this idea by GAMO air guns and the rest is history, as they say.
Jackie Bushman’s idea was to have a squirrel hunt in a fun, competitive atmosphere with teams comprised of outdoor television personalities, outdoor writers and editors, a dog handler with a squirrel dog to find the squirrels for you, and, most important, a young person who is a 4-H shooter (4-H has a very extensive shooting program). Young people can learn and compete in several different shooting sports categories: air rifle and pistol, .22 rifle and pistol, shotgun, recurve and compound archery, muzzleloader, and hunting skills. 4-H shooters in the Montgomery, Alabama, area get the extra benefit of participating in the Squirrel Master Classic.
GAMO sponsors the event and supplies all the hunters with a GAMO Swarm Magnum pellet rifle. The Swarm Magnum (now in a Gen2 version) is the world’s only ten-shot break-barrel air rifle. The 10X Quick Shot magazine allows the shooter to load ten pellets in the magazine, insert it into the rifle, and fire ten quick shots before you must reload. Believe me, you need those follow-up shots on this hunt as these squirrels have their running shoes on. Once they start running in the treetops, sometimes with spectacular leaps from tree to tree, you must be quick or you come up empty handed.
The GAMO Swarm Magnun is capable of a 1,300 fps pellet speed due to the new IGT Mach 1 technology. Essentially, it’s a large inert gas cylinder that delivers speed and power unheard of in a manually operated air rifle.
The Squirrel Master Classic is held at the Southern Sportsman Lodge, a hunter’s haven in the famous Black Belt region of Alabama. I’m pretty sure if you look up southern hospitality in Webster’s, you will see a picture of the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge. This lodge has a rich 35-year history for hosting deer and turkey hunters and now squirrel chasers. The walls of the lodge are adorned with rows of pictures of hunters, outdoor personalities, writers, sports figures, and entertainers who have stayed here. By the way, the ladies in the kitchen at Southern Sportsman lodge make the best barbecue this side of Memphis.
Hunt Squirrel, Find Big Bucks
There is no doubt this event is big fun, but you don’t have to go to the Squirrel Master Classic to enjoy squirrel hunting. The idea here is to get in the woods at a time of year when there may not be much going on. It’s late winter and spring turkey is still a way off, so why not grab the GAMO air rifle and chase those bushytails? You get some exercise, sharpen those shooting skills, and, if you’re lucky, get the makings for a fried squirrel, gravy, and biscuits meal. You also get something else you may not have thought of.
That ol’ buck that gave you the slip last fall? Keep one eye on the ground while the other is looking for squirrels and you may find his shed antlers.
Many deer experts will tell you this is a great time to scout the area you will be hunting and to look for antler sheds. The woods are bare, allowing you to see what’s going on better than at any other time of the year. Deer paths, rubs, and old scrapes should be obvious. Shed antlers will never be as easily found as they are now. In a month or two, as spring approaches and the foliage and undergrowth increase, they will be harder to find.
In truth, I never thought shed hunting would become as popular as it is now. I have heard some rabid deer hunters say they would now just as soon hunt antler sheds as hunt the deer themselves. There is also a growing group of hunters who are training dogs to find and deliver sheds to them. I figure if you have a squirrel dog that will find and retrieve sheds, you have it made!
Ok, here is your mission. Break out the GAMO air gun, whistle up the squirrel dog and/or shed hunting pooch. Go hit the woods for your squirrel hunting, deer scouting, and shed hunting extravaganza. If you can have more fun in the woods in February doing something else, I want to hear about it.
Editor’s Note: Squirrel Master Classic Goes Virtual
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 disruptions, the annual Squirrel Master Classic is going virtual for 2021. While the assorted broadcast show teams, 4-H students, and media will not convene in central Alabama to beat the woods for squirrels, they will be doing so in their own backwoods the third week of February…and you’re invited to participate!
Grab your GAMO air rifle (or your second-best squirrel gun!), take a youngster with you, and see what the February squirrel woods in your area have to offer. Post your pics on your social media channels with the following hash tags for identification and be a part of the fun:
- Bone Collector
- Buck Commander
- The Choice with Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo
- Raised Hunting