There are few men who have walked this earth with more love for whitetails than Larry Huffman of West Bend, Wisconsin. Sadly, Larry passed away in early January 2007 after a brief illness. He had just turned 71 in December.
In May 2006, Larry damaged his shoulder in an accident on a 4-wheeler. His doctor told him that he would never shoot a bow again. Determined to prove his doctor wrong, Larry hoped that, with therapy, he could be back in the woods with his bow in the fall of 2006. But it was not to be. Kidney failure due to diabetes ultimately took him from his family and friends in early January.
Larry harvested his first whitetail, a running doe, with a Bear recurve bow during Wisconsin’s 1962 archery deer season in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. His budding obsession for whitetails grew during the ’70s and ’80s. He and his wife, Joyce, had four sons: Greg, Todd, Doug and Troy. The boys all became whitetail hunters.
By 1990, Larry’s fascination with whitetails led him to start collecting world-class racks. Gordon Whittington, then editor of North American Whitetail, remembers meeting Larry for the first time at the Boone and Crockett Club convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in June 1992.
“I had heard of Larry from Dick Idol, who at that time was still writing a lot of big-buck features for us,” Gordon recalls. “I immediately realized Larry was as crazy about giant whitetails as I was, and we hit it off from the start.
“Larry and I had a similar passion for big racks, as well as the stories and photos behind them,” Gordon continues. “As he began to purchase and trade for some of the deer that would soon become his ‘Legendary Whitetails Collection,’ we often shared information. Sometimes he’d know about a buck we were trying to track down for a feature story in North American Whitetail. Other times I’d hear about a big rack that he was interested in and I’d pass the information along to him. In that way we helped each other a lot over the years.”
STRIVING FOR THE BEST
Gordon felt honored when Larry, along with David Morris of Venture Press, asked him to co-edit the first Legendary Whitetails book in 1996. Gordon was honored again when Larry asked him to edit the second volume in that series, published in 2001. Each book is a coffee-table work of art featuring 40 historic stories about some of North America’s top whitetails of all time. Volume 1 actually contains stories about 40 world-class bucks that made up Larry’s original collection. Duncan Dobie, current editor of North American Whitetail, wrote several stories in each book. Legendary Whitetails III was in the works (and scheduled to be published later in 2007) at the time of Larry’s death.
“Though Larry was a smart, self-made businessman, I never got the impression that his interest in trophy-class whitetails was based on profit potential,” Gordon notes. “It was more of a hobby for Larry. He simply loved world-class bucks.”
A SELF-MADE MAN
Larry’s passion for whitetails was an extension of his excitement for life. Born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois, he moved to Wisconsin in 1957 and began working as a draftsman for Super Sky Products, International, of Mequon, Wisconsin, the leading skylight company in the world. His 30-year service included serving as president and CEO until 1987. He later founded several businesses, including the East Mequon Development Corporation, a commercial real estate development firm. Wildlife Images, an art gallery and direct mail-order company specializing in hunter apparel, and Venado Hills Whitetail Farm were also successful businesses born out of Larry’s love for whitetails.
In February 1991, Larry’s obsession with trophy whitetails prompted him to purchase the Walter Schreiner collection of 13 world-class heads. That collection included five typicals averaging 196 3/8 inches and eight non-typicals averaging 238 7/8 inches. Larry next acquired Dr. Charles T. “Chuck” Arnold’s well-known collection in October 1992. That one-of-a-kind collection included the Jim Jordan 206 1/8-inch typical (at that time, the reigning world-record typical), the John Breen 202-inch typical, the Elburn Kohler 265 3/8-inch non-typical, and the 207 2/8-inch typical Flemming sheds.
In October 1992 Larry also purchased the King collection. It included two typicals averaging 183 4/8 inches and eight non-typicals averaging 226 4/8 inches. A short time later in August 1993 Larry acquired the Tom Brown collection of 14 high-profile giants. This unique collection included the Hole-in-the-Horn buck, the Larry Raveling buck, the Del Austin buck, the Mel Johnson buck, the James Rath buck, and the Illinois Road Kill. The top four typicals in this collection averaged 191 1/8 inches, and the seven best non-typicals averaged an impressive 275 1/8 inches. Other top bucks in Larry’s growing collection were purchased from various individuals.
TRULY ONE OF A KIND
At one time, the Legendary Whitetails Collection held 89 of North America’s top-ranked whitetails. Larry also assembled a collection of 83 freak whitetail racks and nine sets of locked antlers.
“As I began putting the Legendary Whitetails Collection together, my dream was to someday put it on display in a public museum as an educational exhibit that would interest both hunters and non-hunters alike,” Larry said on several occasions.
That dream almost became reality in 1993 when Larry tried to buy a potential museum site near Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. But the sale fell through, so Larry took his collection on the road. For the next eight years, he displayed some of his best heads at various deer shows around the country. Classic-goers always gathered in large crowds for a first-ever look at some of North America’s top heads.
Larry’s four favorite whitetails were the Hole-in-the-Horn buck, the Jordan buck, the Breen buck and the Illinois Road Kill. Larry believed that the most valuable trophies were those with a colorful history and a good story behind them.
Unbeknownst to many big-deer enthusiasts, Larry was one of the few recognized and qualified appraisers of high-end trophy whitetail racks in the country. In fact, he was in the process of appraising the Deb Luzinski buck (featured on Page 20) at the time of his death.
He appraised heads for other hunters solely because of his passion for big antlers, not for any monetary gain. In a story I wrote for the October 2006 issue, Larry furnished the chart appearing on Page 24 with the estimated values of both typical and non-typical antlers.
AN HISTORIC SALE
Being on the road and touring with his collection for weeks at a time eventually became too much for Larry. When Bass Pro Shops proposed buying the entire collection and putting various heads on permanent display at Bass Pro headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, and in some of the company’s stores in other states, Larry liked the idea of having the collection available to the public. In September 2002, history was made when Larry sold 84 top-end heads and all of the locked sets to Bass Pro Shops.
“Many of the racks now hanging in the ‘King of Bucks’ collection at Bass Pro Shops might be gathering dust in some attic if Larry hadn’t made the effort to track them down and put them on display for the whitetail community to appreciate,” Gordon says. “He wanted everyone who loved big deer to enjoy them as much as he did.”
THE IOWA DEER CLASSIC
After years of travel and displaying the Legendary Whitetails Collection at many of the country’s top deer shows across the U.S. during the ’90s, Larry took it upon himself to start a show in Des Moines, Iowa, in the spring of 1999. Anyone who knew Larry will attest to the fact that he always strived for the best in anything he did. That first Iowa Deer Classic in 1999 boasted an unprecedented display of over 200 B&C whitetails from within the state. An average of over 100 B&C whitetails from Iowa have been on display at every classic since.
Today the Iowa Deer Classic is considered by many to be one of the top whitetail shows in the country. The 2007 Classic, held last March, was the show’s ninth consecutive year. Sadly, it was also the first in which Larry’s smiling face was noticeably absent. However, the show did feature a special memorial to Larry where replicas of eight of his favorite all-time whitetails were displayed in his honor. As you might guess, those great heads included the Jordan, Hole-in-the-Horn, Raveling, Bills, Breen, Mel Johnson, Del Austin and Illinois Road Kill heads.
HE LOVED MANAGING DEER
Larry practiced quality deer management long before it became popular. He purchased 320 acres near Westfield, Wisconsin, in 1978, and later added another 400-acre block to that parcel. Larry also convinced many of his neighbors to practice quality deer management for better herd health and trophy production.
“Neighbors with even 20 acres benefited from Dad’s foresight,” attests Larry’s youngest son, Troy. “Dad spent untold hours on the farm working on food plots, tree stands and timber management.
“We always had to fill out the ‘book’ and report what we saw from our tree stands,” Troy adds. “Each stand had a listing for hours spent on stand, temperature, wind direction, number of deer seen, number of bucks seen, number of adult bucks seen, and bucks passed up. At the end of the season, Dad would tally up all the information. He did this for at least 20 years.”
Larry was a member of the National Rifle Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International (SCI), the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), the North American Hunting Club, and the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club, and he was an associate member of the Pope & Young Club. He was a life member of the Wisconsin Bow Hunter Association and past president of the Wisconsin Chapter of SCI.
Though Larry Huffman will always be recognized for his Legendary Whitetails Collection, he was also an outstanding outdoorsman, hunter and conservationist. Above all, he loved his family and spent many of his last years enjoying his grandchildren.
“Of all the people involved in the whitetail community, Larry was right up there as one of the most important figures of our generation,” Gordon Whittington attests. “But that’s not the main reason I’ll miss him. He was just a great friend.”
That’s a ditto from all who knew and loved him!