Our team was exceptionally quiet (and perhaps undercaffeinated) as we wandered into the woods, Gamo air rifles slung over our shoulders, gladly letting the dogs lead the way. Not a word was spoken until we heard the telling barks a good squirrel dog, and the hunt was on! One of our adolescent 4-H teammates bolted past us like a kid on Christmas morning, while the rest of us yelled out to one another which side of the tree the squirrel could have scurried to in search of a hidey-hole. A well-aimed shot from another team member brought down the furry critter. Our squirrel dog proceeded to do her job… she even had the courtesy to "wash" the squirrels in the creek before running off in pursuit of the next tree rat. First we recovered one squirrel from the creek ... then one our team member's boots after they got stuck in the muddy bank.
This was but one snippet of two days’ worth of laughs, camaraderie and hunting during the 2022 Squirrel Master Classics. If you are not familiar, this event is held every year at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge in Alabama. Several teams go into the woods in pursuit of landing the highest number of squirrels, but only one team wins the elusive trophy. Each team consists of an outdoors TV personality, one to two kids participating in the 4-H Shooting Sports program, a member of the media, and squirrel dogs and their handlers.
This year, five teams participated in the hunt: Bone Collector, Buckmasters, Raised Hunting, Buck Commander and AirgunWebTV. Although the Squirrel Master Classic was held in February, each team battled the Alabama sun, swampy mud, barbed-wire fence crossings, rattlesnakes and thorn bushes allowing every opportunity for adventure.
Good ol' Southern hospitality cannot go unmentioned, as the staff at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge was top-notch. Each meal was prepared with a lot of love and a dash of Southern sass, which left us with our bellies full and roaring with laughter. Each evening, the teams talked the night away sharing hunting tall tales and competing to tell the most embarrassing stories about our fellow competitors’ woodland follies.
One of the highlights of the Squirrel Master Classic is the partnership with Woman's Best Friend. If you have never had the opportunity to hunt with a team of dogs, it is an experience every hunter should seek out. Common breeds of dogs used for squirrel hunting are Terriers, Feists, Curs, a variety of hounds and sometimes a mix of those breeds. So central are they to the experience that the dogs receive their very own awards after the event!
This year, team Raised Hunting, led by David and Easton Holder, brought home the bacon—er, squirrels—with a final tally of 60 critters. The Raised Hunting show on the Outdoor Channel follows the hunting adventures of David Holder and his wife Karin, as well as their two sons Easton and Warren. Each episode provides a wealth of hunting knowledge while sharing life lessons and the importance of ethics and family values along the way. It was a pleasure to hunt alongside David and Easton during this year’s Squirrel Master Classic. The Raised Hunting team and I instantly meshed, even though I was meeting them for the first time. Their down-to-earth nature and personable ways is clearly why so many people have gathered around the television for nine seasons of Raised Hunting. (The newest episodes air on the Outdoor Channel this July, so stay tuned for even more woodland adventures!)
In the hands of every hunter were the new Gamo Swarm Fusion 10X Gen2. This .22-caliber air rifle uses a single cocking system that, once that trigger is squeezed, sends a pellet from the included 10-round magazine at 1,000 feet per second (fps) to the target. While this air rifle comes with fiber optic sights, everyone on this year’s hunt opted to use riflescopes, making it a bit easier to see the squirrels as they scurried upwards into the treetops. I chose to top my Gamo with a Tract Optics 22 FIRE 3-9x40 riflescope. The FIRE employs a T-Plex reticle, which provides just the right amount of magnification and crystal-clear view to spot the elusive critters. Target acquisition is quick and easy with the horizontal and bottom vertical portions of the reticle boldly standing out, while not blocking your fine aiming points on smaller targets.
The Swarm Fusion is an excellent rifle for an up-and-coming hunter, which was ideal for this event. The Squirrel Master Classic isn't just for bringing people together for a few days of adventure, good-natured competition and all-around fun. It aims to keep the shooting sports and hunting alive in younger generations. The future of these activities is only possible if we take a moment of our time to guide these newcomers. The most rewarding part of the event was witnessing our two 4-H team members take part in their very first squirrel hunt ever, even after my team won the competition. Each time they landed a successful shot my teammates and I found ourselves grinning from ear to ear. Of course, the excitement they exuded grew infectious and served as a morale boost to our entire team. By introducing newcomers to the sport, you can show them how rewarding hard work is when you succeed afield.