“Hey! Those dogs are treed!” Walker Wilson jumps with excitement as the he shouts this, Walker is our 4H shooter on the team and he is nine years old. Our group takes off like a herd of turkeys. We are splashing through shallow water, tripping on vines, and going as fast as we can through this Alabama Creek bottom. We have to get there fast and our squirrel dogs, Sage and Bojangles, are in a barking frenzy telling us to hurry. They know the squirrel they have treed may not stay put. We have to get there and start slinging lead with the Gamo air rifles. Sometimes we get the squirrel, sometimes not.
We are at the Squirrel Master Classic near Montgomery, Alabama hunting squirrels with dogs and Gamo air rifles and we are having a big time. The Squirrel Master Classic is the brainchild of Jackie Bushman, founder of Buckmasters deer hunting association, magazines, and outdoor television programs. In 1986, 29-year-old Jackie Bushman acted on an idea he’d been developing since he was a teenager. The Montgomery, Alabama native had grown up exploring the great outdoors and hunting with his grandfather and he wanted to take the camaraderie of the hunting camp to a national level. He envisioned a deer hunting association that would encourage a feeling of community, sportsmanship and wildlife conservation while promoting a positive image of deer hunters everywhere.
In 2014 Bushman had another brainstorm that led to the inception of the Squirrel Master Classic. The decline in hunter numbers for the past several years is no secret. Jackie Bushman felt, like many of us, that one way to generate more interest in hunting with young hunters is to bring back an emphasis on small game hunting.
Time was when most of us started hunting with squirrels, rabbits, and other small game. As deer and turkey populations increased many young hunters skipped the small game stage and started on deer and turkeys. That may not be a bad thing but learning on small game is where a hunter often learns the basics like gun safety, woodsmanship, tracking and finding food sources for game, as well as dressing and preparing your game for the table. Being taught all of this on rabbits and squirrels and game birds is a good way to start.
Jackie Bushman’s idea was this, have a squirrel hunt in a fun competition atmosphere. Teams are made up 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. As we have talked about here before 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, muzzle loader and hunting skills. 4-H shooters in the Montgomery, Alabama area get the extra benefit of participating in the Squirrel Master Classic.
Gamo Air Rifles sponsored the event and supplied all the hunters with a Gamo Swarm Magnum Viper G3i pellet rifle. The Swarm Magnum Viper is a ten shot break barrel air rifle and 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 have to reload. Believe me, we needed those quick second and third shots on this hunt as these squirrels had their running shoes on. Once they started running in the treetops, sometimes with spectacular leaps from tree to tree, you had to be quick or you came up empty handed.
The Gamo folks letting us use this new Swarm Magnum Viper G3i were giving us a chance try out this offering before they hit the shelves later this year. I think everyone loved this little air rifle, accurate, plenty of power for taking small game, and it was easy to cock the break barreled action. That made it nice with so many young hunters in the mix. GAMO’s industry changing Swarm 10X Technology, now in its third generation, is featured in the new-for-2023 Swarm Viper Gen3i high-velocity adult precision air rifle. Swarm 10X Technology brought multi-shot ability to break barrel air rifles with its 10-shot magazine. This revolutionary technology combines with a new handsome automotive grade synthetic stock with rubber grips and checkering positioned at strategic locations. The softer rubber insets create a smoother buttstock for the cheek and secure, comfortable grips for both hands.
Available in both .177 and .22 calibers, the new Viper Gen3i produces the high velocities expected from GAMO, and features Whisper Maxxim Noise Dampening Technology and a metal-jacketed steel barrel. An IGT Gas Piston powerplant, 2-stage CAT trigger and a Recoil Reducing Rail round out the package. Every Swarm Viper Gen3i comes with a 3-9 X 40 GAMO scope. www.gamousa.com
The Squirrel Master Classic is held at the Southern Sportsman’s 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’s Lodge make the best Bar-B-Que this side of Memphis.
So maybe I have set the scene for you, teams of squirrel chasers run the Alabama hardwoods in two shifts, morning and afternoon. This year I had the pleasure of going with the team led by Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo with The Choice Hunting Show. Ralph and Vicki have been mainstays on outdoor TV programs for 25 years and along with their son AJ, it was a pleasure to hit the woods with them. These guys are true professionals. Along with AJ’s girlfriend Aubrey Miller and cameraman Eddie Roberts, they are team that was a delight run the squirrel woods with. Along with our dog handlers JarrodHughes with Bojangles, and Jamie McCarson with Sage we were a determined bunch of squirrel chasers. The competition was fierce between team leaders like Bone Collector team Captains Michael Waddell, Nick Mundt, and leaders of other teams like Jackie Bushman for Buckmasters, David Holder with Raised Hunting, and the Buck Commander crew.
All morning we raced through the woods following Sage and Bojangles’s barking when they would tree a squirrel. If the squirrel was spotted a hail of pellet rifle fire would ensue. Usually the squirrel would light out for parts unknown and a wild chase through the jungle began. Sometimes we collected the squirrel, often he would make it to a den tree and we would start all over.
At noon we all met back at the Southern Sportsman for the solemn weigh in ceremony. As the entire crowd watched asJackie Bushman counted and weighed each team’s bag of squirrels for the day and added any bonus points they may have collected for a fox squirrel. I am sad to report that your humble outdoor correspondent was not on the winning team, the Raised Hunting team took first place with fifty two squirrels in two half days hunting. They topped the Bone Collector team by one squirrel! The same thing happened last year! Congrats to the Raised Hunting clan!
Though we may have lost the competition, like Bo and Sage and the other squirrel dogs we were tired but happy. A day spent in the woodlands chasing squirrels with friends and feisty hunting dogs, mentoring young hunters in a great tradition and just enjoying the outdoors. Does it get any better than that? Maybe, but I haven’t found it yet.
Lord willing and the creek don’t rise; (and if they will have me) I will be back next year for another crack at the coveted Squirrel Master Trophy. Don’t get too comfortable with the trophy Raised Hunting, the Bone Collector boys, Ralph and Vicki, Buck Commander, and I are gunning for you with a Gamo air rifle.
By the way, I understand that Walker Scott told his Dad before they left the Southern Sportsman’s Lodge, “Dad, we are getting us a squirrel dog!” Atta boy Walker, atta boy.