Stafford County, Kansas is an area that is blessed with a good mixture of whitetail genetics and abundant food, thanks to all of the agriculture in the region, plus a lot of cover. Other parts of Kansas are primarily ag dominated and the land that's left over is often short native grass pastures that are good for cattle grazing, but not the best when it comes to cover for whitetails. The mix of food, cover and great genetics in his area of the state make for excellent hunting. The 2020 hunting and guiding season was great, Tom says and many of those hunts will be showcased on new episodes coming up for Season 9 of "MCMILLIAN" on Outdoor Channel this year.
One of the many challenges of being an outfitter is not being able to control the success of a hunter, even if you are able to put them on the animal they are after. Missed shots or poorly placed shots happen from time to time and Tom says that it can be frustrating in a couple of different ways. The first reason is that missed shots or bad shots aren't great optics from the business perspective of his outfitting business. However, the second part of that frustration is rooted in concern or care for the client. As the outfitter or guide, you know what that hunter just cost themself, he says. When someone books a hunt with an outfitter, they put down a deposit, they wait a year or more for the opportunity to hunt and when the opportunity is finally at hand, blowing that chance can mean they don't get another one. A hunter may think, well I missed the shot on a great buck this morning, but I'll make the next one this afternoon. The reality is, Tom says, that you often don't get a second great opportunity. Shot opportunities are not guaranteed, especially when you are hunting with an outfitter like McMillan whose operation is 100% fair chase and no high fences. It's real work, real hunting and you don't get easy opportunities handed to you, no matter how hard you work, he says. You have to be able to capitalize on shots when they present themselves the first time. The state of Kansas has done a great job of promoting its hunting and that hunting speaks for itself, Tom says. People across the country will watch shows and read articles about the hunting in the Sunflower State and get the idea in their head that there are 170-inch bucks behind every tree, however that's not how it works. When you get out there, for some weird reason the deer don't want to die, Tom jokes. The deer get smart to people and hunters have to be prepared before they show up for a hunt and be able to make the most of shot opportunities. Some hunters can attribute a missed shot or poorly placed shot to not spending enough time practicing prior to their hunt. However, even if you are a responsible hunter that knows his gear, has practiced his shot and is completely prepared, things can still happen. That's just a part of it, Tom says. Nobody likes it, but that's just part of the game we play. Referencing Season 8 of McMillan and an episode that focused on a streak of missed shots by clients, Tom says his first eight or nine archery clients that November either missed great deer or unfortunately hit them, but didn't recover them. One of those deer was a great buck that he had a history with that walked in front of a bowhunter at a very close range. It should have been a chip shot, Tom says, it was broad daylight, and the shot wasn't rushed, however something happened, and the hunter hit the deer high. He didn't mean to make a bad shot, Tom says, it was one of those instances where things just happen. Despite exhausting every resource for days, they were unable to find the buck, a situation that was hard for everyone involved. This story though is one of those rarities in that it ended up turning around completely and ending in success. Tom says it was 10 months later and he hadn't seen a trace of the buck since the hunter shot him. To his surprise, the buck stepped out one day during muzzleloader season and a client was able to successfully shoot the buck this time. The hunt was caught on film and will be on Season 9 of McMillan coming this year, and it's one that Tom says is a sad story turned success story.
For more than 20 years, Tom has run his successful outfitting business, McMillan Outfitting located in West Central Kansas where he guides on 8,000 acres of world class whitetail hunting habitat. Tom says he is lucky to do what he does, he chose this career and he's glad he did, but notes that it's more difficult than some people may think. Discussing the hard work that is required year-round to run the operation the right way, Tom says he wishes he could show more of that aspect on the television show. There is no off-season – during the hunting season he guides hunters and films shows, after hunting season he is busy getting shows edited and ready for television and by the time that work wraps up he goes right into property management, planting food plots, farming, cattle, and getting ready for the fall hunting seasons again. As a guide and outfitter, being prepared for upcoming hunting seasons is crucial to the success of incoming clients and the outfitting business itself. However, Tom says part of guiding and success is also understanding the animal(s) you are pursuing and having their best interest in mind. We have to understand that we all have an exhaustible resource in the wildlife, he says. As an outfitter he can't take thousands of hunters afield each year, instead Tom books a very small number of clients each season. The reason for taking just a limited number of hunters afield, he says, is because he feels that he is doing his part to manage, but more importantly, protect the deer herd. Pointing to a dip in deer numbers in Kansas, Tom says he takes seriously the responsibility to do his part in reversing that dip. From an outfitting standpoint, that may mean taking fewer hunters, he says. There is more to outfitting than money and numbers, you also have to care about the resource itself providing the opportunities and do what you can to protect it.
Listen in for an interesting conversation with Tom McMillan, host of "MCMILLAN" on Outdoor Channel as he talks about the great whitetail hunting in Kansas, the challenges of being a guide and outfitter, the importance of being well practiced and prepared for shot opportunities, properly prioritizing the well-being of wildlife before sport and much more! You can watch "MCMILLAN" on Outdoor Channel, Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all eight seasons on demand, anytime, with MyOutdoorTV.