On Saturday, October 20, 2018 I attended the Alabama Adult Mentored Hunt in Cahaba WMA near Birmingham, Alabama. This particular Adult Mentored Hunt was a 1-day squirrel hunt. In this post I’ll give an overview of the event, as well as my overall opinion on the AMH program.
Since this is a long post, I’ll go ahead and give my overall impression. The event was very informative, and I enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it to anybody who is new to hunting and lives in the general area.
There was a lot of information packed into the single day event. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect prior to attending. They did provide an agenda (detailed below) prior to arrival, but I wasn’t sure if it would go more in-depth than the research I had already done.
- Arrival and Check-in.
- Complete paperwork (liability forms, survey, etc.).
- Game wardens checked hunting licenses.
- Welcome and Introductions to the staff
- Overview of the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries
- Introduction to Firearms
- Firearm Safety Briefing
- Brief overview of the Pittman Robertson Act
- Divide into groups for training stations:
- Station 1: Rifle
- Station 2: Shotgun
- Station 3: Equipment
- Station 4: WMA Overview
- Training Station
- Training Station
- Training Station
- Hunt Overview and Mentor / Mentee assignments
- Leave for afternoon hunt
- Return from Hunt
- Process Squirrels
- Complete exit surveys
Welcome and Overview
Upon arriving, everybody had to fill out a liability waiver and a pre-event survey. There were various snacks and drinks provided. We then met the staff and mentors. The mentors were a combination of volunteers (experienced hunters) and game wardens (also experienced hunters). For this particular event, a majority of the mentors were game wardens.
After some discussion about the event, the Pittman Robertson act, firearm safety, etc. we split into groups to start going through the training stations. There were 4 total training stations, which were supposed to be done in parallel with small groups. We had only 7 of the 10 attendees show up, so we ended up splitting into 2 separate groups. I was in a group of 4, and the other group had 3 people.
The first station that my group headed to was the rifle station. The range officer gave a brief overview of the rules of firearm safety, a discussion of rimfire versus centerfire ammunition, and a discussion about the various actions that rifles are available in. They provided .22 LR rifles for us to use, and had both semi-automatic (Ruger 10/22) and bolt-action single-shot rifles (Savage Arms).
There were enough rifles for each attendee to shoot at the same time. They also had targets setup already at 25 yards. We got to shoot each action twice, totaling 4 rounds of shooting (2x bolt action and 2x semi-auto). Each round consisted of 20 rounds of ammunition, for a total of 80 rounds for the station.
I started with the semi-automatic Ruger 10/22. The semi-automatic rifles had scopes, and the single-shot bolt action rifles had iron sights. Throughout the shooting, the range officer would interrupt and “quiz” us on the rules of firearm safety. They were trying to make sure that the safety rules were ingrained in us.
Throughout the shooting, the Rugers experienced multiple misfeeds. The range officer was able to assist to allow us to continue shooting. But I think it would have been more beneficial if they stopped the shooting and showed everybody what to do when a misfeed or misfire was experienced. Although there was a lot of information to get through in a single day, so I understand why they didn’t want to waste too much time.
After the rifle station, my group moved to the equipment station.
I was a bit torn on how I felt about this station. It started with one of the volunteers showing us an array of equipment that he uses while hunting. He showed:
- Game calls
- Artificial scents to mask our natural scent
- Safety harnesses for elevated stands
- Backpacks / Fanny Packs
- Saws and shears for trimming shooting lanes
- First aid kit
- Range Finder
- Other equipment that I can’t remember at this time
While discussing all of the equipment, he did mention multiple times that all you really need to hunt is a weapon and a heart. But the equipment can make hunting easier. I didn’t find this part of the station to be beneficial, although that might just be because I am planning on using a minimal set of hunting equipment. I can’t see myself being willing to spend enough money to get any of the equipment that he showed, aside from the first aid kit and maybe a game call.
The second part of this station was led by another volunteer. He handed each of us training firearms (the orange firearms with “non-firing” or something like that written all over), and talked more about safety. It was stressed that whenever a firearm is handed to us, we should check to make sure it is unloaded. We walked into the woods a bit, and the volunteer discussed how to safely cross creeks and climb over fences and obstacles. He also had a few obstacles and fences set up in the woods for us to practice crossing them safely.
After the equipment station, it was time for lunch. Lunch was provided for everybody. They got some local BBQ from a local BBQ restaurant. The food was really good, and there was more than enough for everybody. They also had drinks and some snacks for dessert.
WMA Overview Station
After the equipment station, we went to the WMA overview station. At this station the game warden and wildlife biologist for the Cahaba WMA discussed the area. They provided maps of the WMA, which acts as a permit to hunt the area. You are actually not allowed to hunt a WMA in Alabama without having the map on you. The map also has the hunting seasons and some rules and regulations printed on the back.
The most beneficial part of this station was having a game warden go through the WMA-specific laws and regulations. He also answered any and all questions that we had about whether or not something was legal. While not specifically relevant to me since I will be hunting in MS, the wardens did answer a lot of the more general questions I had about hunting legality.
This was by far my favorite station. Unfortunately, since this was the last station that my group did, we had to cut it short in order to not delay the hunt. In this station, the range officers and game wardens discussed the various aspect of the shotgun (different chokes, gauges, shot, etc.).
As opposed to the rifle station where each person shot in parallel, the shotgun station limited us to a single person shooting at a time. While this meant that we each got to shoot less, I preferred it since it was the first time that I had ever shot a shotgun. With only 1 person shooting at a time, there was more personal instruction than in the rifle station.
We started by shooting a piece of cardboard on the ground. Once we were able to show that we could hit a stationary target, we shot some clay targets that were shot out of a trap machine (forgive me if the terminology isn’t correct). They had the machine setup to fling the clay targets directly in front of us. This made it so that we only had to judge the elevation and distance, and did not have to swing side-to-side. I was able to hit 2 of the 5 targets that I had an opportunity to shoot at. Not particularly good, but it was fun and they provided helpful feedback after each shot.
After all of the stations were completed, everybody grouped back together to discuss the hunt and assign hunters to mentors. The discussion of the hunt was very brief. They basically told us that we would be sitting in some hardwoods, and looking for squirrels in the tree. If we were to shoot a squirrel, they said to remain where we were and just remember where the squirrel fell. This is because there is a good chance that more squirrels will come back after a few minutes.
I was grouped with a game warden (Marcus), and off we went to a spot in the woods. We got to our first spot, and sat leaning up against some trees. After about 45 minutes of no movement, we moved to another spot that was maybe 100 yards away but had a view of a different valley. After about 30-40 minutes with still no movement, I was getting a bit discouraged. I heard many shots out in the distance, and assumed that the other hunters were seeing and harvesting squirrels.
Eventually, I finally heard a squirrel running through the canopy. I caught a brief glimpse of it in one tree, and then it was gone. Then I heard it jump to another tree a bit closer to me, and I was able to watch it move down toward the ground a bit. It finally stopped in the “V” created by a branch connecting to the main trunk, and I was able to slowly raise the shotgun and get a shot off. It immediately fell to the ground. I looked over to the mentor, who gave me a thumbs up. Then we sat quietly waiting for another. I don’t recall much kick from the 20 gauge shotgun when I took the shot, but I definitely was surprised by how loud the shot was. My left ear was ringing for a good 15 minutes afterward.
About 10 minutes later, we decided to go grab the squirrel and head back to the first spot. It was the first time I had ever been that close to a squirrel, or seen a shot animal that close. I picked up the squirrel, and was a bit surprised by how much it weighed. The squirrel was an eastern gray squirrel, and the mentor said it was “not old, but not young”. I carried the squirrel back to the warden’s truck, laid it in the bed, and started walking back to the first spot.
As soon as I got close to the spot, we heard something in the distance. Next thing I know, the warden is running through the woods toward a gas line where somebody was riding an ATV. Its illegal to ride an ATV in Cahaba WMA, so I sat in the woods while Marcus wrote a ticket to the guy on the ATV.
Another One Bites the Dust
We sat back down against some trees and waited. After a little while, the sun started to go down and it started to get a bit chilly. It was getting difficult to distinguish between branches, leaves, and any potential squirrel. Eventually, probably about 10 minutes before last light, another squirrel came into our area through the canopy. I saw it’s silhouette briefly, and then it stopped moving. I thought I saw it on a branch, but wasn’t confident enough that it was the squirrel to take a shot.
After what felt like 10 minutes (but was probably only 1 or 2), I saw it move down the trunk of the tree. Again, it stopped and I couldn’t figure out where it was. I had the shotgun ready at this point, but still couldn’t find it. Then Marcus’ phone rang. The squirrel jumped to another branch, and I was able to get a shot off. I hit the squirrel, but it didn’t drop to the ground. It was hanging upside down on the branch it was on. I took another shot, and it fell. Marcus said that I probably didn’t need the 2nd shot, but I wasn’t sure so I’m not upset about taking it.
We picked up the 2nd squirrel, and then headed back to the shooting range for the game processing discussion.
Marcus and I were one of the first few groups to arrive back at the range, so while waiting for everybody else I decided to fill out the post-event survey. Once everybody else came back, one of the volunteers started walking us through processing a squirrel. It turns out that I was the only person to get any squirrels. I still don’t know what the other shots I heard were, but nobody else got any.
It took the volunteer probably no more than 1 minute to skin, gut, and quarter each squirrel. That includes the time spent explaining what he was doing. I was rather shocked by how quickly he was doing it, but was able to follow along enough to understand what to do.
At this point I was exhausted (having left my house at 3am, I was starting to feel it), and was really looking forward to getting home. I thanked everybody for hosting the event, and packed up.
Pretty much everything was good. I thought the event was very well run, and was incredibly helpful for me as a new hunter. If nothing else, it was fun to get more woods time. For the people who are Alabama residents, it provided a good opportunity to meet people that you might want to go hunting with. For me, it was purely informational.
The only complaints that I had with the event is:
- I would have preferred more time in the shotgun station.
- The game processing part of the event went very fast. I was able to follow everything, but I had also previously done a lot of reading and watching videos on squirrel processing.
Another “bad” aspect, which had nothing to do with the event, was the fact that the event was held 5 hours from my house. I wasn’t willing to pay for a hotel room and camping wasn’t allowed in the WMA, as far as I could tell. So I had to leave the house at 3am to make it to the event, and then I got home at 3am the next morning. It was a very long day, but I would say it was worth it.
I’ve applied for 4 deer Adult Mentored Hunt events for this season, so hopefully I will be able to provide a review of the deer hunts later. I know I was not selected for the 3-day event that I applied to, but I still have 3 more 1-day events as a possibility.