Conservationist, Communicator, and Hunter
By Lorie Woodward Cantu
Larry Weishuhn’s adrenaline almost got the best of him on a white-tailed deer hunt near Zimmerscheidt.
“I was up near the top of an old oak tree when I heard something coming,” said Weishuhn, who is a nationally recognized outdoor writer, speaker and host of DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon on the Sportsman Channel. “He stepped out—and I knew, without question, I had a world record buck in my sights.”
Weishuhn managed to get off one shot from his grandfather’s single-shot 12 gauge shotgun. Instead of crumpling in a pile, the buck threw up his flag and bounded away.
In the haze of excitement, Weishuhn accidentally pulled too hard on the shotgun’s fore end, disengaging the barrel. It fell to the ground 30 feet below. He contemplated jumping out of the tree, but crawled down instead. Plucking the barrel from the mud, Weishuhn blew the dirt out of it as he began running in the direction the monster buck had disappeared.
The buck, it seemed, had vanished—until Weishuhn literally tripped over it.
“I was breathing hard and my blood was roaring in my ears,” Weishuhn said. “I could see my name in the record books. Then, I looked down.”
The monster buck had a five-inch spike on one side and a four-inch spike on the other.
“Buck fever and ground shrink all in the same morning,” Weishuhn said. “There’s never been a hunt or a trophy as special as that one. It was 1961. I was 14 years old. It was my first buck.”
Since then, Weishuhn, who lives in Uvalde, has hunted in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. He has numerous whitetail mounts and all manner of high-quality, high-scoring game including desert bighorn sheep, brown bear and Cape buffalo, and yet the spike is the trophy that he’d hang on to.
“If I was forced to choose one trophy to symbolize what hunting means to me it would be that little spike buck taken on our family’s property in Colorado County,” Weishuhn, who co-founded the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA), said.”Looking at him, I’m reminded of the respect for the land, the animals and the tradition of hunting that was ingrained in me from the beginning.”
HUNTING HIS HERITAGE
Grandparents don’t have favorites, but Weishuhn’s maternal grandfather, A.J. Aschenbeck, made it clear he wanted a red-haired, freckled face grandchild. When Weishuhn arrived on the scene in 1947, he fit the bill. While all the grandchildren got their share of their grandfather’s attention, Weishuhn became his shadow.
“I don’t remember not hunting and fishing,” he said. “My first memory is being outdoors with the men and being so small they carried me on their backs because I couldn’t keep up.”
His grandfather made it a point to include Weishuhn in his fishing trips, where they angled for perch and catfish using cane poles, and on his squirrel hunting trips. Weishuhn’s father, Lester, was also an avid outdoorsman who hunted coons with hounds Monday through Saturday nights and then ran beagles on Sunday afternoons.
“When I started to school I thought I had been locked in Hell because I didn’t get to be outside all day,” Weishuhn said. “The only redeeming feature of school was that I learned to read, so I could read about hunting myself.” Weishuhn’s mother often filled the evenings of his earliest years by reading bedtime stories from Outdoor Life unknowingly introducing him to foreign places, unfamiliar animals and the power of storytelling against the backdrop of nature.
Instead of wasting his hour of television time on cartoons, he watched Jim Thomas Lone Star Sportsman. He spent his remaining spare time listening to his grandfather, his dad and their friends share stories about their adventures—and misadventures. These stories (and others like them) would later become the basis of his first column “A View from the Pear Flat” published in the Southern Livestock Standard, which also became chapters in his first book, Pear Flat Philosophies.
“My love of the outdoors was something that was just in me,” Weishuhn said. “I was blessed to have people around me who nurtured my passion and to be raised in a time and place where it was okay to roam.”
Weishuhn grew up on family property near Zimmerscheidt, north of Columbus. The first of the Weishuhns, who hailed from Germany and Prussia as well as the Alsace Lorraine region, passed through Indianola in the mid-1800’s and made their way to Colorado County.
In 1876, they put down permanent roots on the family homestead that Weishuhn and his brother, Glenn, co-own today. It has been in continuous agricultural production for almost 140 years.
“My family has owned land in Texas for a long time,” Weishuhn said. “Land ownership is a sacred trust. I don’t want to be the one to turn loose of it. I’ll pass on to my two daughters.”
And, when it came time to pick a career, he didn’t want to turn loose of the freedom that comes with being outdoors. He narrowed his choices down to: outdoor writer, game warden and wildlife biologist. He picked wildlife biology and in 1965 left Zimmerscheidt for Texas A&M University. He was not only the first Aggie, but the first Weishuhn to go to college.
“Timing in life is everything,” Weishuhn said. “At the time I was becoming a wildlife biologist, interest in wildlife and habitat management was in its infancy.”
Weishuhn graduated from Texas A&M in 1970. “I should’ve graduated in 1969, but the second semester of freshmen chemistry reared its ugly head—several times,” Weishuhn said laughing.
He credits his graduation to his dean who finally enrolled him in organic chemistry and to his wife, Mary Anne. The couple began dating as juniors in high school and married after their freshman year of college.
“If it weren’t for Mary Anne, I don’t know where I’d be,” Weishuhn said. “Every day, I’d go into our college housing home ready to quit. Every day, she’d say, ‘Larry, we’ve got every cent we have invested in tuition and books. You’ve got finish.’ She was the driving force behind my education and the support who has allowed me to do everything I’ve done.”
MAKING HIS MARK
Weishuhn got his professional start as a wildlife biologist at the TPWD where he rose through the ranks to become a technical guidance biologist, allowing him to work directly with landowners to manage their resources.
He was writing articles for outdoor magazines on the side. Because TPWD only allowed him to write for its magazine, Weishuhn began using nom de plumes so he could hone his craft. He was also speaking every chance he got.
Weishuhn was on the road more than he was home, leaving Mary Anne alone with their two small daughters for extended periods of time. In those pre-cell phone days, it was Weishuhn’s habit to stop at a pay phone and call before he headed home. One night, after he’d been gone for 17 days trapping pronghorn in West Texas, he forgot.
It was 3 a.m. when he unlocked the front door. The feel of cold metal pressed below his right ear stopped him in his tracks.
Mary Anne, the firearm savvy daughter of a law enforcement official, said, “You better be who I think you are.”
Weishuhn replied, “I hope I’m who you think I am.”
He never forgot to call again. And he never again worried about his family’s safety while he was gone.
“I felt sorry for any fool who made the mistake of breaking into our house,” Weishuhn said.
Things rocked along smoothly until TPWD offered Weishuhn another promotion. The leadership planned to create a position for him in Austin.
“I called Mary Anne and said, ‘Do you want to move to Austin?’” Weishuhn said. “She said, ‘Not really. Do you?’”
Weishuhn phoned his media contacts and a private landowner who had informally offered him a job on several occasions. He made the leap to the private sector building a wildlife consulting business that took him all over the state and earned him the moniker “Mr. Whitetail.” At the same time, he began contributing to national outdoor magazines, eventually writing for every one of the majors except Field and Stream.
Things rocked along smoothly again until a helicopter fell from the sky—for the thirteenth time. Weishuhn and his pilot were flying a white-tailed deer survey in Dimmit County. The Sheriff’s Department notified Mary Anne that Weishuhn had died. She was en route to Dimmit County to claim his body, when officials intercepted her to tell her Weishuhn was in the hospital not the morgue.
“The good Lord had given me another chance,” Weishuhn said. “I took it.”
He refocused his career to concentrate on communications.
“When I left private wildlife consulting, I was earning $75 per month—guaranteed—from my writing,” Weishuhn said. “We had one daughter in college and another headed that way. Hunger is a great motivator.”
And again, timing is everything. As he continued to build his career as a writer and a speaker, he noticed television was beginning to siphon ad revenue away from the outdoor publications.
He, along with several colleagues, produced and sold two instructional videos on deer management, which led to television. First, he served as a consultant helping develop outdoor television shows such as Bill Jordan’s RealTree Outdoors and Bass Pro Outdoor World. Then he began hosting and producing his own shows including Hunting the World, Winchester’s World of Whitetails with Larry Weishuhn and most recently DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon. His television work has earned top Nielson ratings, numerous Telly awards and Emmy nominations.
“There is hunting and then there is hunting for the camera,” Weishuhn said. “For instance, I don’t pull the trigger unless the camera can capture the shot. I’ve passed on a lot of great game, but I accept the trade-off because it affords me the opportunity to hunt in incredible locations around the world.”
Ideally, a “television hunt” is booked for at least seven days to give the crew time to get everything they need.
“A perfect hunt is when I can take an animal on the second day and leave the rest of the week for building the story,” Weishuhn said.
Rarely, though, do hunts play out perfectly. Each hunt depends on the cooperation of the weather and the game. Because travel, equipment and television time are so expensive, the crew has to make the most of every opportunity.
“The crew and I have to deal with weather, terrain, game travel patterns—everything hunting throws at you—with the added pressure of getting it on camera,” Weishuhn said. “You have to adapt constantly and quickly. I honestly think it’s made me a better hunter.”
The challenges are not just limited to the field. Getting to and from hunts, both domestic and international, is not easy. Weishuhn is on the road 280 – 300 days a year.
“I love being places, but getting there is not my favorite part,” Weishuhn said. “At 6’3” and 260 pounds, airplane seats are not as comfortable as they once were.”
And then there’s the constantly changing geopolitical climate. Recently, Weishuhn was detained in Kyrgyzstan. Officials from Air France, who were holding the flight, tried to intercede to no avail. Finally, Weishuhn remembered the $400 he had tucked in his boot. He laid them out one at a time before the Kyrgyzstan officers.
When he got to the fourth one, the official asked, “Is that all?”
Weishuhn replied, “Yes, and you need to let me get on the plane or be prepared to take me home with you.”
Weishuhn was allowed on the plane.
“Traveling takes patience and I’m not necessarily a patient person, but I’ve learned,” Weishuhn said. “Impatience can cause you a whole lot of trouble.”
But, even after all of the miles, all of the years and all of the hunts, Weishuhn is not jaded.
“For me hunting is as fresh and exciting as it was when I was a kid,” he said. “I’m blessed that’s the case. My favorite hunt is always the one I’m about to go on.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR TOMORROW’S WILDLIFE
In the early 1980s, the cattle market had bottomed out. Land owners and land managers were beginning to see that hunting and wildlife management could create additional ranch income. Implementing more deliberate management required the cooperation and permission of the TPWD. Neither was forthcoming because a vocal minority of wildlife professionals maintained that ceding control of wildlife resources would lead to privatization of a public resource.
“It was a dark period of time when TPWD didn’t get along with landowners,” Weishuhn said. “There was a small, but very vocal minority who viewed landowners as bad.”
Time marched forward. By 1985, more people were interested in managing for white-tailed deer. TPWD personnel were still reluctant. Weishuhn along with fellow wildlife biologist Murphy Ray and South Texas landowner Gary Machen asked for a meeting at TPWD to discuss the issues surrounding the use of high fences. Their request was granted. The meeting was held in a broom closet. The message was received.
“If the meeting had been held in a regular conference room, the Texas Wildlife Association might not have ever been formed,” Weishuhn said. “The symbolism of the broom closet wasn’t lost on us. We realized it was going to take a larger, more powerful collective voice to make a difference.”
The trio stopped in San Antonio on their way home and began making a list of people who might be willing to work together to create an organization dedicated to landowners, wildlife and habitat. Eventually, they compiled a list of 50 potential members for an organizational meeting. Forty-eight came to the YO Hilton for the first organizational meeting.
They formed the Texas Wildlife Association. Today, TWA represents 9,500 members who own or manage 40 million acres in Texas.
“We live in a dynamic world,” Weishuhn said. “We formed TWA as a means of coping with change, but it has evolved into a driving force. Our slogan, ‘working for tomorrow’s wildlife…today,’ says a lot about the role the organization has played and will continue to play in the future.
“While TWA has accomplished many different things, perhaps its greatest achievement is making people aware of the role private land stewards play in perpetuating wildlife and habitat. Without our care, wildlife would not have a home in Texas—and the state and its people would be much poorer for it.”