Tom McMil­lan’s out­door life.

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Departments - By Julie Mankin

Tom McMil­lan

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.


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