The night I met up with RJ Anguiano at Shorty’s in Belltown, it was Halloween and he was decked out in shaggy-green hunting camo, which gave him a nice Sasquatchian appeal for the holiday. But it wasn’t Halloween he was dressed up for. It was the wild game.
After ordering up a pint, he un-holstered a plastic rifle and began blasting away at ungulate avatars as they dashed across a screen. He hit an astonishing number of them, on some levels recording a “clean out,” which means that everything he could have shot and killed, he did. The performance is not surprising: Seattle’s Anguiano is the 5th ranked Big Buck Hunter in the world, and will compete for title of world champion this weekend in Chicago.
For those who haven’t set foot into a bar in the last 10 years, Big Buck Hunter is sort of a Duck Hunt on steroids (and if you don’t know what Duck Hunt is, then this article probably isn’t for you). You select a species to go hunting for, and then do you best to hit as many as you can, careful to not hit a female, which automatically disqualifies you for that round. To keep your attention, human females dressed up in safari outfits specially designed to emphasize legs and breasts get a lot of screen time.
Despite the game’s long tenure in bars across America, our local champ hadn’t picked up the wand to his current success until about a year and a half ago, he said between Big Buck matches. Anguiano had been coming to Shorty’s to play pinball, the game that dominates the back of the bar. But then, on a whim, he picked up a rifle.
“R.J. Gets obsessed about things,” his girlfriend, Kelly, understated to me. For a while it was playing chess by text message. Then it was pinball.
Shortly after getting a feel for the game, the Virginia Mason nurse began saving up to buy a Big Buck Hunter console for his house in Columbia City, to the tune of $5,000. R.J. got to buy the game if Kelly got a puppy. They struck a deal, and now have a very cute English bulldog at home. Once the game was secured, Anguiano video taped all the levels, so he could memorize where each of his targets comes from on screen on any given round. He works three 12-hour days a week, and doesn’t play on work days. But the remainder of each week sees a couple hours of practice a day.
The sum is a brutally efficient player whose gun is being trained on the targeted animals before they are even in view.
He has his rituals. If he kills a doe, he puts the gun down. “I feel like it’s kind of a karma thing,” he said. He’s never hustled anyone, though he ruefully remembers the time one cocky fellow at Hooverville tried to get him to bet $1,000 on a game. “I said, ‘Dude, I can’t do that,’ and bet him a pitcher instead.”
He competed nationally the first time last year and came in a disappointing 40th. He’s gotten much better, he said, and thinks he has a real chance to win this year. He secured his high ranking after coming into Shorty’s early one Sunday morning and playing his brains out for two hours. He buys shoes based on their ability to keep him comfortable standing on concrete for hours on end.
If he does come in first place this weekend, he said he’s going to quit playing the game and use some of his prize money (there’s a $15,000 purse) to buy a Golden Tee console, which simulates a golf game. In other words, he’s plotting his next obsession even while his current one is still running its course.
Seattle’s not the type of place you’d expect to produce a standout Big Buck player. Indeed, Anguiano said most of the top-ranked players come from areas of the country where the men are men and the whitetails are scared: Minnesota, Wisconsin and the like. He, on the other hand, is true to his Seattle blue.
Asked if he hunted in real life, the fully camoed Anguiano replied: “I could never kill an animal.”