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A big bucks lifestyle: Warrenton’s Hanback hosts TV hunting show

Like millions of Americans, Mike Hanback loves hunting deer.

Unlike millions of Americans, he takes a cameraman with him.

The results can be compelling theater, and the “ultimate reality show,” as Hanback calls it.

Hanback is host of a new outdoor TV series called “Big Deer with Mike Hanback,” which appears on the Sportsman Channel.

While the show is a lot different then, say, ABC's "The Bachelorette," Hanback shares one similarity as he selects and hunts his prey, which in his case are some of the biggest and most majestic white-tailed deer in North America.

Hanback is a Warrenton boy, born, raised and still residing here (“I was born off Meetz Road and now live off Lees Ridge Road”) who has made a career out of his love of the outdoors life.

The 1975 Fauquier High product began hunting when he was 5 years old. After graduating from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., he began pursuing his interest in the outdoors working as a writer and editor as he focused on his passion for big deer.

He was formerly the Whitetail Deer Editor at Outdoor Life magazine. This is the third deer hunting TV show he’s been a part of.

Hanback calls the white-tailed deer one of the world's "most mysterious, beautiful creatures" and says it's a privilege to spend time with them in their habitat. He says hunting them isn’t easy. “They are elusive. They smell great, they see great,” Hanback said. “It can be a miracle to get a big one on camera,” Hanback said.

His series on Sportsman Channel recently began its 10-episode run. Depending on your cable system his show can be viewed at the following channels, according to Sportsman Channel reps: Comcast (Channel #736), Direct TV (Channel #285 HD) and DISH (Channel #395).

Tune in and you'll see Hanback whispering into a microphone as he stalks some massive specimens during an intense three-month schedule from October through December when most episodes are filmed.

Locations can be anywhere in North America.

Sometimes he flies to his locations, often he can drive. One episode was filmed in Fauquier County.

While each episode can encompass up to six days of filming, it's a lean production crew.

Hanback takes out just one cameraman, Danny Dodge, who is based out of Denver. He takes two rifles or bows with him on every hunting trip.

Hanback says the purpose of his show isn't about bagging a multi-rack deer as big as King Kong (although that aspect gives him goose bumps). “It’s all about the experience of hunting with people I respect and seeing amazing animals.

“Big deer encompasses a lot of things. It's the destination to the journey," he said.

Every show is similar, yet different. Viewers are invited to join in the stealth aspect as deer are located and stalked. Shots are sometimes fired early in the show, he said, and big deer are not always captured on camera.

"We do as much pre-scouting as we can, but there's never a guarantee we'll get one," he said.

Hanback attempts to make every show compelling by embodying elements of the chase.

Hanback says he also tries to educate viewers about hunting and animal habits. "There are a lot of egos in outdoor TV. I try to keep it light, I'm not cocky. I'm not trying to say I'm a better hunter than you are," he said.

Hanback has a lot of say in his show, though. He owns it, funding it with support from the Sportsman Channel. He estimates each episode costs about $15,000 or more. From about 20 hours of footage comes a 22-minute program.

Compared to fishing shows, hunting programming can employ more engaging and varied terrain, which makes them more visually entertaining and popular, according to Hanback..

Hanback's locations are literally all over the map. White-tailed deer are most common east of the Rocky Mountains, but are prevalent in southeastern British Columbia, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. They are also increasingly suburban, and Hanback has filmed shows in Maine and, as noted, the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in Fauquier.

Adult white-tail males, called bucks, can weigh 300 pounds.

Because of their physical prowess deer are a challenge to bring down. They can bound at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour through tangled terrain in a forest, jump almost nine feet high, and 33 feet in length. White-tails are the most nervous and shy of deer species.

For Hanback, an experienced hunter for 40-plus years, the thrill never gets old, nor does his appreciation for America's most popular large game animal (there are an estimated 30 million in the U.S.)

"These animals will always be at the center of who I am," he said.

THE MIKE HANBACK FILE

-Family: Wife Pat is a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, sons Clay and Emery are former Highland School graduates. Clay is in graduate school at Wayne State and Emery is a sophomore at Mercer University.
-Favorite places to hunt deer in Virginia: Fauquier County, Rappahannock County, Loudoun County.
-Favorite deer rifle: Remington Model 700. Says .270 and 30-06 are his favorite deer calibers.
-Favorite camouflage: Cabela's Outfitter.
-Bow brands of choice: Bowtech, Hoyt
-Biggest deer ever caught: "In 2010 I shot a Canadian buck with a rack that scored 209 inches. A rack that scores 200 is the Holy Grail for whitetail hunters. I never thought I'd ever shoot a buck this big. I just got lucky. Most people hunt their entire lives and never see a deer anywhere near this big. I remember the first glimpse of that buck coming through the trees. His body and rack were so big he looked like another species of deer. It was surreal."
-The moment of truth: "Right before I take a shot at a deer, it's an adrenaline rush. I have learned over the years to take deep breaths to stay calm, and to think about nothing but making a clean, ethical shot. After I shoot a deer, then I often get the Buck Fever shakes because all that pent-up energy and excitement comes rushing out. People tell me they like seeing that raw emotion on the show. "
-The anti-hunting lobby: Hanback says he understands those Americans that don’t support hunting: “I don’t argue with them, I respect their opinion. I do what I feel is right, and am proud of what I do as an American sportsman.”
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