"Living on the road my friend, was going to keep you free and clean." — From "Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt
I watch for the next road sign on Interstate 64. It will tell me how far it is to the next town, and I can gauge my progress. I could ask the lady in my phone who does almost all of my navigation these days, but I like to watch the signs.
It's dark and it's late, and I know I should probably pull over and shut my eyes for a few minutes, but I want to get home and sleep in a bed — my own bed. I keep the hammer down, and the old Chevy hurtles through the cold night.
My mind wanders to how this all got started. Last week the old truck took me to Charleston, West Virginia, in the wee hours of the morning, and I got on a plane to Atlanta. (We have to go to Atlanta from Charleston to go almost anywhere.) I ended up in Montgomery, Alabama, and a car picked me up with a group of other outdoors writers: Rob Reaser, my editor for the Shoot-On.com website; Frank Melloni, a guns writer and firearms instructor from New York City (yes, I give him static about that) and others.
Forty-two minutes later, we are at the Southern Sportsman's Lodge for the start of the Squirrel Master Classic.
This event is the brainchild of Jackie Bushman, the founder of Buckmasters, one of the first deer-related magazines and outdoors television programs. Seven years ago, Bushman was looking for a way to attract hunters back to their roots — small game hunting, which is how a lot of us began this journey as hunters. Bushman's idea was this: Have a squirrel hunt in a fun, competitive atmosphere. Teams are made up of outdoor television personalities, outdoor writers and editors, a dog handler with a squirrel dog to find the squirrels for you and, most important of all, a young person who is a 4-H shooter.
Gamo Air Rifles sponsored the event and supplied all the hunters with a Gamo Swarm Maxxim pellet rifle. The Swarm Maxxim is the world's only 10-shot break-barrel air rifle, and the 10X Quick Shot magazine allows the shooter to load 10 pellets in the magazine, insert it into the rifle and fire 10 quick shots before you have to reload. Believe me, we needed those quick second and third shots on this hunt because these squirrels had their running shoes on.
Once they started running in the treetops, sometimes with spectacular leaps from tree to tree, you had to be quick or you came up empty-handed.
The competition at the Squirrel Master Classic is handled by counting the total number of squirrels brought in by each team plus the results of an extensive shooting competition with the Gamo pellet rifles and Daisy BB guns. Believe me when I tell you that it is a lot of fun but the competition is intense. Everyone wants to bring home that coveted trophy.
At the end of the day when all the squirrels and targets were counted, I was pleased for a couple of reasons to see the guys on Team Realtree be named the winner.
Team Realtree included the guys on the video production crews, cameramen and producers. They were fired up when the contest started and worked hard to win the day. Also, West Virginia's own Ronnie Sneadegar from Greenbrier County was the dog handler for Realtree, and his Annie and Hammer dogs worked hard for the win.
Oh yeah, one more reason: I was on Team Realtree and brought home my second Squirrel Master trophy! Life is good!
Next week in Part II it's on to Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and adventures with squirrel hunter Kevin Murphy and crew.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.