Big Buck Hunter Pro fanatics rave about the game’s realistic (but not gory) graphics. The game, which allows the player to shoot zig-zagging deer, moose, elk and sheep, is the number one selling arcade game in the country, with about 7,500 units sold in the last year.

When Sam Anderson gets behind the big plastic gun in the Big Buck Hunter Pro video game, he loses himself in the action, and sometimes, before he knows it, he has spent hours shooting an endless array of prancing digital deer.

“It’s addicting,” said Anderson, 21, of West Bridgewater. “I’ve played it all night. It’s so much fun, I wish I had it in my house.”

Anderson is among the growing number of Big Buck Hunter Pro fanatics who rave about the game’s realistic (but not gory) graphics. The game, which allows the player to shoot zig-zagging deer, moose, elk and sheep, is the number one selling arcade game in the country, with about 7,500 units sold in the last year.

And it has ranked among the top three most popular coin-operated games in RePlay magazine for more than a year, said Ryan Cravens, marketing manager for Betson Enterprises. That company sells the game, which was created by Play Mechanix.

Lucky for Ben Melville, the game is available where he works as a barback at The Charlie Horse in West Bridgewater. Since the bar added Big Buck Hunter Pro in the winter, Melville has played the game after hours just about every night he has worked.

“It’s a digital thrill,” Melville, 22, of Brockton said. “On weekends, we get a little tournament going while we finish up at work.”

Melville has noticed customers coming just to play the game. “I have a friend who wants to buy one on eBay to have in his house,” he said.

Big Buck Hunter first hit the bar scene in 2001, but it wasn’t until this latest version was released in April 2006, with its second gun and better graphics, that the game took off.

“There’s better game play,” Cravens said. “The animals move in a much more realistic and natural way. They don’t just move left to right. They come at you and run away from you.”

Joe Kirby, 21, of Bridgewater said he played the earlier versions a bit, but especially enjoys the latest version that allows him to compete with a friend.

“Me and a buddy will be shooting at the same time and you try to hit the most, and you’re talking trash the whole time,” said Kirby, who noted that the game is often in demand and customers have to wait to play. “It’s a great way to pass the time.”

The game was intended for the adult drinking crowd, so it has been marketed more to bars than arcades. But Cravens said the game is also finding a following among younger people.

“In the past, you only saw the game in bars,” he said. “But we’ve seen this game go into bowling alleys and family entertainment centers, and it does extremely well.”

For one thing, the game creators had a bit more fun with the newest version, adding some bonus rounds, like one called “pie in the sky,” in which the player shoots cow dung to the sound of gas being passed.

“It’s organic skeet shooting. The cows are just staring at you,” Cravens said. “It’s goofy and it’s crude and rude, but fun. Kids think poop jokes are pretty funny.”

The game is popular in places like Minnesota, where people hunt animals for real, but it’s also big in areas like Boston and Brooklyn.

“It’s not just for people who like to hunt,” Cravens said. “At first it was a male-dominated game, but more and more women are playing it. The bonus rounds include a game very similar to Duck Hunt, and those types of games really appeal to women, so they’ll play that and then they’ll start going after the deer.”

Not everyone is a fan of this hunting game, however. Kristin Dejournett, a cruelty case worker for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the organization “opposes hunting video games like this one because they encourage participation in blood sports and they breed insensitivity toward the suffering of other beings.”

Cravens noted that the game is nothing like hunting animals with real guns. When a deer or moose is shot in the game, it merely topples over, and blood does not spurt out of wounds.

“It is not realistic at all. You’re not seeing blood and gore,” Cravens said. “We’re not hunters ourselves. We like to say that all these animals are made of tofu. People who play it have never hunted in their lives and never will. It’s like playing a racing game  You’re not really going to do flips in your car. This is just a fun shooting game.”

Anderson agrees: “I’ve never killed anything real,” he said. “I don’t feel bad killing something on video games.”

Some bars host local tournaments where players compete with one another. In September or October, the company plans to add online capabilities to the game, allowing players to participate in national tournaments, track scores and get involved in hunting parties, where players compete against friends playing in other bars around the country.

For now, many players are happy just to hunt shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends. Kirby is not trying to brag, but he said he usually outshoots his buddies.

“I play the most, so it gives me an advantage. Sometimes I’ll find myself playing for an hour or longer and then wondering where all the time went,” said Kirby, who plays the game once or twice a week. “I put some serious time into this game. And I’m busy between school and work. If I could play more, I would.”

For information about Big Buck Hunter Pro and where the game can be played locally, go to bigbuckhunter.com.

Dina Gerdeman of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at dgerdeman@ledger.com.