Feature

Big Buck Hunter World Championship

The Buck Stops Here

The Big Buck HD World Championship in Chicago brings out hunting enthusiasts, serious competitors, and camouflage-clad infants for two days of virtual shooting.

By Samantha Nelson • November 13, 2013

Every hunter understands the virtue of patience, and George Petro knows it better than most. Petro founded the Play Mechanix studio in 1995, but his company’s first huge success wouldn’t come until the 2001 release of Big Buck Hunter, the deer-hunting game that is now ubiquitous in bars across the country. “We didn’t expect it to be so popular,” Petro said. “I’d made games for a long time. You never know what’s going to stick. We put the deer-hunting theme in that really resonated with a segment of America that wasn’t represented by arcade video games. I’d say we got lucky.”

The game, which has players shoot prize stags while avoiding killing does, became a watering-hole staple and spawned a variety of sequels. As the series has evolved, it has invited players to shoot plenty of other animals in a variety of virtual locations. When new editions enabled online play and tournaments, dedicated fans created their own Facebook page to connect with each other, and Petro took notice. “We started knowing the players and decided to get the players together to celebrate how much they love Buck Hunter,” he said.

The company held the first Big Buck World Championship in Chicago in 2008. Since then, the event, which draws players from around the country and Australia, has grown in popularity every year. More than 1,500 people competed to qualify for the 100 slots at the 2013 event, where $63,000 in prize money was on the line.

Big Buck Hunter World Championship

Held on Saturday at The Chop Shop, a combination butcher shop, restaurant, and event space in Chicago, the venue was packed with people crowding around the stage where competitors went head-to-head shooting everything from lions to fireworks to simple targets. Spectators watched the action from overhead balconies. The walls were lined with Buck Hunter machines, which were almost always occupied. Between rounds, a camouflage-clad emcee tried to pump up the crowd, though he was nearly unintelligible over the music and noise of the games. A giant screen displayed the standings in the double-elimination tournament, positioned right next to the Pappy’s Jug trophy, which bears the names of all the previous winners.

Play Mechanix doesn’t do much to market the event, so the spectators were mostly limited to serious Big Buck Hunter players like Marc Christopher of Chicago, who said he likes to drop by to watch every year with his friends. “I think we’re all too scared to participate in the competition,” Christopher said.

Many players brought huge groups of friends and family with them—many of whom were dressed in custom shirts sponsored by hometown businesses. Derks Naumann of Berkley, Michigan, was competing along with his two brothers, his sister, and his brothers’ girlfriends. Naumann’s mom came out for the affair, too, and the entire Naumann contingent wore matching turquoise T-shirts declaring in hot pink letters “We don’t doe out,” meaning they won’t end their turns by accidentally shooting a female deer. A few of them spiced up the uniform by wearing coyote-skin hats made from a trio of coyotes the family trapped on their Michigan farm. (The varmints had been harassing the Naumanns’ chickens.) One of the brothers wore a cowhide cape, another product of their farm. Set on 180 acres, the family also uses the Michigan land to hunt actual deer. “I just like killing things and eating them,” Naumann said. “Nobody wants mad cow disease.”

Big Buck Hunter World Championship

Naumann has been hunting since he was 14. He doesn’t drink when he’s handling real guns, but he’s happy to imbibe at the local bar while playing some Buck Hunter. In the days leading up to the tournament, he said he played four to five times a week, sometimes for six to eight hours at a time.

Celina Fugate of Portland, Oregon sat at a table in the restaurant portion of the space caring for her five-week-old, camouflage-clad daughter while her husband, Matt Peterson, competed inside. She said she’s also played Buck Hunter for a few years, and she competed in the prior night’s Ladies Tournament along with her friend Kelly DeForrest. When asked why they play, Fugute said she does it “to support our men.” DeForrest explained, “If not, you’re just sitting there.”

“Family comes first, and then the game” is the motto of Bryan Stooksbury of Powell, Tennessee, who missed the tournament last year due to a family obligation. He won more than $15,000 playing in online tournaments during 2013, he said, and was looking to add to his haul with some head-to-head matches. He said he plays five to six days a week at a local barbecue restaurant, where a friend introduced him to the game seven years ago. “I didn’t like getting beat, so I used to come there when he didn’t know to practice so I could beat him,” he said. Stooksbury soon surpassed his friend, and eventually, he couldn’t find anyone in the area to play him. “I was the best player in Tennessee. I just wanted to be the best in the game.”

Big Buck Hunter World Championship

Last year, that title went to Chris Fream of Minneapolis. He and his roommate, Mike Bryne, showed up in New York for the championship without a place to stay. Bryne won third place at the tournament after Fream eliminated him in the semi-final round, but he also met and started dating a “Buck Hunter girl,” a promoter dressed in skimpy camouflage gear. “We took a lot out of New York,” Fream said.

Fream and Bryne started playing together eight years ago when they were both working as bartenders in Minneapolis. “We would just stay at the bar to 3 or 4 a.m. drinking beers, playing [Big Buck Hunter] Safari,” Fream said. “I think what made us so good is playing against each other.”

Bryne said his new job as a sales rep for Tenth And Blake Beer Company keeps him from playing as much as he used to—and he admits that the online battle-arena game League Of Legends has been taking more of his time lately. But in the two months before the tournament, he warmed up by spending three to four nights a week at a dive bar a few blocks from his house. At Saturday’s competition, he was hung over from enjoying the open bar at the Ladies Tournament, and he sipped a cocktail to help calm him down between rounds. “It’s amazingly stressful and nerve-wracking,” Bryne said. “My first game, I was shaking. You’ve just, at the end of the day, got to remember it’s just a game.”

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  • Enkidum

    I hope longer non-review articles like this will still be relatively common after the move back to The AV Club, although I can’t see how the same frequency of content can be provided without it becoming over-represented. Nice article that taught me a bit about a sub-culture I know nothing about.

    Some of it felt a bit “look-at-the-yokels” (varmints? really?) but it was generally fair-minded and interesting enough. Thanks!

    • Bakken Hood

      I doubt they’d object. “Varmint” is an accepted term in the hunting community for coyotes, prairie dogs, and other small varmints regarded as threats to livestock. A bolt-action .223 is known technically as a “varmint rifle” at gun shops.

      • Enkidum

        Fair enough, then. No one I grew up around called them that, but I think I was too far from the States and not into hunting enough to get that.

    • Fluka

      The rest of the gaming world: massive press coverage and way too fancy reviews of the PS4.

      Gameological: Big Buck HD World Championship coverage!!!

      Please never change.

      • https://twitter.com/Gerardi Matt Gerardi

        Yeah, we thought about sending a dozen writers to Sony’s PS4 press corral to churn out minutiae all day, but Big Buck was too good to pass up.

        • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

          And this my friends, is why I Gameological. I hope you guys never change.

          • Dunwatt

            I’m really digging the use of “Gameological” as a verb. Sincerely. I hope I haven’t missed this being done before and have caught on to something new.

            I Gameological. Do you Gameological?

            Save your marketing moneys–that’s your slogan right there.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Great stuff.

    That said, I’m often disappointed when it comes to mass audience games. Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Golden Tee, and the like often just turn out to be mediocre or worse. I played Big Buck Hunter a few months ago, and I have no idea how it’s possible to have a championship around it. The hit detection is absolute garbage.

    That said, it’s no secret how they’re cultivating their fanbase. Aside from the above, they’re pulling a NESiCA with their hubs and pushing in a Duck Dynasty sidegame/demo screen across the country. http://arcadeheroes.com/2013/09/10/duck-dynasty-enters-video-game-market-via-big-buck-hd-arcade-machines-october I wish better developers had marketing ideas 1/2 as good.

    • PPPfive

      Yeah the game itself is really bad. I guess its ubiquity accounts for its popularity, not the other way around. Still its nice to see meet-ups and articles like this

      • Drinking_with_Skeletons

        Ubiquity and the fact that a lot of these people probably don’t play a lot of other games and there isn’t much competition. The only thing I can think of right now is the MMO The Hunter, which I know nothing about.

      • chrisk

        its like finding out theres an Area 51 tourney. which i consider the worst arcade shooter… HANDS DOWN

        • JokersNuts

          In the summer of ’96 during a trip to Disney World, my friends and I became obsessed with playing it. Near the end of the trip we all pooled our resources, took turns, and finally beat that game.
          I’m sure it’s terrible, but for some reason we thought it was the shit (probably partly due to the ID4 fever we all had at the time)

          • The_Misanthrope

            There was one in our campus arcade–that and one of the Metal Slugs (I forget which)–that was really useful for relieving some of that finals week anxiety. As a shooter, it’s probably not much more sophisticated than, say, Revolution X (starring Aerosmith). It did have a neat mechanic that increased your score depending on how many hits you had in a row; Me and my friends discovered that if you shot out windows in the backgrounds, those would count as viable hits. There were also mini-games the player could unlock by shooting certain things in the right order.

    • wolf

      I always found big buck hunter interesting, simply because it plays more like a bargain-bin zombie shooter than anything remotely like actual hunting. You show up behind some log, and deer just start flying out at you left and right like they’re hungry for blood.

      I guess what I’m saying is that someone needs to do a zombie-deer hack.

    • DL

      I don’t think we need to be “disappointed” about these mass-market games unless they devalue the idea of videogames in general, and I don’t think they do. Increasing the exposure of videogames as being an acceptable, common, and entertaining pastime, in any form, can only help improve the state of game software and hardware development, and keep the “moral panic” people from using them as a strawman for society’s ills.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I don’t like the idea of games as passive entertainment (phones, bars, hotels), but I appreciate the moral panic point.
        On the other hand, Ron Swanson pointed out on tonight’s Parks And Recreation that the game is horrible, so maybe I’m right after all.

  • Glenn_the_Frog

    I’ve played this a couple times in nights out with friends. Reminds me a lot of those games in the late 90s where you would step on a pedal to come out from behind cover, then have to release the pedal to reload. Fun times.

    Speaking of League of Legends, as an aside no one cares anything about except me, I just earned Silver in season 3 – my first season playing ranked. Feeling pretty good about that.

    • Corwin Haught

      Time Crisis!

      • chrisk

        as far as i know they’re still making those, and they’re still very enjoyable.

      • The_Helmaroc_King

        Reload! Reload!

        Speaking of Time Crisis, the arcade machines with the “slide” on the guns were infinitely superior to the ones without.

    • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

      Congratulations on reaching Silver!

      I placed in silver when Season 2 first started, quickly climbed up, had a Gold Promotion match, lost it, started losing more and more plunging lower and lower then I stopped playing ranked, and I am way down at the bottom of Silver again. My cousin is Platinum somehow, dangit.

  • doyourealize

    I’m certainly no gun nut, but I got pretty good at this game in college and a few years afterwards. A friend and I would compete with each other at bars and even made the leaderboards in some places. I doubt I was ever good enough to compete on a stage like this, but it feels pretty good when you can bring down 3 bucks with 3 shots, and maye even shoot a few birds.
    I played the other day, a new version called Big Buck Hunter HD. While it was impressive graphics-wise, man it was hard.

  • Smilner

    Guys, I don’t want to hijack anything, but I had nowhere else to go, and I don’t trust anywhere else with gaming advice.

    A number of circumstances have limited my choices on PS4 games that I can acquire before the new year. It looks like one of them is going to end up being AC4. I have no idea how this is going to play out:

    First and foremost, I’ve never played AC. I know it’s a continuous mythology, but how much will be lost on me by jumping in here?

    The feel of the series is not too ponderous, is it? I want something a little bit lighter. At least lighter than, say, GTAIV, so it’s a pretty low bar. In lieu of “lighter,” I’d take “free-wheeling.” I was really hoping Second Son would be available at launch. Que sera sera.

    • CrabNaga

      They’ve probably put a lot of effort to make the game feel a bit more lighthearted because, y’know, pirates (also because AC3 was serious as heck and people hated it). I don’t think the AC games do a good job of bringing in new players to the story, but the “real world” story is easily ignored since you spend very little time in it, and the main story of each game is completely different. You also play as a different dude than in all the other previous AC games in the “real world” so it will probably be its own thing except for little nods to previous games. I’d say to just play at least AC2 before you jump into AC4, though, since it has all the same gameplay (aside from pirate ships) and does a good job of introducing you to the story at large.

      My other advice would be to just not get a new console at launch. Get XCOM: Enemy Within and play that, or A Link Between Worlds when it comes out.

      • Smilner

        I’m getting it at launch so I can be sure to have one for Xmas. 3 kids, and all that. My 10 year old will be delighted to have a console version of Minecraft. I’ll check out AC2 in GameStop. Betcha I can land it for 20.

        • Drinking_with_Skeletons

          It’s a shame the PS4 isn’t backwards compatible (I know, they couldn’t do it without dramatically raising the cost by adding in the six core thing, but whatever) because you could gloss over the unsurprisingly poor launch lineup by getting some PS3 titles to fill the gap.

          • Smilner

            You are 100% right. My PS3 is not going to see mothballs any time in the near future. Hopefully the old 60gb beast can hold out a few years until they manage to up-convert the games and i get the pleasure of paying for all of them again.

            Que sera sera.

          • Drinking_with_Skeletons

            I would absolutely pay for versions of the Assassins Creed games that run well. I think the plots are horribly stupid and far more complicated than they need to be, but the gameplay is great…or would be if I didn’t feel like the machine couldn’t quite handle it. PC gaming spoils you in that department, where tweaking settings and just upgrading yields beautiful performance.

          • Smilner

            Never been able to keep up properly with console gaming – when my desky was state of the art, console was the bastion of FPS, which hasn’t done anything to grab me since Doom II. Now I have three kids, the younger two of which are really grabby with components and wires. Generally speaking, I won’t even get onto a compy anymore unless I’m at work.

    • gfburke

      AC4 is a perfect jumping on point for new players. The previous games are not necessary, but you’ll get some injokes. But there’s no real crucial plot points that aren’t explained. And the tone of AC4 is quite lighthearted for a game that involves stabbing tons of dudes.

    • ComradePig

      From what I understand, AC4 is basically just a great pirate game quasi-shoehorned into the bloated but easy to ignore Assassin’s Creed mythology. So, you should have little trouble diving right in I’d imagine.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

        This is why I’m hoping they break it out of the Assassin’s Creed universe and just call the next one Black Flag II. Consoles need a good series of pirate games!

  • Tyrannorabbit

    “I just like killing things and eating them”.
    Well I’m glad somebody likes doing both.

    • Drinking_with_Skeletons

      I’m just curious what the hell prompted him to say nobody likes Mad Cow Disease. Is this a subtle hint that I’m better off killing and eating parasite-ridden wild animals than any beef from his family’s farm?

      • Enkidum

        I suspect that most game is probably healthier than your average farmed beef, and certainly has a smaller chance of K-J.

        • Drinking_with_Skeletons

          After reading Parasite Rex (which is absolutely fascinating) I don’t really want to eat anything that hasn’t been carefully screened for parasites.

          • NakedSnake

            That sounds like a book I should avoid. I feel like there’s no real benefit to pulling back the curtain on some stuff. I’m better off not knowing.

          • Drinking_with_Skeletons

            Do you own a cat? Because if so there is a good chance you are already being influenced by parasites.

          • NakedSnake

            I don’t, although concern about allowing psychosis-causing parasites into the house may be a contributing factor. I’m more concerned about not knowing the unspeakable horrors that dwell in my belly from too many trips to Africa. People start to tell me their parasite stories and I’m just like “Nope! That never happened to anyone anywhere.”

          • Drinking_with_Skeletons

            Actually, it’s not all bad. Did you know that Crohn’s Disease is almost exclusive to nations that have eliminated tapeworms? Since tapeworms somehow alter the digestive tracts they inhabit to make them less hostile, one evolutionary trick seems to be to just ramp up the acidity. Fine if you have tapeworms, but intestinal-lining-corrosive if you don’t.

            And did you know that blood flukes mate for life and even form same-sex couples? Or that sexual reproduction isn’t just for fun but may actually be an evolutionary response to parasites?

            Man, I need to reread that book.

          • Enkidum

            Hmmm… parasites vs. corn-fed marbling. Probably qualmish health risks?

            Plus venison is delicious.

      • Bakken Hood

        I assume he meant because wild deer are at zero risk of eating each other’s brains. Might not make much difference, but the whole cannibal-cow issue hasn’t left the public imagination since the first Mad Cow scare. As for general health, wild deer are a hell of a lot healthier than ranch cattle that live cheek by jowl, ankle deep in their own and everyone else’s shit.

        • HobbesMkii

          @Enkidum:disqus as well: Elk, deer, and moose can all suffer from a similar form of spongiform encephalopathy (the same sort of thing Mad Cow Disease is) called Chronic wasting disease that’s transmissible between members of a population (you don’t HAVE to eat the brain to get the prion–the misshapen protein–that causes it) and may be transferable to humans.

          I have a family friend who’s a park ranger out in South Dakota whose job includes hunting elk suffering from CWD

          • ProfFarnsworth

            Damn, that would suck getting that disease. As an aside, medical devices are cleaned using ultrasonic cavitation (microbubbles are formed around the device and that makes the device boiling hot) and the prion associated with these diseases is NOT removed by that!

  • Carlton_Hungus

    I know I’ve always had a good time playing these games with friends out at bars. You can get a surprisingly lengthy amount of playtime out of a few bucks.

    These games (outside of megatouch games (and GB’s fruit machines)) were really on the forefront of turning most bars into the Dave & Hipsters Adult Arcade Parlors they’ve become today.

    • Ardney

      I sincerely hope “a few bucks” was a pun attempt.

  • ProfFarnsworth

    This is an interesting article. I am amazed at the diversity and breadth of people who can find enjoyment in this game.

    • Carlton_Hungus

      Interestingly, I would bet it’s enjoyed more by city slickers, frat bros, hipsters, and those generally against the rampant gun ownership than by people who actually hunt.

      I’ve never actually hunted anything but I believe this game would prepare me for the real experience about as well as playing X-Wing v. Tie Fighter would prepare me to be a commercial airline pilot.

    • boardgameguy

      That was my take away, too. All in all, it didn’t seem too different than Donkey Kong tournaments, etc.

  • NakedSnake

    Interesting article! I love these articles that expand the notion of what we think of when we talk about “gaming”. I feel like writing about this stuff was part of the original charter for GLOG, so I’m glad the tendency is still there. Honestly, I feel like these articles will also fit in better with the general AV Club fare in the future, too.

  • https://www.thegamecrafter.com/designers/xyvir-games Xyvir

    I always think to myself “Xyvir, you should go out of your way to go to one of these big conventions or meet-ups sometimes for the heck of it.” But then I realized that what would inevitably happen is I would show up, not talk to anyone, and say to myself: “This is stupid and these people are stupid.” and leave in 10 minutes. This is no real reflection of conventions themselves but on my own insularity and general distaste for social interactions. But even knowing that I still kinda wanna go sometime.

    • NakedSnake

      You got to get a group together to drink and make fun of everyone else (that’s what everyone else is doing, too).

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