Man Vs. Squirrel: GAMO & Buckmasters Squirrel Master Classic 2024

The author came armed with an airgun to this battle of wits of writer against rodent. Did he prevail?

posted on February 22, 2024
2024 Squirrel Master Classic

It’s that time of year again! For close to a decade, GAMO and Buckmasters have been putting on an epic squirrel hunt known as the Squirrel Master Classic. This competition pairs local 4-H kids with our favorite hunting celebrities to pass down the tradition of harvesting game and occupying the woods between deer and turkey season. They are aided by sage hunting guides, generous landowners and the best squirrel dogs both sides of the Mississippi. As usual, I’ve been assigned the task of covering the action while bagging as many furry critters as I can in this team-oriented showdown. Even after all these years, stepping foot into the Southern Sportsman’s Lodge is still an awe-inspiring experience and gets my blood pumping harder than any other event.

This year, I was asked to bring my favorite air rifle from past hunts, as it allowed me the opportunity to figure out its best-shooting pellet as well as enhance it however I felt fit. As you might imagine, I have an arsenal of GAMO airguns, as I request one to keep after each hunt (for research, of course).

With that said, I have a certain fondness for my first-generation break-barrel Swarm Magnum. Granted, spring-air rifles are losing ground to pre-charged pneumatics, but they will always prevail in simplicity, as there’s no requirement to carry an air compressor or scuba tank into the field to refuel it. Now in its third generation, this 10-shot repeater has a great deal of sentimental value, as it’s gotten me the closest I’ve ever been to a trophy.

Yes, you read that right. To this day, I have yet to wrap my fingers around one of those little wooden buggers, a fact that Mrs. Melloni and my arch-nemesis, Larry Case, won’t ever let me live down.

Prepping for the hunt involved laying out a plethora of pellets and conducting an ammo test, just as I would for a powder-burning rifle. Gamo’s Rocket Pellets earned their place at the top through their accuracy, but having that hardened-steel tip put them over the edge, as the extra penetration is good medicine for high-flying tree rats. Before sealing the deal, I swapped out the included optic with a BSA Outlook 4-12x scope. These units are built to handle the reverse recoil generated by spring-air rifles and feature an illuminated reticle. During that first hour of legal shooting light, this is an essential feature, as putting a bead on a bouncing bush grizzly is tough in dim light.

Aside from my recently upgraded old standby, I was also armed with a secret weapon, a Haller Back Squirrel call. I found out about this company at the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show. While walking through the game call room saturated with manufacturers demonstrating their wares, I heard this chattering device above the sea of simplistic squeakers that never seemed to get me any luck. Making my way over to the booth, I was able to meet directly with the owner, as he showed me the tricks to creating the perfect call to curiosity, as well as that telltale bark. Each call is hand-made and tuned, giving me an undoubted edge when it comes to drawing a wary rodent from its hole.

After a short flight (and a long drive), I found myself confirming my zero and meeting the rest of the team. This year, I was paired up with Jackson Boo Bishop, who heads up the second half of Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector squad. We were joined by 4-H’er Cale Webb, a young man who enjoys turkey hunting and earned his place in the hunt through 4-position rifle competition. When asked what other sports he liked, he was happy to explain that he didn’t have time for that mess as he was too busy shooting. He also came with his very own ammo caisson, formally known as Dad. Yeah, we were going to get along just fine.

We began our first tromp through the woods on the heels of Megatron, a hound/cur mix who loves finding squirrels but apparently hates humans, as he spent most of his time more than half a mile out front. We did our best to keep up, shaking every vine along the way. It was an enduring hunt, but nonetheless, we managed to put nine grey squirrels in the bag before returning to the lodge for the real reason I attended: the fried chicken.

Day two started a little earlier than I would have liked, as my legs felt the need to remind me that many years had passed between my first Squirrel Master’s Classic and now. Nonetheless, we had an abbreviated breakfast, loaded up the trucks, and went after them again. With the weather now surpassing yesterday’s high by 10 degrees, squirrel activity was next to nil, taking our faithful squirrel sniffer quite a ways into the woods.

Unfortunately, some squirrel hunts are just summed up as alternating periods of saying, “Which way is the dog?” and “There’s gotta be a squirrel here somewhere!” Two was the magic number, and we had to crawl back to camp with our figurative tails between our metaphorical legs (Megatron’s tail was high and wagging, of course), hoping the other teams did just as poorly.

A hearty lunch prepared us for the bad news: We came in dead last. However, it was great to see The Choice’s team take home the trophy, as they have been in the hunt for just as long as I have. As a consolation prize, my very own Barbara Melloni was part of their cadre, putting a second crown on our mantel and reminding me, again, that I have yet to earn my own. That’s fine, as I had fried chicken and pulled pork less than 24 hours apart from each other, making me at least feel like a winner. Besides, the event itself is far more rewarding than a little wooden statue, as it secures the future of our sport by introducing the next generation to the wonders of small-game hunting.

To that end, we shook hands, ensured that Cale got to keep his rifle, and parted ways, knowing that our journey through the woods would pay dividends in conservation efforts and helping kids learn there is more to life than scrolling a screen. To catch some of the action, be sure to check out the next season of Michael Waddell's Bone Collector on the Outdoor Channel!


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