Rogelio "RJ" Anguiano at the Big Buck World Championship | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist

The Hunting Party: Two Wild Days in Vegas at the 'Big Buck Hunter' Championships

Published On 12/22/2017
T he first time I killed a deer, I cut out its heart and bit into it while it was still warm. I was 12 years old. The deer, too, was a child, thin with tiny antlers. I felled it with a .30-06, my dad’s gun, which he passed over to me upon spotting the deer across the clearing. I took aim and shot it in the neck. As we stood over its lifeless body, my psychotic uncle put his fingers in the dead deer's blood and smeared it on my cheeks like war paint. He then told me to cut out the heart and take a bite. That was the tradition, he said. After I bit into it, blood running down my chin, he told me I was a real hunter now. It was first and the last deer I ever killed.
The reigning Ladies' Tournament champ taking aim at an elk | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Kylie Hodsdon competing for the Ladies' Championship title | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Kylie Hodsdon's custom "deer-and-shotguns" denim vest | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
RJ Anguiano, of Seattle, and Sean Chadwick, from Australia, in the championship match | Mikayla Whitmore / Thrillist
G eorge Petro would agree that there isn’t much of a correlation between hunting and shooting skills in the real world and in Big Buck Hunter. “It’s not really a hunting game,” he explains. The 52-year-old president of the Chicago video-game design company Play Mechanix worked his way up the ladder of the video-game industry starting as a teenager working in a family friend’s arcade in the 1970s. He parlayed that job and his enthusiasm for the tech behind the games into a summer job at Williams Electronics, where he first met the legendary arcade-game designer Eugene Jarvis. Jarvis, who co-created the coin-op classics Defender, Stargate, and Robotron: 2084, would mentor Petro and, after Williams merged into Midway Games, the two teamed up to produce the highly controversial but successful arcade shooter NARC. Petro also worked on the '90s hits Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. (He's even a secret unlockable character you can play as in NBA Jam.) In the mid-'90s, Petro correctly intuited that Midway planned to move away from the arcade business, so he left to start Play Mechanix so he could continue to develop arcade games.
Sean Chadwick, left, and RJ Anguiano compete for the title | Mikayla Whitmore / Thrillist
The trophy display at the Big Buck World Championship | Mikayla Whitmore / Thrillist
A memorial for Las Vegas shooting victims | Courtesy of Mikayla Whitmore
T he blocks around the site of the massacre were guarded by police 24/7. Across the Strip at the entrance to the Mandalay Bay, visitors had created a makeshift memorial to the victims. Scattered around the ornate entrance gate were candles, cards, notes, photographs. There were clothes draped on shrubs -- a British football club jersey, a Polish police hat, a sock with the word "love" stitched in it. From a hundred yards, it looked like rubbish. Up close, it looked like the frantic expression of confused and heartbroken people. Curiously, those people weren’t just Las Vegans. They weren’t even just Americans. They were from all over the world, so moved by the tragedy they stripped off their socks and shirts and left them behind in a strange and loving gesture of grief.
The 58 white crosses, one for each victim of the massacre | Courtesy of Mikayla Whitmore
Retail display in an electronics store for the release of "Grand Theft Auto V" in 2013 | Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
J eremy Mattheis is a 32-year-old video editor in Los Angeles. Since 2014 he has been uploading videos to YouTube of himself playing the game Grand Theft Auto, an expansive sandbox multiplayer game where players commit crimes to earn money and prestige in a virtual Los Angeles underworld. The game is so violent it has been banned in some countries, condemned by governments, and has been officially called the most controversial video game of all time by the Guinness World Records. The publisher, Rockstar Games, has been sued multiple times by families of victims of violent crimes who claim the game inspired the attackers. The game involves murder, torture, sex and prostitution, drug use and drug dealing. It’s also the fourth-best-selling video game series of all time, with over a quarter of a billion units sold. Mattheis loves it. He’s logged over 150 hours on Steam (not counting the hours he’s spent playing on his home Xbox), many of which have been recorded and uploaded with commentary for his YouTube subscribers. The interesting thing about Mattheis, though, is that he chooses to play Grand Theft Auto without committing any crimes or hurting anyone. He plays as a pacifist.
Final episode of "Grand Theft Auto Pacifist," a YouTube show created by video editor Jeremy Mattheis | GoldVision/YouTube
Kylie Hodsdon clutching her Ladies' Championship trophy | Mikayla Whitmore / Thrillist
A s Day 2 of the tournament got underway, Kylie Hodsdon took her place at a table near the main stage. The night before, she'd won the Ladies' Championship title. She had entered the World Championship as well, but had been eliminated and finished in 61st place. It was hard for her to be disappointed. She had earned not just the $5,000 for winning the Ladies' Championship and the $150 just for playing in the World Championship, she'd won $900 on a slot machine as well. From here on out she was committed to having a good time and cheering on her ex-husband, Ryan Hodsdon, who was also in the tournament and kicking ass.
A celebratory scrum moments after RJ Anguiano's win | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
Decorative deer adorning Big Buck HD Wild cabinets | Mikayla Whitmore/Thrillist
T he day after the Big Buck World Championship, I went to a shooting range in Las Vegas to shoot a 12-gauge shotgun. I hadn’t shot one since I was 8 years old, when my father decided I was finally old enough to learn to shoot and accompany him in the deer woods. Why he chose such a massive and powerful weapon for such a young child is beyond me. My father didn’t always make the best choices, though he often meant well. Looking back on it now as a father myself, I can understand the urge to rush our children into sharing our passions. But when I stood out in that field and tried my damndest to hold that 12-gauge up straight with my little arms, even at that young age I knew it was a bad idea. I couldn’t even rack the shell into the chamber without help. The kickback from the blast sent me flying across the field and landed me flat on my back. The bruise that engulfed my whole shoulder lingered for weeks. My uncle, the one who later encouraged me to eat the heart, suggested my father try a .22.
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