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Jeremy Bahmuller is a regular at the Ice House Sports Bar, but not for the food or the beer.
He comes for “Big Buck Hunter.”
As often as four or five times a week, he is parked in front of the bar's “Big Buck Hunter” arcade game — one of just a few high-definition versions of the game in town — plastic gun in hand, taking aim at virtual bucks, moose and safari animals, as well as the occasional bear, bobcat or raccoon.
The object of the game is to shoot all three bucks that dart across the screen during each round, while avoiding the does. Trophy animals, such as bobcats, and critters like beavers, skunks and possums, add extra points.
Bahmuller is good at this. So good that he has all the high scores at the Ice House, 10920 Emmet St., as well as at his other favorite hangout, Tanner's Bar and Grill, 15505 Ruggles St.
But his skill at “Big Buck Hunter” extends far beyond high scores at a couple of Omaha bars.
Over the past half-decade, Bahmuller, a 27-year-old software engineer, has become one of the top “Big Buck Hunter” players in the world. Friday and Saturday, he will join 63 other top players in New York City to vie for the “Big Buck Hunter” world title and its $15,000 grand prize.
He qualified from a pool of 600 players who competed in online regional tournaments in September and October, said Madeline Fex, a spokeswoman for the national tournament, in an email. He is the only player from Nebraskan or Iowa to qualify for this year's tournament.
Bahmuller picked up his first gun — a BB gun — as a Cub Scout when he was growing up in South Dakota. He took to it right away.
“I used to just sit in my yard shooting my BB gun when I was growing up,” he said. “It just never got old for some reason.”
Soon after, he was hunting pheasants and shooting at targets. Sometimes, he would smash a fly onto the target and wait for other flies to feed on it. Then he'd shoot the live ones.
“I didn't miss very often,” he said.
It was in college, though, that he discovered “Big Buck Hunter.”
He and his friends at Dakota State University, in Madison, S.D., would gather at bars and play all night. All had grown up hunting and all were fairly good shots. But for Bahmuller, who is also a bit of a gamer, the combination of shooting sport and video game was especially good. He usually won the friendly competitions.
After college, he moved to Omaha and started playing the arcade game online. He played against other Big Buck Hunters from across the country — including players from Minnesota and Wisconsin, where “Big Buck Hunter” competition is particularly stiff. He won some online tournaments, and in 2010 qualified for the world championships. Last year, he qualified again, and ended up in 9th place overall.
This year, he goes into the competition the No. 2 seed in the West region.
In the off-season, Bahmuller figures he only plays two or three nights a week. But come tournament time, his training intensifies. Right now, he guesses he spends four or five nights a week at the Ice House or Tanner's, practicing his shot and racking up high scores, which he tracks by swiping a credit card-sized player card before each game.
Bahmuller said he gets some weird looks when he's intensely playing “Big Buck Hunter” in the middle of the afternoon. At the Ice House, the other regulars and the staff thought of him as “that 'Big Buck Hunter' guy” before they realized he was more than a fanatical player.
“When he came in, we just thought the guy was good at 'Buck Hunt,'” said Ice House manager Tony Cabrera.
Eventually, the staff learned that for Bahmuller, the game is more than a hobby. They'll be rooting for him this weekend, Cabrera said.
“We feel proud that he's representing Ice House that way,” he said. “He's really good, and he uses our facility and our game to practice, which gets us on the map, too.”
Bahmuller said his friends and family, including his wife, give him a little bit of grief. But for the most part, they're supportive. Bahmuller's wife will attend the tournament too as his one-woman cheering squad.
They have reason to be supportive. For Bahmuller, “Big Buck Hunter” is sort of a part-time job. Between the world championships and monthly online tournaments, he made about $7,000 last year, though he estimates he spent around $2,000 on online entry fees and feeding games at the Ice House and Tanners.
“There was a pretty good return on my investment,” he said.
In that way, it's better than actual deer hunting, Bahmuller said — something he's never actually done.
“It's a lot more expensive to actually hunt,” he said, “where this I can do year-round.”
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