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FARMINGTON – Within five years, the Cillessen family went from simply documenting a longtime passion for big-game hunting to reaching the national spotlight among hunting and outdoor enthusiasts.

Bill, Brian and Jeff Cillessen, who hail from Farmington, first aired the pilot episode for their television show "Beyond Rubicon" back in 2014, as a way to capture the "spirit of the hunt" right here in the Land of Enchantment.

Then Jeff's son, Henry, tagged along a couple years later. That decision highlighted the burning will of a wheelchair-bound 9-year-old boy to experience the family tradition, which led to national accolades.

"Beyond Rubicon," which airs on the Outdoors Channel and Sportsman Channel every week, took home this year's Golden Moose Award for the Best Big Game series on Jan. 10 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“It’s pretty amazing because we put so much work into this. We knew that we were following a dream,” Brian Cillessen said, admitting he was caught off-guard by winning the coveted award. “We were a second-year (cable television) show. We’re competition against people who’ve been in the industry for decades. It kind of blew us away.”

The show also won a Best Feature Film award at the Badlands Film Festival for "Wheelchair and a Prayer," which told Henry's story.

Henry driven to experience the hunt

Henry wanted it so bad, he latched onto his father's back and went out into nature.

Henry, now 12, suffers from perthes, a degenerative hip disease, but that didn't stop him embarking on the activity he grew to love.

Upon receiving the award, Henry hoisted up the trophy for his family.

That moment left a lasting impression on those at the Golden Moose Awards ceremony, who stood up and gave Henry a standing ovation.

“It was a huge victory for him. It was pretty sweet,” said Brian Cillessen, the show's producer. “It’s a first-rate event. Henry held onto that sucker.”

Jeff Cillessen said "Wheelchair and a Prayer" was a testament to life, showcasing Henry’s will to experience life, no matter what obstacle was in front of him.

“He showed our entire family what perseverance is about,” Jeff Cillessen said. “He wanted to hunt. But he had to do it from a wheelchair. It makes it incredible because it’s not an easy feat.”

Origins

Brian Cillessen was a 22-year Marine Corps. veteran who served as a special operations commander. He received a silver star with valor and a bronze star with valor for his service.

But filmmaking was constantly in the back of his mind. So, he made the difficult decision to leave the Marines and pursue filmmaking.

“That’s where we belong,” Brian Cillessen, who now resides in Albuquerque, said of film work. “I really believe that it’s a satisfying place to be. It’s about chasing a dream, for me.”

Brian Cillessen said he was initially skeptical about using a camera crew to document himself and his family hunting, fearing they'd spook elk that were roaming around.

PAST COVERAGE: New Mexico family stars in hunting TV show

“Holy smokes, you’d thought we wouldn’t get to an elk. It was hard,” he said.

But the family found a way to make its dream a reality. It doesn’t hunt in high-fence areas, rather doing it in fair-chase public land. And "Beyond Rubicon" was born.

“The game can get away, and so can we. It’s got to be ethical,” Jeff Cillessen said. “Our mission is to touch people’s lives with the very fundamentals of what it takes to be a big-game hunter.”

A greater purpose

Jeff Cillessen said the family hunts for the journey of it, which is true heartbeat of "Beyond Rubicon."

Using cameras that capture 24 frames per second, he said it matches how the human eye processes what's seen to "keep it real."

“We’re changing people’s perspective on hunting,” Jeff Cillessen said.

More national exposure

The family will be at a five-day shot show convention starting Monday at the Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The family will meet with sponsors and manufacturers that could potentially align their brands with Beyond Rubicon.

“We went from being a good show in a small pond to a good show in a deep ocean. This year, people are starting to recognize us out in public. They recognize Beyond Rubicon as an authentic, real show,” Brian Cillessen said. “My chest sticks out a little bit more. Ninety-nine percent of people that work with us are New Mexico born and raised. It’s humbling in so many different ways.”

The show's website can be found at https://beyondrubicon.com/.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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