For Love of the Sport
OK, our team didn't win- again.
Having gotten that bitter pill out of the way, here's the real takeaway from the 2017 SquirrelMaster Classic, GAMO USA's partnership with Buckmasters that has morphed from a made-for-TV event into a real tool for recruiting kids into hunting- and adults into airgunning.
It was fun. Not just being-polite-like-a-good-guest fun, it was darn, I'd like to do this some more-grade amusement.
Seeing 4-H kids who have competed for the right to accompany a bunch of high-powered TV hunting celebrities on their first-ever hunting experience was terrific. That connection between the kids and the hosts and other hunters brings back the great memories of hunting with friends and family for old guys like me.
It's not just nostalgic, it's a connection to that strongest connection that brings birders, hikers, campers and hard-core hunters to America's wild places: the almost magical connection of the outdoors with our souls.
Sloshing along Alabama's rain-soaked ridges and river bottoms in the quest to fill our quota of squirrels, you couldn't help but be struck by the amazing process of greening up of the drought-stricken woods.
An abnormally dry summer had literally drained the life out of much of the south's wooded areas. But steady rains that were only just ending as we took to the woods early Wednesday morning had brought life- and color - back to that formerly dull palette.
Lush green mosses, early buds, and emerging spring flowers made the sloshing around in ankle-deep muck more bearable- although it didn't do anything to make the climbing from river bottom to ridge lines any easier.
If you've never hunted, you might not understand that the harvest is only part of the hunt. But if you love the wild places for any reason, you know exactly what I mean.
The 2017 SquirrelMaster Classic championship team in their official victory pose looks like any other group of semi-serious competitors (above). It's not until you see their ebullient team leader T-Bone Turner of Bone Collector fame posing with his trophy (below) that you realize there was more fun than hunting in GAMO USA's revised format. Mark Sidelinger photos with permission.
Add in barking squirrel dogs and the adrenaline of trying to surround a small, fast creature in trees that are 100 feet or more tall and dripping with Spanish moss and other impediments, and you have a bonding experience that quickly has bashful teens laughing and joking around with adults the same age as their grandparents.
The desire to continue that experience is exactly what led Jackie Bushman, founder of Buckmasters and one of the pioneers of television hunting programming to go back to his longtime friends at Southern Sportsman lodge and convince them to host an event that, like the original Buckmaster Classic three decades ago, was designed to reconnect adults with hunting.
And Bushman turned his sales abilities to GAMO USA, convincing them to sponsor the original SquirrelMaster Classic.
I've attended all four, and it's been an amazing process to watch. From its original premise, it's changed into a real-life event
. This year's wrinkle added what was essentially a two-gun competition (rifle and pistol) to the hunting.
It's no secret that I love shooting sports, but I admit wondering just how much fun that would actually be.
As it turns out, it was as much fun as any shooting event I've ever attended with the possible exception of our own Starlight 3 Gun Championship. But lights, lasers, pyro and live music can amp up the interest in almost anything.
Precision shooting with a big-bore PCP airgun is still
a test of your abilities. It's especially so in a light breeze and a final target that requires a scope holdover because it's beyond the "normal" range of the rifle.
Factor in falling metal plates and exploding targets and tough becomes fun.
Two-man shooting stages are tough, too....until you make the long-gun a Red Rider BB gun. At that point, it becomes a giggle-fest where even poor performances by the adults are lost in the fun of remembering your own first experience.
I think you get where I'm going.. I think the brains behind this event have added another key element to reconnecting kids to shooting sports- and the outdoors.
We didn't do anything stupid or unsafe, but we did show the kids of today's digital generation the fun of our profoundly analog world.
And don't forget the fact that many of us were using Twitter to post pictures from the field- we might be old, but we're not afraid to use their tools, either.
I'm completely sold on the idea of building generational bridges - and we're going to have some announcements coming that will prove that in a couple of weeks.
Watch this space- because as always, we'll keep you posted.