MY OTHER GIG
Tom McMillan’s outdoor life.
When Blake Shelton tagged along to Texas this fall with the host of “McMillan,” a hunting show on The Sportsman Channel, the country-music star wasn’t even hunting. He was out there just manning a camera, getting chigger bites like his friend Tom McMillan.
The two became buddies some 15 years ago when Shelton was first a client of McMillan’s. Since then, they’ve hunted everything from elk to alligators, from Alaska to Kansas and everywhere in between.
“Last year, Blake showed up with only two days to hunt,” said McMillan, who owns and operates McMillan Outfitting on an 8,000-acre spread in west-central
Kansas. “He got a 145-inch, eight-point whitetail buck with his bow the second evening. He’s a pretty good hunter, even though he acts like a big goofball.”
Shelton’s passion for the outdoors is much like McMillan’s passion for team roping. The latter is one of few TV hunting hosts who sports a cowboy hat and trophy buckle-—and who often has such high-profile clients. Plus, his roping boxes are literally 30 feet from the front door of his hunting lodge.
“Team roping and hunting kind of go hand in hand,” said the 5-Elite heeler. “Any true hunter still cares about the well-being of animals, even though they’re being harvested. I know a lot of ropers who don’t hunt but are always asking me questions about the hunting business. I’ve often seen a correlation between the two.”
McMillan had his own Angus herd through high school and college (he went to Dodge City Community College on a rodeo scholarship), and calved a lot of heifers as a day job.
“Being in the middle of Kansas, you have to try 10 different things and two might work,” said Tom, who has also worked as a farrier, carpenter and farmer. He sold his cattle in 2000 to start outfitting and is currently filming Season 7 of “McMillan.”
The show is popular because McMillan himself is entertaining—and so many of his high-profile clients are characters, as well. When “McMillan’s” original network, GAC, wanted to put the show on hiatus for a year, “the horse trader” in McMillan shopped it to The Sportsman Channel, which airs it with sponsors that include Peak Antifreeze & Coolant, Ruger firearms, B&W Trailer Hitches, Real Tree camouflage, and Yeti coolers, among others.
Most episodes are filmed during whitetail season at McMillan’s place, while others follow him as he hunts hogs in Oklahoma, antelope in Colorado or elk in west Texas, for instance. McMillan originally thought he was just adding cameras to his hunts, but soon discovered that delivering episodes is a year-round job.
And “McMillan” has evolved into more than hunting. It’s a lifestyle show with McMillan as an outfitter, rancher, roper and family man.
“I feel like I’m part of two families—the hunting indus-
try family and the team-roping industry family—and that’s what we try to bring across in the show,” McMillan said. “We’re not just one-dimensional people. Whether you rope or golf or fish or hunt, people are deeply connected.”
Team roping he said, has been in his blood since he was “chute help” as a kid.
“My dad put on ropings,” he recalled. “Our place was one of only two places to rope in Kansas back then. People would drive for hours to come to a little Sunday jackpot at our house to rope muleys. That goes back to the days when they were strapping plastic horns on cross-bred Hereford calves.”
Every hunting season, McMillan pulls the shoes off his rope horses and turns them out. That means he rarely can go to the USTRC National Finals or WSTR Finale. Still, he’s partial to USTRC ropings (Jeff Smith does a great job, he thinks), and he loves going down to the Lazy E for ropings, while nearby Dodge City has been hosting more World Series ropings of late.
What McMillan most enjoys, however, is training rope horses, both to ride and sell. He puts plenty of time in behind a four-wheeler and a heeling dummy, and his wife, Jacque, a full-time accountant at a feedyard conglomerate, also ropes when she has time.
“It’s such a gratifying sport,” Tom said. “When you get better at it and reach a personal best or get on a good horse, it’s so gratifying. For me, it’s almost therapy at times. There are certain times when I have to step away from my other jobs, just get them off my mind. Team roping is a release. And I love seeing young horses progress and mature. It just gets in your blood.”
The McMillans added another occupation four years ago when their son, Gatlin, was born.
“I thought it was important for him to grow up with cattle,” Tom said. “You learn about life and death and business and trials and tribulations.... The cattle need to be fed even if you don’t feel like it; even if it’s Christmas morning.”
So Tom invested in a Corriente cow herd, and he’s often tagging calves or getting ready to sell them with little Gatlin in tow. In addition, the hunting and roping at the ranch expose his son to characters from all walks of life.
“The diversity in team roping is something you don’t see in any other sport,” Tom said. “You meet great people. And whether they’re old or young, male or female, handicapped or able-bodied, team roping brought them together.”
If you don’t enter ropings in the Midwest, you can catch McMillan on television stalking a big trophy, tending the Corriente herd or watching Gatlin swing a rope. The show airs every Tuesday at 9 p.m. (Eastern) on The Sportsman Channel. McMillan can also be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @TMKansas.
"I FEEL LIKE I'M PART OF TWO FAMILIES- THE HUNTING-INDUSTRY FAMILY AND THE TEAM-ROPING INDUSTRY FAMILY." -TOM MCMILLAN