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Nation's Top 'Big Buck Hunters' Head to Wicker Park for Tournament

By Alisa Hauser | November 5, 2013 9:21am
 Chop Shop's 1st Ward event space will host the 2013 Big Buck Hunter Championship Friday and Saturday.
Big Buck Hunter Championship 2013
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WICKER PARK —  Though Illinois deer hunting season has yet to begin, if you spot folks dressed in camouflage and bright orange wandering around Wicker Park this weekend, don't be alarmed. 

It's just the Big Buck World Championship, and, according to two-time ladies champion Sara Erlandson, "It's no joke."

Players of the arcade game Big Buck Hunter include "Brooklyn hipsters and fashionistas and true Midwest hunters," according to the pre-tourney hype. And on Friday they will be flocking en masse to Wicker Park's Chop Shop at 2033 W. North Ave. to compete for more than $63,000 in prize money over the weekend.

Erlandson, 30, said she's "excited and anxious" about the upcoming tournament, where players will compete on eight Big Buck Hunter game machines.

Big Buck Hunter Championship Video
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Big Buck Hunter

Erlandson began playing the hunting arcade game about five years ago when she and her husband, Jerad Erlandson, bought Big Buck Hunter for a bar they own in Beldenville, Wis.

Erlandson — who refers to her small unincorporated town as "Minneapolis/St. Paul, Wis.," due to its proximity to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border — is among 64 arcade snipers (32 men; 32 women) who qualified for the world championship after five weeks of semifinals that concluded Oct. 13.

The grand prize winner will take home $15,000 and "the highly sought-after moonshine jug trophy," according to tournament spokeswoman Lily Homstad.

Homstad said tournament winners from the previous three years will return to the competition, along with "a pretty entertaining group of siblings from Detroit that will be making their fifth championship appearance."

In a 2012 YouTube interview just after winning her second consecutive ladies championship (and placing fourth in the coed World Championship), Erlandson said she planned to put the oversized $5,000 winner's check on the ceiling of her bar, next to her first winner's check. Her husband placed 16th in the 2012 World Championship.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Big Buck Hunter is a hunting arcade game found in dive bars like Tuman's Tap at 2159 W. Chicago Ave. in Ukrainian Village or The Other Side Bar at 2436 N. Clark St. in Lincoln Park.

To prepare for the tournament, Erlandson has been playing Big Buck Hunter for "about 30 to 40 hours each week" and is often joined by four other women who work for her and will be competing in the ladies tournament.

Despite her sharpshooting on the arcade game screen, Erlandson limits her deer slaying to the virtual world.

"We might go coon or squirrel hunting, but not deer hunting, because it's too boring, not enough action. It's a lot warmer in the bar shooting virtual animals," Erlandson said.

Though Erlandson said she's never been to Wicker Park, she toured Wrigleyville in 2011 when she won the Ladies Championship at the Cubby Bear.

The Erlandsons will be traveling with a group of 12 supporters, including their parents, and staying at a Best Western in River North for the weekend.

"The group I'm bringing are not city people," Erlandson said.

The sixth annual Big Buck Hunter World Championship weekend kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday at Chop Shop's 1st Ward event space, 2033 W. North Ave.  An opening night party will include the Ladies Championship tournament from 7 to 11 p.m.  On Saturday the coed championship will run from 2 to 7 p.m. All times are approximate.  Admission is free.

At the end of the tournament, about 8 p.m. Saturday, players and fans will be bused to Emporium Arcade Bar at 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.