An alum of Texas A&M University, a former wildlife biologist for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and one of the most well-known hunting personalities on the planet, Larry Weishuhn knows a thing or two about big whitetails.
Texas born and bred, Weishuhn is right at home with the DSC, bringing his enthusiasm for the sport and devoting his time to the organization to help hunters and landowners learn more about managing and harvesting the bucks of their dreams.
The author of more than 2,500 features articles, numerous books and star of numerous TV shows on ESPN and other networks, Weishuhn is affectionately known as "Mr. Whitetail," but never passes up the chance to hunt wherever game roams. Weishuhn is at the DSC Convention in Dallas this week to give seminars on whitetail hunting, but took some time to talk with ESPNOutdoors.com about his involvement with DSC, issues facing deer hunters in 2010 and his 2009 hunting season.
ESPN Outdoors: Talk about your involvement with DSC?
Weishuhn: Dallas Safari Club's scope and influence extends world-wide with a great variety of hunting and wildlife issues and initiatives, but DSC is also greatly involved with native, North American big-game species such as the white-tailed deer.
Money from DSC is annually invested in research that benefits not only the whitetail deer as a species, but also their habitat. Results of this research are dispersed through various university outlets, state wildlife departments and through other resources available to Dallas Safari Club and its membership.
DSC Funds, too, are invested each year in youth hunting programs and youth hunter education. Personally I've been able to help with the dispersal of information gained from DSC supported whitetail research through my seminars, articles and columns and the various television shows I am involved in, such as "Winchester World of Whitetail" on Versus, "T/C Pro Hunter Journal," "Whitetail Country" and other programming on ESPN2.
Although considerable information and data has been learned about the whitetail deer as a species and also their habitat, there is still much to learned and Dallas Safari Club will long be involved in making that possible.
ESPN Outdoors: How does whitetail hunting continue to have a strong hold on hunters in North America?
Weishuhn: A few years ago someone referred to the whitetail as "America's Deer" and truly the species is just that. More hunters hunt whitetail than any other big-game species in North America and quite likely in the entire world.
The whitetail is found through most of North America, from just below the tundra of the Far North into the jungles of Central America and beyond; and from nearly the West Coast to the east Coast. Not only is the species wide spread, it traverses all economic barriers. Anyone interested in hunting whitetails can do so, if they have a strong enough desire. Whitetails, too, are most interesting in that all though antlers may be similar, no two racks are exactly alike!
If you go back into the history our country you'll find whitetails not only provided food and clothing for early settlers, but early city folks as well. In several areas of North America deer hides once even served as a form of currency.
Back in the 1970s, interest started in whitetails unlike any that had previously been seen. People became interested not only in the quality of the animals meaning larger antlers and bodies but also their habitat.
The "Whitetail Culture" was born, thanks in part to John Wootters writing about trophy whitetails in many national publications and Jerry Smith showing people for the first time through his photographs what whitetail bucks could look like if they were given the opportunity to mature.
Soon, organizations such as Texas Trophy Hunters began to form. Publications such as North American Whitetail and Deer & Deer Hunting became entirely devoted to the whitetail and the culture that surrounds them. Quality deer management was born in the mid 1970s thanks to Al Brothers, Murphy Ray and a few others of us who were the early wildlife biologists to promote quality habitat and deer herd management.
The fascination with whitetails continued to grow and continues to grow through television shows.
I think part of this source of fascination and interest in whitetails is innate something that's within many people, whether they wish to admit or succumb to the call of the whitetail.
Will the interest continue as it has? There is no doubt it will. After all the whitetail is indeed "America's Deer!"
ESPN Outdoors: What is the next step in whitetail deer management in Texas and continent-wide?
Weishuhn: Interest in whitetail deer continues to grow, particularly when it comes to antlers and body sizes. We've seen management go from simply hunting deer without regard to age, antler size or health of the deer herds and their habitats, to quality deer management, which continues to spread throughout North America.
The next step will likely be "intensive" whitetail deer management, which equates to more emphasis on genetics, improved nutrition on a daily basis and allowing bucks to mature before any hunting pressure is placed on them. This is happening in many places and in many areas of North America right now not just in Texas although Texas, as in the past, is leading the way.
No doubt there will be some who resist this movement. Unfortunately much of this resistance is based on ignorance of the reality of a situation. But the benefits will be much healthier deer herds and perhaps, more importantly, a healthier habitat!
We forget that we live in the Golden Age of Whitetails! Never since the days when the first explorers came onto our continent have we had more and bigger bucks to hunt, nor more opportunities; nor have bag limits been more liberal.
ESPN Outdoors: What are your concerns relating to the increase in private land-holdings and budget-breaking hunting leases that are limiting access to many average Americans?
Weishuhn: When is the last time you priced a new vehicle or checked on the cost of attending professional football, baseball or basketball games? I remember a time in my life when you could buy a new vehicle for $2,500. These days it's tough to purchase a new vehicle for less than $25,000.
Tickets to professional baseball and other games played with balls I should state here in my estimation there are only two true sports: hunting and fishing; anything you play with a ball is a game and not a true sport! costs thousands of dollars. Research done at Texas A&M University recently showed that the average hunter spends the same percentage of his annual income on hunting today as he did in the 1950s.
True, the biggest trophy bucks demand big dollars today. I drive a Ford pickup. I'd like to drive a Cadillac Escalade, but can't afford it. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to own a vehicle to get me around the country. The same goes on in the hunting world: yes, hunting costs, but there are hunts available to anyone who wants to put out the effort to go hunting.
Even in Texas, which is 95 percent privately owned, there are whitetail deer hunting opportunities available on public land. With the increased interest in quality deer management there are also hunts available at reasonable economic prices for antlerless deer and cull or management bucks on those places doing their best to grow the biggest possible bucks. A hunter simply has to do a bit of looking.
I don't think we are limiting hunting opportunities to the average American hunter. There are many, many hunting opportunities available for anyone regardless of their budget, they may simply have to do a bit of research and spend some time finding such opportunities.
Remember, as long as there is economic value in wild animals, there will be wild animals.
ESPN Outdoors: For property owners & lessees just beginning their management efforts on their lands what would your advice be to them for their first year?
Weishuhn: More and more people are buying recreational land and those who already own land are turning toward wildlife. Others who lease properties for hunting, too, are becoming more and more interested in initiating a quality deer management program. I've worked with many landowners and hunter groups with their management programs.
One of the things I've always suggested and recommended to them is to be patient, not to expect overnight success. Growing and producing bigger bucks takes time and a tremendous amount of hard work. Patience is required to allow bucks that are conceived once nutrition has been improved to mature before they can show their genetic potential for antler development.
To me, a sound management program begins with setting short- and long-term goals and objectives; determining starting density, buck-to-doe ratios and fawn survival rates; possible changes in the habitat to include improved nutrition on a daily basis rather than a seasonal basis; harvesting the proper number of does and allowing younger bucks to mature to the older age classes.
This done while keeping good records of weights, ages and antler measurements, for it is only in keeping good records that you can eventually determine the success or management program direction. But when you ask regarding advice the first year, be patient and be reasonable in your goals, objectives and expectations.
ESPN Outdoors: Tell us about your 2009 hunting season.
Weishuhn: My 2009 hunting season was my best whitetail deer season ever! This past year saw me taking my two biggest bucks to date: a 203-and-change gross-scoring buck with a 7-inch drop taken in Texas a buck I hunted unsuccessfully in 2008; a 226-gross-scoring basic 8-point with a couple of kickers and 6 drop tines, taken on Oak Creek Ranch in Missouri; a 7-inch drop tine, very unique buck with 17 total points, taken in Illinois hunting on property managed by Bullseye Outfitting; a slick, 8 point that grossed 165 from Iowa; a 194 gross-scoring buck from Canada; a 168 taken in Texas with High Adventure Hunts; a great 10-point rattled up in South Dakota, along with a couple of others.
These were all taken or will be on hunts for our "Winchester World of Whitetail" sponsored by the Dallas Safari Club. Right after the DSC Convention I'll be hunting Carmen Mountains whitetail in Coahuila, Mexico, and then the last week of January I'll be hunting Coues whitetail in Sonora, Mexico.
Two of my most fun whitetail hunts were with my four grandsons, Joshua, Justin, Jake and Andrew. I was able to be at their side when each took a whitetail on camera. My "grandsons hunts" are the hunts I look forward to each year with great anticipation.
Essentially all the hunts I do are done for television shows: that sometimes means passing on bucks because "things" aren't quite right for the camera. This past year, hunting in Illinois, I did not shoot a buck I really wanted to take a buck that would have easily exceeded Boone & Crockett record book minimums as a typical.
That, unfortunately, is part of doing whitetail-hunting television shows. I often tell people there's hunting and then there's hunting for the television camera ... and the two have very few things in common. But it's what I do and what I do allows me to do what I dearly love: hunting!
ESPN Outdoors: You're a born-and-bred Texan, but which state currently offers the best opportunities to take a record-book whitetail?
Weishuhn: I mentioned earlier we live in the Golden Age of Whitetails and with all the quality management programs in place and increased nutrition due to the expansion of agriculture, essentially any state in the U.S., Mexico or province of Canada has the potential to produce record-book bucks.
Texas will always remain a favorite place of mine to hunt for a big buck. Frankly, South Texas produces more high-scoring bucks over 150 gross-scoring bucks) than any other state or province on the continent.
So, South Texas, that area south of IH 10 and west of IH 37, has got to rank near the top if not at the top of my list.
Beyond that region, parts of Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio, some areas of Illinois areas that have not been over-hunted in recent years for big bucks have to also rank high on the list. Canada produces some really outstanding bucks, but in my opinion the chances of taking a monster buck aren't all that great unless you intend to invest several years of hunting there.
This past year I had a chance again, I didn't due to the camera at a B&C typical buck in central Illinois, in an area outside of their "golden triangle." I have already made arrangements to hunt there again in 2010 to be frank. There are also some "sleeper states," those being parts of Oklahoma and South Dakota, as well as Missouri, where deer are properly managed at places like Oak Creek Ranch, although it's a high-fenced operation, which eliminates any bucks from being listed in B&C record books.
One of my favorite hunts is for Coues whitetail truly a spot and stalk hunt at its finest in Sonora, Mexico. I dearly love the supreme challenge of this diminutive subspecies of whitetail. Yet in the right places there is an excellent chance to take a buck that will make the B&C record book, if that is one of your goals. But remember even monster Coues whitetails are small compared to big, "regular" whitetail.