Hunters enjoy camaraderie with squirrel hunt

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 February 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

HOLLEY – About 350 people gather inside the Holley fire hall on Saturday following the Squirrel Slam competition. Most of the people who bought tickets actually didn’t hunt, but they enjoy a dinner, prizes and conversation inside the fire hall.

Steve Parkhurst of Kendall said it was a tough day to go hunting. He needed to trudge snow 2 to 3 feet deep in his backyard to try to hunt squirrels. Parkhurst was able to get one, far less than the limit of six for the day.

“Even if I didn’t get a squirrel it would have been a good day,” Parkhurst said inside the Holley firehall following the “9th Annual Hazzard County Squirrel Slam.”

Teams were given prizes for the heaviest squirrels. The biggest one weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces.

Parkhurst was out hunting earlier in the day with a friend. They were one of 58 teams to compete in today’s Squirrel Slam hunting contest through the Holley Fire Department, which was down from 136 two-person teams a year ago. The deep snow and cold reduced the hunting teams, although the Fire Department still sold the maximum of 600 tickets for the contest.

“This is a good thing to get together with your friends and family,” Parkhurst said. “It also helps the community and the Fire Department.”

The event has drawn national and international attention the past three years after being highlighted by animal rights’ activists.

These T-shirts sell for $12 each and are very popular. Last year event organizer Dennis Bauer donated $700 from the T-shirt proceeds to Orleans County SCOPE.

One activist even tried to take the Fire Department to court over the environmental impacts of the hunt, but the case was dismissed last week.

Parkhurst said he was one of the originals who has been at all nine Squirrel Slams. He credited Holley for continuing the event despite some of the pushback from animal rights’ groups. If Holley backed out, Parkhurst said he would ask Kendall to sponsor the event.

Holley Fire Department leaders said the event clears about $4,000 in profit, making it a strong fund-raiser. Fran Gaylord, president of the Fire Department, said many hunters and community members thank the department for keeping on the event, despite the pressure to cancel it.

“There have been no issues today and everybody is having a good time,” Gaylord said at the firehall after the hunt. “People are glad we stood our ground and won’t be bullied.”

Frank Balys, a past Holley fire chief, sold 50-50 raffle tickets at the fire hall.

Saturday there were only four protesters near the fire hall by the Holley Hotel, including Richard Brummel, an environmental activist from Long Island. He is pushing the legal challenge to the hunting contest, saying it has a negative environmental impact because many squirrels are killed near Holley.

“I feel the squirrels and all the supporters of our efforts to halt the hunt this year deserve to be represented in Holley today,” Brummel said in a statement to the media. “Perhaps this will be the last year we have to do this, but I am expecting a continuing battle over this and other senseless animals killing contests.”

Dennis Bauer of Hamlin has organized all nine of the Squirrel Slams. He thanked the Holley Fire Department for continuing to support the event.

Bauer was out hunting with his son Jeremy earlier in the day and they didn’t shoot any squirrels.

Bauer pushed for the Squirrel Slam as a motivation to get friends and family out together on the last day of the hunting season.

“My thought was it was one more time to get buddies and families out together,” Bauer said.

Jeff Lavender, a past Holley fire chief, calls out the winning raffle numbers.

Bauer said the protesters of the event are “misinformed.” They assume all of the squirrels are shot in Holley, when participants hunt in several Western New York counties and bring their squirrels to Holley to be weighed. The name “Slam” may also have people thinking the squirrels meet a tortuous death, when Bauer said they are all shot legally during the hunting season.

“If I thought we were hurting the squirrel the population, I wouldn’t do it because I’m a hunter and I don’t want my game gone,” Bauer said. “The DEC has the squirrel season open this time of the year for a reason.”

Bauer said he is encouraged by the big crowd of people that come to the fire hall for food and conversation.

“This isn’t about going out and killing squirrels,” he said. “It’s about bringing people together.”