An old fashioned barber’s chair sits in a corner near the main entrance to the Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge, a silent testament to the fact that staying longer than you’d planned is a distinct possibility. The rustic log building in rural southern Alabama is the kind of place you hear about, and read about, and sometimes see pictures of, but almost never find. So when you find it, and get to visit, you don’t really want to leave. I’d still be there, but I ran out of clean socks and had to come home.
Jackie Bushman held the Buckmasters Classic at Southern Sportsman for fifteen years, so it’s likely you’ve at least seen pictures of the place on television. Jim Wilson has owned it for the past 30 years, and he’s hosted some of the most famous people in the country there, including astronauts, entertainers, and pro athletes. Pictures of people like Walt Garrison cover a couple of walls in the small dining room off the kitchen, and heads and other mounts line the walls of the living room/lounge and the main dining room. A kid with a blow dart gun could have a blast in there.
Being from Central Texas, where we don’t need to travel far to find good hunting, I’d never been to the Southern Sportsman until last week, when I went out there to compete in the First Annual Squirrel Masters Classic. Jackie Bushman and the guy who runs Gamo USA decided to have a national squirrel hunting competition, and invite folks from all over the U.S. to come and get involved. And since they decided to have this contest in February, in southern Alabama, the folks from up north were more than happy to drop everything and come south. They showed up with snow all over their hats and stuff. It was funny.
Tony Dolle, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, drove over to Montgomery, Alabama, and met me at the airport there, along with Tom Claycomb, a transplanted Texan who lives in Idaho, and Justin Morrissey, a college senior from Wisconsin who is planning a lucrative career in making money. He plans to do that by being a fantastic video camera operator for outdoor television personalities. He’s already done some work for Jim Shockey, and since he’s single, I told him he should ask Eva (Jim’s daughter) out. He said he was planning to do that. Good luck, Justin.
We all piled into Tony’s wife’s Toyota Frontrunner and he drove around randomly until he finally found the lodge, which was right where he’d left it, having been there before. When everyone else got there the Gamo folks gave us our rifles for the competition, the Gamo Whisper Fusion Pro .177 air rifle. The gun looks sort of futuristic, with a barrel that gets bigger toward the front, which is how they incorporate the sound suppressor, which you don’t need a permit for because it can’t be taken off the gun. That’s a little fact I picked up from the Gamo guy. As Yogi Berra probably said, you can hear a lot by just listening.
Keith Warren, of The High Road television show, showed up, and while we were talking he told me that, in Texas, it’s against the law to shoot a squirrel with a pellet or BB gun. I said, “You got to be kidding,” because I thought he was kidding. But he said no, seriously, it’s against the law. And maybe it is, but if I was a game warden I sure wouldn’t give anyone a ticket for it. Because that’s just silly. And you can quote me on that.
We sighted our guns in, and then at super we learned who we would be hunting with the next day. There was a Buckmaster team, two Bone Collector teams, Keith’s High Road team, and a couple of others. I ended up on the MRA team, headed by Keith Mark, of Kansas City, Kansas, and his buddy Shawn Michaels, who has spent a lot of time getting hit in the head with chairs. He used to be a pro wrestler.
Our teams also consisted of a fellow from Gamo named Jordi, who is from Spain, and has a really cool accent, and Heidi Wilson, a crack shot from the local 4H rifle team. And me.
Of course, we also had a guide who knew the area we would hunt in, and a dog handler, who brought his champion squirrel dog. That’s the only way to find the squirrels in the trees, except by walking around and looking for them, which is boring. It’s way more fun to just stand around and listen for the dog to bark.
Next week we’ll get to the actual hunt, as long as I haven’t forgotten about it. By that time my luggage may be back from Seattle . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never hunts squirrels without a good squirrel dog. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org