Swing open the door to Tom McMillan’s Rut Hut and you’ll get a good idea why he has such a passion for Kansas deer hunting.
Full-body mounts of two bucks fighting dominate the room. But everywhere you look, there are head mounts with big antlers — the racks that he and others have taken in central Kansas.
Indeed, the clubhouse for McMillan Outfitting looks like a museum showcasing Kansas deer hunting.
“I’ve shot eight bucks that would break the minimum for Boone and Crockett (which keeps big-game records), but I never registered them,” McMillan said as he sat in his man cave. “To me, trophy is a relative term.
“The score of the deer’s antlers isn’t what motivates me. It’s the challenge of hunting that specific animal that I have set my sights on.”
For most of his 42 years, McMillan has been intrigued with hunting those trophy whitetails. He took it for granted at first. When you grow up with big deer right out your back door, you tend to wonder, “What’s the big deal?” as he put it.
But as word of Kansas premier deer hunting spread, McMillan realized that he was living in paradise.
“Years ago, I don’t think we even knew how good we had it,” McMillan said. “I grew up right when the big boom was taking off, and we were used to seeing big deer.
“It wasn’t until I started seeing all these television shows, videos and magazine articles about our deer hunting did I realize what we had here.”
McMillan knows now. He has been an outfitter and guide for 14 years, attracting business from across the nation. He even has his own television show, “Meet the McMillans,” which chronicles juggling running a hunting business with a family life.
Factor in tending to the needs of a young son, Gattlin, and spending time with his wife, Jacque, who also is an avid hunter, and life can get hectic at times.
But McMillan wouldn’t have it any other way. Living in the heart of Kansas deer country is a dream for him.
“We have the perfect storm here,” McMillan said of central Kansas. “We have low hunting pressure, great genetics in our deer and a smorgasbord of food. Wheat, soybeans, corn, milo, alfalfa — the deer don’t go hungry.
“The deer out here have timber. But one of the biggest factors in helping the deer population explode is all the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates farmers for idling marginal land and leaving it in wildlife cover such as grasslands).
“If you gave me the choice of having 95 percent of your land in CRP and 5 percent in timber or the opposite, I’d take the CRP every time.”
McMillan was brought up in the “dirt roads” part of Kansas. His dad has always run a cattle business and McMillan became close to that land at an early age.
“We would go out and find huge shed antlers, but it wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said. “Now people would go crazy over some of the sheds we find.”
McMillan tagged along with his dad on hunts during the Kansas rifle season, and watched him take some huge bucks. But even at that age, McMillan desired a closer encounter with the deer he was hunting. That’s why he turned to bow hunting.
He got his first bow when he was only 10. But he couldn’t hunt until he was 14. That first year, the bow season opened Oct. 1, and McMillan was hunting every afternoon after school.
He thought shooting his first buck would be easy. But it turned out to be far more of a challenge than he imagined.
“It took me until Nov.1 to shoot my first buck,” he said. “It was a 9-pointer, I still have the photo of me, my dad and the buck.”
After that “adrenaline rush” as McMillan put it, he became an avid bow hunter. As for his vocation, he tried everything from the cattle business to horse-shoeing to training roping horses. But after he started taking friends deer hunting and found success at it, he considered guiding for a living.
“I knew I had to lease up some good land, then get the hunters to come out,” he said. “I figured I needed six or seven hunters. I ended getting 33. And the majority of them took deer.”
Eventually, a hunter with a television show contacted McMillan when he needed a place to take country music stars Blake Shelton, Craig Morgan and Andy Griggs hunting.
“It went great,” McMillan said. “They all shot the biggest deer of their lives, and it was caught on film.”
That hunt got McMillan national publicity, and he eventually he landed a series on the Sportsman Channel.
Today, McMillan, his wife Jacque and his son Gattlin live in the country in Stafford County, not far from the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and not far from big deer.
“I have a great life,” he said. “It can get hectic at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
On the air
“Meet the McMillans” is seen on the Sportsman Channel. Its last new episode will air at 7:30 p.m. Central on Nov. 27. Then it will be seen nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1-5 on a marathon run.