From Lines to Blinds, Jackie Bushman defines success in every endeavor he attempts.
STORY BY BARRY WISE SMITH
Photo credits: for racquets and star Ian Logue
Tennis picture: Courtesy of Auburn University Athletic Department
Whether it’s facing down a grizzly bear in Alaska, running a multi-million-dollar organization, filming episodes of his long-running outdoor TV shows, or getting wounded soldiers and terminally ill children to the outdoors, Jackie Bushman attacks it all just like he attacked opponents on the court as an All-SEC tennis player for Auburn University.
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Jackie knew he would follow in his father’s athletic footsteps. Jack Bushman was a standout tennis and basketball player at LSU, and Jackie followed the same path. “I started playing tennis when I was six years old,” Jackie recalls. “My dad was a world-class tennis player, and he wanted to me to play sports, so I did.” Jackie became Lanier High School’s first state tennis champ and was ranked number one in the state and number five in the South.
But tennis wasn’t young Jackie’s only love. When Jackie was eight years old, his grandfather, who lived in Rome, Georgia, started taking Jackie hunting for squirrel, dove, and rabbit. “He got me into hunting and fishing,” Jackie says of his beloved grandfather. “As a junior, I played the Southern tennis circuit traveling all around the south. I’d play a tournament in Columbus, Georgia, and win it, then I’d go to Rome, and I’d lose in the first couple of rounds. My dad never knew that the reason I could never win that tournament was because me and my granddad were going fishing, and if I won I wouldn’t have time to go. My grandfather was my idol growing up. I wanted to go hunting and fishing with him as much as I wanted to play tennis.”
When it was time to decide where to play college tennis, hunting and fishing played a part in the decision. Recruited by LSU, his father’s alma mater, Jackie decided it was too far from home. With friends going to Auburn and it being closer to his home and hunting grounds, Jackie decided to play for Auburn, who at the time, was ranked dead last in the SEC in tennis. “I wanted to go to college and play but also have fun, and Auburn gave me the opportunity to do that,” Jackie says. “Part of me just wanted to go hunting and fishing.”
Jackie went to Auburn at 17 on a full tennis scholarship, playing singles and doubles with his partner Drew Evert, tennis champion Chris Evert’s older brother. The pair finished the season ranked ninth in the country after defeating the second ranked University of Michigan doubles team of Victor Amaya and partner Eric Friedler at the NCAA tournament, playing spoilers by keeping the powerhouse Michigan pair from the finals. Amaya went pro, was ranked as high as 15 in the world, won doubles at the French Open, and famously lost to Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. That year, Jackie became the first Auburn player to make the NCAA tournament and was selected to the Outstanding College Athletes All-American team.
In his junior year, Jackie was the first Auburn player named All-SEC and the first to compete in the SEC finals. He also won the Crimson Tide Classic tournament in Tuscaloosa. Senior year, Jackie went to the NCAA tournament and ranked second in the SEC. “I missed being number one by one point and one inch,” he says. Simultaneously playing on the professional American Express Satellite Tennis Tour, Jackie was ranked number 125 in the world and beat several players ranked in the top 50. After his stellar collegiate career, Jackie graduated Auburn with a degree in economics and marketing.
Jackie continued to play on the pro tour after graduation, but when the travel began to wear on him, he took a job as city tennis director at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, where he taught lessons and ran the collegiate Blue & Gray Tennis Classic and the Alabama Junior Closed tournament with his father.
While continuing to coach tennis in Montgomery, Jackie began to dream of a life after tennis. His hunting club buddy Ray Scott had founded Bassmasters, and Jackie envisioned flipping the Bassmasters model to hunting. Perry Mendel, a friend of Jackie’s father and the founder of the KinderCare Corporation, met with Jackie and to discuss his future. Jackie pitched him on the idea of a national deer hunting association called Buckmasters, and Mendel agreed to help him get started.
Jackie filmed a how-to-hunt whitetail deer videotape and traveled the country recruiting sponsors to cover the cost of the tape. He found support from several outdoor companies and soon started attending consumer outdoor shows and doing ads in magazines hawking his video. The video was a success and generated enough profit to get Buckmasters off the ground.
While looking for sponsors, Jackie came up with another idea. He proposed taking the format of Superstars—a popular TV show featuring celebrities and professional athletes competing in games—and make it outdoor focused. And The Buckmasters Classic was born.
Episodes featured celebrities like Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bo Jackson, Wade Boggs, Jeff Foxworthy, Chipper Jones, Jim Varney, Mark Lemke, and others competing in outdoors events like an ATV obstacle course, skeet shooting, and knife throwing. “It was a celebration of the sport of hunting and the conservation side of hunting,” Jackie says. “We had such great participation from the celebrities.”
After approaching several major networks about the project, The Nashville Network bit and aired the show’s pilot episode at 10 p.m. on Sunday in October 1988. The Buckmasters Classic became the highest rated show TNN ever aired and led to Bushman hosting the first major hunting show to air on network TV. Today Jackie has two shows: The Jackie Bushman Show and Buckmasters, which is in its 37th year and is the longest running hunting show on cable television.
Currently Buckmasters has 100,000 members and two magazines—Rack and Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine—with circulations of 150,000. In addition to The Buckmasters Classic, The Squirrelmaster Classic and Buckmasters EXPO have been added to the stable of promotional events.
Jackie Bushman is particularly proud of Buckmasters’ charitable event, The LifeHunt Classic, where terminally ill children and wounded soldiers are given the chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Since its inception, the LifeHunt Classic has taken 900 terminally ill children and 500 wounded soldiers hunting and provided adaptive hunting equipment and hunting experiences for over 8,000 people with disabilities. “Starting Buckmasters has given me the opportunity to work with terminally ill kids, wounded warriors, and disabled people, and that’s the highlight,” Jackie says.
LOOKING BACK AND TO THE FUTURE
When asked about favorite hunting memories, Jackie has no shortage of interesting stories. His first memories are of hunts with his high school friends in Myrtlewood, Alabama. “When I was 15, we’d play Friday-night high school basketball games and then drive two hours to get up at daybreak to go deer hunting,” Jackie recalls. “I was hunting with a 12-guage shotgun with my friend Coyt Jordan, and a six-inch spike buck started walking toward me. I can still see it coming at me, and I was shaking like a leaf. I got off the shot, and I was hollering and shaking. I never forgot that feeling, and I was hooked right there.”
Later for a 1998 episode of his show in Alberta, Canada, Jackie got a 192-inch double-drop-tine buck. And then there’s the aforementioned grizzly bear. Bow hunting for the show in Alaska, Jackie and his guide came upon a walrus carcass that had washed up on a beach. The walrus attracted two grizzly bears. “I was on the ground 30 yards away behind a brush pile,” Jackie remembers. “I got on my knees and took a perfect shot. it was exhilarating and the highlight of my hunting career.”
Just like that perfect shot, Jackie has had a lot of success in his career. And he credits listening and learning and tennis with much of his success. “Being a tennis player makes me a better hunter and a better businessman,” he says. “Tennis is a sport where you win by yourself and lose by yourself—you learn how to handle pressure, self discipline, work ethic, and patience. As competitive as I am, when I first got into deer hunting, I was just not successful. A man in my hunting club took me aside and taught me the basic fundamentals. Even when you’re a pro athlete, you have to know the basic fundamentals of your sport, and I didn’t know the basic fundamentals. When I learned the basics, I started having success.”
Celebrating his success, Jackie Bushman says, “My number one thing is to entertain people, and I think I do that. I’m most proud of having a dream and having it come to fruition.”