The Squirrel Master Classic and three Rs for the win

Larry Case/For The Register-HeraldDanielle Chapman, right, and her father William took part in the Squirrel Master Classic as part of team Realtree Outdoors.

David Blanton and Tyler Jordan looked a little frazzled. They were working the action of their Gamo air rifles as fast as they could, aiming back to the top of a very tall oak tree and pulling the trigger. Unfortunately for them, and our team, they weren’t connecting with their target, a very fast and very agile gray squirrel that was showing off with treetop acrobatics. This squirrel was good, he was fast and he wasn’t sticking around to get shot at anymore. This little tree-dwelling rodent was gettin’ out of Dodge.

Under full disclosure, I could have been shooting too, and should have been but I was trying to take pictures and video, so I was no help with the squirrel. Our dog handler for the day, Tim Cosby, stood watching the whole show with some dismay and offered words of encouragement like, “Boys, will one of you please hit that squirrel!!” The 4-H shooter in our group, Danielle Chapman, was on the other side of the tree no doubt thinking “Good grief, I could do better than these guys.” And she could, I saw her shoot.

All of this little vignette was being played out in a beautiful piece of Alabama woods not far from Montgomery. Once again I was happy to be back at what has become the premier small game event in the country, the Squirrel Master Classic. This event is the brainchild of deer hunting TV personality and originator of Buck Masters, Jackie Bushman. Seven years ago he was approached by Gamo, the air rifle company, as to how they could do a hunting event, focused on small game, as a way of drawing more hunters young and old into the fold.

Many times in these pages we have talked about the drastic decline in hunter numbers and the need to find ways of bringing new hunters into the game. Now we have the three R’s as a way of dealing with this challenge. Recruitment, the finding and bringing of new hunters, young and old, into our ranks. Retention, that is we have to hold on to the hunters we have, and Reactivation, there are people who were hunters in the past but for one reason or another have not hunted for some time.

So Jackie Bushman and Gamo settled on a squirrel hunt which I have said many times is a great way to introduce kids and adults to hunting. Squirrels are often abundant, you may find them most anywhere and often landowners will permit squirrel hunting in places they would never allow you to deer and turkey hunt. The Squirrel Master Classic has the added feature of squirrel hunting with dogs, which is great fun if you have never tried it.

Any type of hunting which includes dogs is often the way to go. Everyone likes watching the animated squirrel dogs running through the woods, and once they get a squirrel treed, the good ones stay put and bark to direct you to spot. There were a lot of good dogs at the Squirrel Master Classic, and I think the competition was as keen between the dogs as it was the hunters.

So here is how the Squirrel Master Classic happens. Each team is comprised of an outdoor TV personality like Jackie Bushman with Buckmasters, Michael Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner, and Nick Mundt (all of the Bone Collector series fame), or Tyler Jordan and David Blanton with Realtree camo, an outdoor writer (yours truly), a squirrel dog handler, and a 4H Shooting Sports young person. The 4-H shooters we had this year were great kids (they always are) and the young lady on our team (Realtree Outdoors), Danielle Chapman, was a real shooter! We hunted this year with a Gamo Swarm Magnum, a new offering from Gamo in the form of a .22 caliber air rifle, and we found the air gun had plenty of power for squirrels and any other small game you would want to hunt.

There is a morning and afternoon hunt at the Squirrel Master, and after lunch on the second day a shooting competition is conducted with multiple targets at different ranges to test the skill of the 4-H shooters and the adults. I shot in the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun competition and shooting against Waddell, Tbone, Bushman, and the other TV guys was some kind of fun. By the way, I am told that Daisy air rifles will soon have an adult sized Red Ryder BB gun available; I can tell you right now that I will have one.

At the end of the hunting competition the number of squirrels collected by each team is counted and then the scores are added up from the shooting phase of the event; these are added together for each team and those with the most points win. The hunt is really about promoting small game hunting, and encouraging the 4-H shooters, but just between me and you, the competition for that Squirrel Master trophy is fierce! This year’s winners were Michael Waddell and the Bone Collector team. They hunted hard and deserved the win, but I guarantee you that other teams are planning to take that trophy back next year.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise too much I will be back at Southern Sportsman’s Lodge next year for another round at the Squirrel Master Classic. Winning the trophy is nice, but I’ll be back for all the hunter camaraderie at the Lodge, the wonderful barbecue they serve there, and just poking around in those Alabama creek bottoms following a feisty little squirrel dog.

You don’t have to go to the Squirrel Master Classic, or all the way to Alabama to experience the joys of squirrel hunting. You remember that, don’t you? A cool fall morning, stalking a squirrel as he scatters hickory nuts on a limb, or maybe you followed a mixed breed little dog who treed the squirrels for you.

You can do it all again; this time take a kid with you.

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