Buckmasters celebrates a quarter century of educating and entertaining hunters.
The year 1986 was pretty tame as memorable events go. The tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was the most significant news in a year otherwise known for more frivolous things like learning an entire season of “Dallas” was one of the character’s dreams, along with the humorous flop of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s secret vault live on TV.
Deer hunters, and really the entire hunting industry, realized a significant event that year, although it took a little longer for sportsmen to realize just how important that event was. Of course I’m referring to Jackie Bushman’s launch of Buckmasters, an event that not only started a great company, but also spawned a whole new audience for whitetail hunting.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” Jackie said. “When I first talked to my good friend Ray Scott and some other folks about forming a deer hunting association, they said deer hunting might be too seasonal. But I felt there was a real hunger out there among whitetail hunters. I knew they wanted more information about the deer they hunted, and they wanted to be part of something. Since then, we’ve been able to educate and entertain the deer hunters, and it has been our honor and pleasure to do so.”
Buckmasters didn’t start out as an immediate blockbuster.
Jackie started by selling memberships at outdoors shows on weekends, sometimes sharing booths with other companies to save money. There was no TV show and no Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Back then, Buckmasters members received a newsletter stuffed into issues of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine.
That arrangement worked well until 1987. Then Jackie realized it was time to make a big decision.
“We had to decide what direction we were going with Buckmasters, and in July of 1987, we had an opportunity to put our own magazine on the newsstand,” Jackie said. “Our first issue had the biggest live whitetail photographed to that time, along with an inset of
Bo Jackson with a deer he shot with us. It sold like crazy and put us out there in front of a lot of folks.”
Even that milestone had its drawbacks.
“We really learned some hard lessons in a short amount of time,” Jackie continued. “We didn’t know anything about paper costs, printing and the business side of publishing. We were sending out magazines that cost more to print than it cost for the membership. Finally, we got the magazine staff in place with Russell Thornberry doing editorial and Dockery Austin creating the graphics, and we were off and running.”
But the Buckmasters story doesn’t end there.
Ever the promoter and entertainer, Jackie felt sure deer hunters were ready for a TV show. Calls to ESPN and TNN were met with resounding “No!”s, which only made Jackie try harder.
“I called TNN again and pitched an idea for the Buckmasters Classic, a gathering of stars from various platforms competing in outdoors-related events. They liked the idea, and we filmed the pilot in January of 1988. The show aired in October that year, and TNN executives flew down to Montgomery the next day and wanted to talk about a hunting show. That pilot was the highest-rated show they’d ever had, and it allowed us to introduce deer hunting to television in 1989.”
“Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine” became the first deer hunting show on TV and was one of only a very few hunting shows ever. At the time, the only hunting on TV was Curt Gowdy’s “The American Sportsman” on ABC, which included fishing and a lot of hunting in Africa.
Five years later, “Buckmasters” was such a hit that TNN signed up several more hunting shows to create a sportsmen’s block. The success of that programming has led to several full-time outdoors cable networks with literally hundreds of hunting shows. “Buckmasters” continues as the longest running deer hunting show on TV, and Jackie also hosts “The Jackie Bushman Show,” on which he interviews and shares hunts with some of the hunting industry’s most popular stars.
“I knew deer hunters would eat up a TV show, but I never dreamed hunting on TV would become what it is today,” Jackie said. “Some will argue hunting has become too commercialized, and I agree it’s important to remember the simple joys of hunting with family and friends. Overall, between the TV shows and the magazines, we’ve helped deer hunters become better sportsmen and conservationists. Whitetail hunters today are more knowledgeable than ever before. They not only know how to hunt deer, they also know about deer health and nutrition, and the important role hunters play in managing wildlife.”
Asked if he’s getting tired after 25 years of long months on the road, getting up early and going to bed late, Jackie chuckled, “I’m more energized now than ever. There was a time when I felt the weight of being away so much and missing family activities, but I love doing it more now than I did 20 years ago.
“I think hunters go through different phases. When you first start hunting, it’s about filling tags. Later, you try for a bigger buck, or pick up a bow or muzzleloader to add new challenge to the sport. After that, I think you reach a point where you just love being in the great outdoors, and that’s where I am now.”
His personal hunting passion is as strong as ever, but what about Jackie’s outlook for hunting in general?
“I’m concerned about access,” he said. The little guy is getting pushed out, so we need more public land. You can’t blame the farmers for charging lease fees because they’re going through tough times, but access to quality hunting land is a growing concern.”
That aside, Jackie is enthusiastic about the future.
“The thing that excites me most is all the women getting involved in the sport. Our country is getting to the point where we need more family time, and there’s no better quality time with kids or a spouse than deer hunting. I read somewhere that 80 percent of all animal rights people are women, and to see so many ladies heading to the deer woods is really positive.”
Does that mean he’s ready for another 25 years?
“I’ve got another 40 years in me — I’m like Brett Favre!” Jackie said. “But celebrating 25 years isn’t about me. There are a bunch people who have helped make Buckmasters possible, and we could fill this magazine if we tried to list them all. I’d like to personally thank the fine people who have worked here over the years, and those who have helped in any way. We’ve been blessed to have some talented employees, some of whom have been with us from the beginning. We’ve also had some wonderful sponsors, including seven who have been with us just about the whole 25 years: Yamaha, Tink’s, Easton, LaCrosse, Realtree, Nikon and Federal.
“And the Buckmasters staff is the best there is. They’re the ones who get the work done. Everyone from the camera crews, editorial, office staff and warehouse guys — I like to tell people we don’t have a very deep bench, but we have a heck of a starting squad.
“In the end, it comes down to the members. They’re who we work for, and they’re the real success stories. Our job is to help them enjoy their time afield a little more, to help keep them fired up for their next time out, and to encourage them to pass on the hunting tradition to the next generation. If we can do that, I’m confident Buckmasters will celebrate a 50th anniversary and beyond.”
BUCKMASTERS TIMELINE: Click the image below to enlarge.