Of the 168 teams that participated in the second annual Brooksville Squirrel Hunt competition, my sons’ team, #87, the Gronk team, finished 27th with a total weight of five 4-pound squirrels and 9.53 oz.
Truth be told, we left the weigh-in at Stable Faith Cowboy Church around 2 pm last Saturday feeling prematurely smug about winning. The $20 entry fee came with two tokens for the world-famous free footlongs, courtesy of the nearby Coney Island Drive-Inn, and our hot dog lunch was quietly spent investing the $1,600 purse for first place.
Reality hits you fast in the chipmunk game, unfortunately. After the final count, the blue ribbon was awarded to Shannon Brass and Dillon Pinkston, who submitted a 5-pound, 1.85-ounce bag. Now that the kids recognize the standard for future competitions, they are hungry to participate again next season.
Hosted by Michelle Payne of Brooksville, this squirrel hunting competition launched last year. It was so successful that Michelle and others decided to make it a tradition to encourage children to participate in outdoor activities.
“We had aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, moms and dads, and neighbors taking out youngsters (in competition), as young as 3 years old,” Michelle said. “This will be an annual event as long as we have supporters!”
However, hunting was not restricted to young hunters. Any pair of junior or adult hunters with $20 to spend were encouraged to register. The hunt began at legal light with the final weigh-in at 4 p.m. Hunting was permitted on any public or private land the team was legally permitted to hunt on.
During the weigh-in, teams selected their 5 heaviest squirrels to enter, which were then weighed in together for the final cumulative scores. The heaviest Top-3 team entries won the payment. As a bonus for kids, all registered youth received a raffle prize from donations provided by more than 25 local sponsors, regardless of whether they successfully caught a squirrel or not.
A final contest was the side pot for the heaviest individual squirrel. For $5, contestants could participate in what they thought was their best kill. Frankly, I have never assigned trophy qualities to squirrels. Before I entered, the weight aspect of this entire tournament made about as much sense to me as choosing the prettiest squirrel, thinking there wasn’t a difference in weight between them. In the end, I wanted to take a photo with the winner, a 1 pound, 2.50 ounce fat man.
Of course, there was more to this event than winning cash prizes and personal glory, as people of all ages and experiences gathered on the church grounds to eat and swap stories. My sons had a memorable hunt that morning, led by their grandfather and me, and were then greeted by a community of hunters on a beautiful February afternoon.
To stay up to date on next year’s hunt, follow the Brooksville Annual Squirrel Hunt Competition Facebook page. According to Michelle, the plan is for this to take place on the third February of each year.
I am proud to have participated in this event and sincerely thank everyone who worked hard to make it happen.
Although this hunt is in the books, Florida gray squirrel season continues through March 6. Even if you don’t plan on hunting squirrels, take note of the big ones you see while wandering the woods in the coming months and feel free to share them. with me your location for next February. The kids say I need to do a better job of guiding if we’re going to win.