It all came down to a single squirrel. Even though the record for number of squirrels brought in by a team was smashed not once, but twice, it was still that last squirrel in the bag that won it for the Raised Hunting Team.
Now in its eighth year, the Squirrel Master Classic is a yearly contest that pits teams of hunting celebrities and 4H Shooting Sports youth, plus top-notch squirrel dogs and handlers, against each other to see who can bring in the most squirrels. The teams use a variety of .22 caliber GAMO Swarm air rifles. This year teams toted everything from the base model Swarm Maxxim to the top-of-the-line Swarm Fusion. Mixed in were Magnums and, of course, Bone Collector models.
The Squirrel Master Classic is held at the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge outside Montgomery, Ala., and is organized by Jackie Bushman of Buckmasters. Teams included Bone Collector, Raised Hunting, Buck Commander, Buckmasters and Airgun WebTV. Each team had two youths who participate in the 4H Shooting Sports program. Teams hunt two half-days, chasing squirrel dogs though the Alabama woods.
“The Squirrel Master Classic is a one-of-a-kind event designed to promote hunting within all walks of life, and the Raised Hunting family couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it,” said David Holder, host of the Raised Hunting television program.
The 2022 Classic was somewhat smaller than previous years due to COVID, which cancelled the event the last two years. If the numbers of squirrels brought to the weigh-in stage is an indicator, the absence of Squirrel Master Classic teams resulted in a squirrel population explosion.
On Day 1, competitors first collected their gear bags and Swarms and sighted them in at the range, then gathered to be sent off to their allotted hunting lands. I was lucky enough to be paired with the Raised Hunting team, and our prime squirrel dogs, Dottie and Molly, were on squirrels within minutes of stepping into the woods. The action was faster than any other Classic I’ve attended.
After the first hunt, the teams returned to the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge for the opening ceremonies and weigh-in hosted by Jackie Bushman, who immediately addressed one special missing hunter.
“One important member of our Squirrel Master family is going through some tough times,” he said. “Travis T-Bone Turner from Bone Collector is recovering from a rare form of cancer, and we miss him. We know he’s tough; we just want him to know we are praying for him. “
When the squirrels were counted, the Bone Collector Team lead by a squirrel over the Raised Hunting Team, 33 to 32. Both of those totals were records for most squirrels checked in after a single hunt and were more than twice the number the third place team brought to the stage.
Day two started with another great breakfast at the lodge, then the teams charged to the hunt. Required check-in time was 11:30 a.m., so the teams would not have much time to mess around. Again the dogs found squirrels right out of the truck, for both of the leading teams. The 4H shooters earned their keep by running toward the barks ahead that indicated the dogs had one treed.
The final weigh in was structured with the last place team going first and working toward the leaders. When it came to the top two, Raised Hunting weighed in 28 squirrels, pushing their total to 60 over the two hunts. Bone Collector needed 27 squirrels to tie, 28 to win. Bushman strained lifting the big bag of squirrels onto the podium. It would be close. But when he pulled out the last squirrel, it was only number 26, and Raised Hunting took the title.
“The Raised family is super proud to have been crowned the 2022 Squirrel Master Classic Champions,” Holder said. “It was a huge team effort from our 4H shooters, our outdoor writers, dog handlers and guide, but most of all it was a safe, fun event that does way more to advocate hunting and shooting than just crowning a champion.”