Are You The Next Big
Buck Hunter? Are You The Next Big Buck Hunter?

You’ve heard about people sourcing their own food, but you’re not ready to take the plunge and be a bowhunter. Some good news: You can try it from the comfort of your favorite arcade, wing place or – if you’re “of age” – happy-hour spot. Sort of.

Game developer Play Mechanix released the coin-operated “Big Buck Hunter” arcade game in 2000. Since then, the classic console has received many updates, including new animals, hunting scenes, multi-player options, tournament-style gaming, and social media and web integration. Play Mechanix also revamped the retro coin-play machine to accommodate credit, debit and gift cards. Not hooked yet? Two words: zombie mode. Welcome to the new age of arcade gaming!

The gist is simple: Swipe your card, and grab the plastic pump-action gun to play. Although the game limits participants to gun-hunts only (no bows and arrows yet), the high-definition graphics and lifelike hunt-camp scenes cause excitement and adrenaline spikes, almost as if you’re staring down a real deer from a ground blind or tree stand. No experience required! But you’re only a short leap from dominating at “Big Buck Hunter” to sourcing your own wild meat like actor Chris Pratt.

Even celebrities Jamie Dornan and Josh Dallas (“Once Upon a Time”) occasionally enjoy a Big Buck hunt. Think his on- and off-screen sweetie Ginnifer Goodwin (OUAT’s bow-wielding Snow White) gave him archery instruction?

Season 1 cast outing with some video game play! @jenmorrisonlive @jamiedornan #buckhunter #ouat100

A photo posted by Josh Dallas Offical Instagram (@joshuadallas) on

“I’m not a hunter,” admitted Adam Pratt in his review. “Fishing is the closest I have got. Or maybe very occasional target shooting, but the series proved to me that you don’t have to be a hunting enthusiast to enjoy the game.”

And you don’t have to be a hunting enthusiast to walk away with huge payouts, either.

New York-based television producer Alex DerHohannesian began playing “Big Buck Hunter” in 2006 to let off steam after work. “I’ve never really hunted before,” DerHohannesian told the New York Times. “I shot a squirrel once for Pioneer Day in middle school.”

Other than that, his expertise lies in television production. But it was “game on” when Play Mechanix introduced a regional and national tournament structure in 2008. He snagged the 2010 Big Buck Championship grand prize, and walked away from Chicago with $10,000. Outside of World Championship mode, players can win $1 to $35.

Wonder how much X-Games champion Travis Pastrana won for his eighth-place finish?

“Big Buck Hunter” has been surging in popularity. So much so that the New York Times and NBC News took notice.

Wired correspondent Matt Gallagher set out to learn the attraction for urban millennials who topped the leader board, and detailed the path to his own “Big Buck Hunter” addiction:

“‘Big Buck Hunter’ is a subculture of strange earnestness and earnest strangeness. There are rivalries. There is sorrow and joy. Above all else, there is isolation. A game of patterns and of instinct, it preys on the mind the way any pure obsession does. Every shot brings potential glory. Every shot brings potential ruin. You can’t win, even when you do, because you could always have shot better.”

Gallagher says it’s easy to play passably, but being good is hard. The light-gun controller requires players to use their fine-motor skills to aim at just the right spot. Aim off, and you lose points. Shoot off-limits animals – like a doe or other female animals – and it’s game over.

Opportunities to shoot are limited, just like in real hunting. Each scene presents three chances to shoot three animals. Hit all three to earn maximum points. With that said, you must be “at the ready” at all times. You never know when an antlered elk, deer, moose or other exotic animal will cross the screen amid the stampede of virtual animals. Unless, of course, you play enough to memorize the patterns.

“Patterns are key,” Gallagher shared with Wired readers. “Bucks appear in specific places at specific times.” True for both Big Buck Hunter and real-life scenarios.

Gallagher said knowing “game” patterns (Get it? Wild game within a game?) requires practice, time and money. “But my friends and I are young. We can find time and money,” he joked.

Friday nights are better with Big Buck! #TGIF #triplebull #BuckHunter #Friday @marypeeetro

A photo posted by Big Buck Hunter (@bigbuckhunter) on

Knowing patterns is important in reality, too. Hunters sometimes place game cameras on their hunting lands. The cameras detect movement and photograph passing animals. The hunter then knows where deer are most likely to travel. Other hunters rely on finding hoofprints, scrapes (where deer scrape their hoofs to expose patches of ground), rubs (where bucks rub and strip bark from saplings and small trees) and other, eh, smellier signs. If a deer poops in the woods

Once you know where to find deer – in the woods and in Big Buck Hunter – you need fine motor skills to hit your target.

In the gaming scenario, you carefully aim your plastic pump-action (called such because you physically pump the gun’s lower chamber to load ammo). In the bowhunting scenario, you set your stance, draw your bow to you anchor point, aim and release your arrow. Both scenarios require focus, and unique sets of muscle movements to ensure the shot strikes the right spot. Players earn points for hitting the virtual animal in the right spot, much like scoring traditional or 3-D targets.

The attraction is clear: “Big Buck Hunter” provides life-like shooting scenarios in high-definition video set to a soft country/rock track that gets stuck in your head faster than you can say “big buck down.”

The web and social integration enhance the game’s intrigue, letting you create an online account to pick up where you left off, or challenge friends and “virtual” strangers to a Big Buck duel. Plus the bonus zombie mode allows you to channel “Walking Dead” crossbow king Daryl Dixon.

If you’re new to bowhunting or could see yourself trying it one day, it’s a great way to practice identifying animals, learn male and female markings, and sharpen your brain by memorizing game patterns. It’s only a short leap from dominating at “Big Buck Hunter” to bowhunting and sourcing your own wild meat.

Game on! Find a “Big Buck Hunter” near you, or visit your local archery store to try archery.

Find a store near you.