And with the tip of the scale, the 2023 Gamo Squirrel Master Classic comes to an end. This annual event represents the pinnacle of small-game competition as it pits the industry’s most exciting hunting celebrities against one another as they take a lucky 4-Her out for the hunt of a lifetime guided by world-class squirrel dogs. I am proud to announce that this is the seventh year that I have been among the six lucky writers to participate. Being able to test Gamo’s latest rifle, the Swarm Viper Gen 3i, also puts a feather in my cap, and I have to say, it is one devastating squirrel slayer.
Gamo Squirrel Master Classic
Building off the success of its 10-shot, break-barrel Swarm system, the Viper Gen 3i offers improved ergonomics through its rubberized cheek riser and forend inlays. These additions also provide a fair deal of functionally, as the riser helps shooters to build a higher cheek weld on account of the required additional scope height that this platform has. The rubberized inserts aid in a consistent grip which is important on spring-air rifles, as varying this position will affect their accuracy and performance. These features join an improved feeding system that uses some of the gun’s firing inertia to jostle the rotary magazine, ensuring a pellet chambers every time a shooter cracks the gun open.
Carried over are fan favorites like the Whisper Maxxim Noise Suppression System, which keeps things to a hush, despite generating up to 1,000 feet per second of zip on a generous .22-caliber pellet. The Custom Action Trigger (CAT) remained in its original configuration, thankfully. It allows lightening the pull and shortening the travel per the shooter’s desire, all before hitting the field.
Gamo Squirrel Master Classic: Game On
Our event began at the sight-in range, where I spent a bit of time working with our 4-H’er, Brycen Hollar. Together we confirmed that all of the hardware was tight on the included Gamo 3-9x40mm riflescopes as we zeroed our rifles and discussed some of the finer points of marksmanship. Throughout the process, we enjoyed unburdened operation in even the seated position, which verified the paltry 30-pound cocking effort claim. We each carried 250 Red Fire Pellets, the payload working excellently with the Gamo powerplant. After punching more than five dime-sized groups on our 35-yard target, we realized that we better save some lead for the tree grizzlies and headed inside for a quick lunch and team assignments.
This year I was reunited with Michael Waddell of Bone Collector fame, as we would spend our second hunt together in pursuit of the elusive wooden trophy. Admittedly, Team Bone Collector has four of these sitting in their trophy room; I just haven’t had the good fortune of being on their team in any of those winning years. This year, the team was so large that they were split in two ,with none other than the defending champ, Barb Melloni, neatly situated on Team #2, headed up by Nick Mundt. As always, we had some stiff competition, including teams captained by Ralph and Vicky Cianciarulo of The Choice, Jackie Bushman of Buckmasters, Tombo of Buck Commander, and David Holder of Raised Hunting, who took it home last year with an astonishing 60 squirrels.
Hittin’ the Woods
Outside the lodge, we linked up with Mr. Adam Acker and his dog, Jackson, who joined the pack, which already consisted of Waddell’s four-legged squirrel detectors, Rose and Dan. As we had no shortage of K-9s, we decided to pack two separate trucks and attack our hunting property from both ends. The moment we parked, it was GO time for furry friends who were chomping at the bit for some action. Within moments, we had our first grey treed, taking only a pair of pellets to take it down. This would mark the beginning of a spectacular squirrel massacre that would continue to nearly last light. Fighting the heat, we managed to pull 22 greys and one fox squirrel from the sky in that short afternoon hunt, only to find out that we were bested by one by the Raised Hunting team.
The next morning our gang woke with fire in our eyes, knowing that we were going to need to put in some serious work if we wanted to win this thing. Being down by one isn’t normally a concern when you have amazing hunting and shooting talent on your side. But, when it’s David Holder and his boys that have you one-upped, we knew pulling out of this one victorious wasn’t going to be a simple walk in the woods. We made a team decision to take a further ride to a spot that our guide knew would bear fruit, even though it would cut into our hunting time a bit.
After about ten minutes into it, we knew that we had made the right choice as the dogs simply did not have a moment to catch their breath on account of the rodent density. It got to the point where we needed to splash Jackson down, as wearing a fur coat in the 80-degree weather isn’t veterinarian recommended. We finished the morning off by bagging up another 28 greys and headed back, hoping that we didn’t break a sweat for nothing.
Upon arrival, the Southern Sportsman’s Lodge’s famous fried chicken was already being served, and I ripped into a three-piece without so much as putting on a dry shirt. If you’ve ever had this chicken, you’d understand; it’s so good you’ll slap somebody. After stuffing myself to nearly the point of needing a nap, it was time to head outside for the official count and to see if I would be taking home my first-ever SMC trophy. I knew we were in the running as Jackie Bushman left our team and Raised Hunting for last, a move that caters to the spectators but not so much my sphincter.
The Final Tally & Fixin’s
Knowing that we had a total of 51 points (fox squirrels count as two), it stung a little when he pulled that 52nd squirrel from our opponent’s bag. My only consolation is that I couldn’t have lost to a more honest team of outdoorsmen, and I know that to beat us, they put in some serious work.
Traditions > Trophies
The Gamo Squirrel Master Classic is far more than a bunch of good-ole-boys trying to out hunt each other in the warm Alabama woods. The core purpose of this hunt is the preservation of the sport by introducing the next generation to the wonders of small-game hunting and the enjoyment of spending a little time with mother nature. Although I would love to have one of those trophies on my mantle, if my participation in this event influences even just one youth shooter, then I have won something far greater, and so has everybody else who wants to see our sport remain a part of the American backdrop.
Be sure to check out these folk’s shows to see these guns in action and get your own at gamousa.com.
Gamo Swarm Viper 10X Gen3I Features & Specs
- Caliber: .22
- Action: 10X GEN3i Ten Shot, Auto-Loading
- Powerplant: IGT Inert Gas Technology gas piston
- Trigger: Two-stage independently adjustable CAT (Custom Action Trigger)
- Checkering: Non-slip texture to grip, forearm
- Safety: Manual, automatic cocking safety
- Rail: 11mm aluminum
- Overall Length: 45.3 inches
- Ammunition: Any .22-cal. pellet
- Barrel Overall Length: 19.9 inches
- Velocity: 1,000 fps
- Barrel: Fluted polymer jacketed steel with Whisper Maxxim Technology
- Stock: Automotive-grade glass-filled nylon, all weather; rubber inserts to grip, forearm and cheek piece
- Recoil Pad: SWA (Shock Wave Absorber)
- Optics: Gamo 3-9×40 riflescope with rings
- Overall Weight: 5.71 pounds
- Length of Pull: 14.4 inches
- Trigger Pull: 3.2/2.6 pounds
- Overall Cocking Effort: 30 pounds