Treetop Bushy Tails
GAMMO AIRGUNS ARE PUT TO THE TEST
Gamo airguns are put to the test
Those who participate in the annual Squirrel Master Classic event are given the chance to gain stature and recognition within the shooting community. If you’re lucky enough to prevail and walk away with the coveted Wooden Squirrel award, you’ve reached the pinnacle of accomplishment.
This fun-filled event advances our hunting heritage through 4-H participation. It’s also a great way to test out Gamo air rifles under actual hunting conditions.
The Gamo Squirrel Master Classic is held annually by Gamo USA in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Participation is on an invitation-only basis, with contestants consisting of outdoor writers, TV celebrities and their film crews, Gamo representatives, 4-H members, dog handlers and their faithful squirrel-pursuing K9s. Typically, the event pairs six teams against one another in a fun-filled, one-day competition to see how many gray and fox squirrels each team can harvest using Gamo USA air rifles.
I participated in the second annual Squirrel Master Classic two years ago and found that it was a real hoot. Unfortunately, my team didn’t fair all that well in the competition and landed in fourth place. I hoped for redemption this year.
Off to Alabama
The Squirrel Master Classic is hosted jointly by the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge and Gamo USA. It’s held annually in the Alabama Black Belt Region about 20 miles west of Montgomery. The area is rich with gray squirrels. In true Alabama fashion, hunters face scattered timberland intermixed with food plots for deer, wet swampy terrain—sometimes occupied by snakes—and red Alabama gumbo clay that clogs many a boot tread.
A large part of the competition is designed to encourage young shooters, many of which
are new to hunting. That’s where 4-H comes in. One 4-H member is assigned to each team. In previous years, scores were compiled based solely on the number of squirrels taken, with any ties being broken by the team with the heaviest squirrel bag. This year, however, the competition was expanded to include various other competitive shooting events. Scores from those events were then rolled into the scores produced by the actual squirrel hunting to determine the victor of the Squirrel Master Classic.
To the Field
The downpour of rain the day and night before the big competition reminded us how weather can influence any outdoor adventure. We lucked out, though: The storm arrived a day early and passed before we headed afield for the competition. But, while the rain had subsided, the Southern humidity had not.
Gunner, my team’s squirrel dog, was anxious
“… hunters face scattered timberland intermixed with food plots … wet swampy terrain— sometimes occupied by snakes—and red Alabama gumbo clay …”
to get started, and soon we were all loaded into trucks and headed afield. Gunner, like most Southern-bred squirrel dogs, is a Feist, also known as the Mountain Feist or Treeing Feist. This is a mixed-heritage dog rather than an actual breed, but has been around for centuries in the U.S. Even though the Feist is exceptionally well known in the Southern states, it’s rare to encounter one north of the Mason/dixon Line.
My team members, like those from the other five teams, consisted of a cross section of the shooting world. Our team leader and noted outdoor-tv celebrity, Ralph Cianciarulo, hosts “Archer’s Choice” and was joined by his cameraman. The other members included three writers (including me), 4-H member Jeremy Mcfarland and his chaperone, our dog handler and Gunner, his expert squirrel K9.
When we headed back for our mid-morning check-in, we were confident our bag of eight gray squirrels would move us a little closer to snatching the Wooden Squirrel, but we found that three teams were ahead of us with 11, 13 and 14 squirrels in their bags. We did get a bit of a reprieve at the Red Ryder BB event when Ralph surprised us all, literally blowing away the competition. But, even with Ralph’s impressive performance with the Red Ryder,
we faced an uphill battle when it came to our overall success.
Our afternoon hunt brought us to new grounds in search of our quarry, and when we saw the vast number of squirrel nests high in the treetops, we had renewed hopes we’d clinch the lead. Nevertheless, we soon found that most of those nesting squirrels had apparently moved on in search of better eats. Persisting, however, we were finally able to add another four grays to our tally, and one raccoon to boot. Unfortunately, there was no category or credit for that bandit.
“… when we saw the vast number of squirrel nests high in the treetops, we had renewed hopes we’d clinch the lead.”
The End Result
While we all had a great time at the Squirrel Master Classic, I’m sorry to report my team once again landed in fourth place. Like last time, my team simply couldn’t put enough squirrels in our bag to capture the infamous Wooden Squirrel award.
Even though we fell short, I traveled a long way back home to Montana glad that I went. Of course, I hope to redeem myself in 2018. One of those Wooden Squirrels would certainly look good in my trophy room.
The Gamo Swarm Maxxim air rifles used in the Gamo Squirrel Master Classic were chambered in .22 caliber, but are also available in .177 caliber. PHOTO COURTESY OF GAMO USA
(right) The fox squirrel is a very large and tough breed to bring down, but the new Gamo Swarm Maxxim rifle was well up to the challenge. (opposite)) Prior to the beginning of the competition, each participant must sight-in their rifle.
A squirrel located high in the treetops can be a challenging target for any rifle and shooter, but the Gamo Swarm Maxxim was up to the challenge.
(top) Tabor and team were happy with their harvest by midday at the competition, though they found three other teams had harvested more squirrels. (below)) Despite taking fourth place, Tabor (third from left) and his team are all smiles.
PHOTOS BY THOMAS C. TABOR