While thousands of hunters will be out in the woods this weekend for the firearms deer opener, Chris Fream and his pals will be in Chicago seeking a different kind of “Big Buck” trophy. One that brings $15,000 with it.

The 30-year-old Minneapolitan will be defending his world title at the “Big Buck Hunter” video game championships, where 96 competitors, of both genders, will be hunting big bucks in two ways: playing the arcade game itself plus vying for $63,000 in prize money.

Players in the arcade game try to “kill” up to three bucks a stage; shooting a doe ends the round prematurely.

Fream will be attempting to bring home Minnesota’s fifth moonshine jug trophy in the tournament’s six years. Last year, he bested roommate Mike Byrne in the semifinals and Inver Groves Heights’ Nick Robbins to capture Pappy’s Jug.

What’s up with the Gopher State’s domination? “We have a lot more machines here in general,” Fream said, “But I attribute it mostly to the fact we have nine months of winter and you’re either holed up at home or in a bar, at least in your 20s.”

We caught up with Fream on his way to practice a bit at “my neighborhood dive bar,” the Cedar Inn in Minneapolis.


Q: What are the most important physical skills?

A: Hand-eye coordination is pretty key. That’s just about it, actually [laughs].


Q: Really?

A: Well, it also involves a good amount of drinking. I don’t think I’ve ever played without a beer in hand. It’s a bar game. At the ­tournament last year, I had a ritual: a vodka, a soda and a water between each match. I can’t play sober, but there definitely is that cliff that you can hit, and it drops off fast and hard.


Q: How about mental or emotional skills?

A: It’s significantly more intense than you expect. Everybody’s nervous. So it’s just a matter of consistency, a little bit of focus. And [at the top level] it is whoever is just in a better place that day.


Q: At these tournaments, do you feel like you’re competing against other people or just against yourself?

A: For me it’s definitely against other people. I only play video games now where there’s another human element. I’ve been playing since regular Nintendo 20 years ago. I enjoy the “X factor” that is the other person.


Q: How’s your confidence level?

A: Pretty good. I haven’t gotten as much ­practice as I want.


Q: Are your competitors friends or bitter rivals?

A: We’re not rivals. There’s actually a really cool community, a “Big Buck Hunter” Facebook page. And all these people who play a lot, 100 or so, created their own Facebook page, and every single day people are posting videos, throwing out challenges. I have a lot of friends from this.


Q: Do you hunt? If so, does that help?

A: No. When I turned 18, my mom said “no motorcycles, no guns.” I said “OK, you’ve given me 18 good years, I can do that.”