In more than 35 years of interviewing people ranging from high school, college and professional athletes to arctic explorers, I’ve developed a sense of what to ask, when to ask it and when to dig deeper for details.
In doing so, it’s easy to sense what fuels the fire, so-to-speak, for these folks who have a story waiting to be told.
Enter Eric Huseboe, whose passion for the outdoors, for researching and hunting animals — specifically bear and whitetail deer — is simply off the charts. A phone interview didn’t come close to doing this story justice, so a several hour in-person chat followed.
And yes, I could have used more time.
Huseboe, a 43-year-old rural Ettrick, Wis., man, is a combination of excellent communicator and teacher intertwined with a seemingly unending knowledge of all things outdoors. Oh, and he’s doing quite well running a business — Trophy Adventures Bear Bait — that and his wife, Alysha, have operated for the last 20 years.
“My place is more of a casual atmosphere, with a half-dozen life-size bear, red stags and whitetail mounts,” Eric Huseboe said. “We raise whitetails, too. A lot of people come in here and buy bear bait, so we want them to enjoy and learn from the experience.”
And just think, this started out as a singular-minded story on hunting shed antlers. Oh, the majority of column will be about Huseboe’s passion for hunting sheds, but there will be tidbits about Alysha’s 657-pound black bear that she happened to shoot with a bow just 400 feet from the couple’s home in the fall of 2014.
A bear, by the way, that still happens to rank as the fourth-largest ever shot in Wisconsin with a bow, according to the Wisconsin Black Bear Record Book, and the 11th largest black bear taken overall.
Speaking of harvesting bears, Eric has shot 41 bear, 40 of them by bow. The one that wasn’t taken with a bow was a 1,400-pound Alaskan brown bear that was able to sneak within seven yards of him before he turned around and ended it before it ended him.
See why I needed an in-person interview? Both Eric’s brown bear and Alysha’s record-book black bear are mounted, amongst a number of other incredible mounts, and on display at the shop area of the business. To me, they are a must-see.
So when Eric casually said, “My reason for living and working is hunting,” he didn’t blink. Truer words have probably never been said, and that’s in no way slighting his love for Alysha, who happens to be at his side during many of their hunts.
“I have spent hundreds of hours speaking to people (about bear, deer, bait, hunting, outdoors issues, etc.). I want to teach you everything I know, what I have learned. Our success — we have killed a lot of Boone & Crockett (record book) bears — is based on what our customers take away from the experience,” Eric said. “Our philosophy is we educate customers more than anybody. Their success is our success.”
Now back to hunting shed antlers, which is right around the corner in terms of seasonal timing. Yes, most Wisconsin whitetail deer generally shed their antlers from mid-February to early March, but that’s a broad statement as it can happen anytime from Jan. 1 to March 30.
The time whitetail deer drop their majestic defense weapon is based on a number of factors, including the stress put on the animal due to food supply. And that food supply can be directly tied to cold temperatures and the amount of snow cover during the dog days of winter.
Speaking of dogs, Eric and Alysha have a dandy in a silver lab named Ava. My first few moments of meeting Ava were memorable, to say the least, as she opened the shop door by herself (impressive, right?), then upon Eric’s command, closed it with a two-pawed slam (jaw-dropping).
And yes, she helps hunt shed antlers, but more on that in a minute.
Back to deer stress, which Eric is very aware of and tries hard not to add to it. In other words, he wasn’t about to search for sheds during a recent deep freeze that already put deer in survival mode.
“The aces in the hole we have today are cellular cameras, which are sending me pictures of bucks every day. They still have antlers on them. Why walk in a foot of snow and stress them out? There is no point,” Eric said matter-of-factly.
“That is my indicator nowadays. When I need to be proactive, I am. You can walk all day, right, and not find one. In the next two weeks they will start dropping.”
That doesn’t mean he’s not excited about it.
Eric, you see, has had an almost life-long passion for hunting shed antlers that started innocently enough when he was 11 years old.
“When I started shed hunting it was not popular at all. What brought me into it is was when I was young I did work on my grandpa’s farm,” Huseboe said. “It was a mile from town, so I would cut cross country and walk through fields to the farm.
“On the way back one time, I found a shed antler along a field. It was really neat to find.”
That was the start of a hobby/passion that has led he and Alysha to expand their search to not just their property, but to several states. In fact, one year Eric and Alysha went to Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Iowa in search of shed antlers.
So it’s no surprise that Eric has anywhere from 300-400 shed antlers, including an impressive antler rope (sheds tied together) hanging in his shop. Each shed, he’ll tell you, has a story behind it which he willingly shares. His memory is like that of a person playing golf, as they tend to remember each shot, where it went, how far it went, how it could have been improved.
And believe me, Eric knows every shed he has and how – and where – to find more.
“At first I was like everybody else shed hunting. I took off walking, and walked many, many miles without much success. It’s like anything you do, you do it wrong and you get terrible results,” Eric said. “Maybe you will get lucky now and then. You have to ask yourself: Why did I fail? Why did I have success? You start putting factors together to determine the best result.”
That analytical approach allowed Eric to step back, think about the big picture, and change how he went about collecting sheds.
“The older I got I did more hunting (overall). The shed things comes out to be same exact thing – a random walk and your odds are pretty slim (of finding a shed),” Eric said. “All the homework paid off, as good shed hunters, they are paying attention to where deer are yarded up right now.
“Food sources are your No. 1 area. Leave it alone right now so you don’t pressure it, as 80 percent of your sheds can come from one area. If you take off on a walk on a whim, you’ll have limited, if any, success. If you have done the scouting, the homework, you are rewarded 50-to-1 in terms of your chances.”
In other words, where you saw deer in the spring, summer and fall isn’t likely where you will find them in the winter when they are yarding. Yarding is when a number of deer congregate in an area that typically gets a lot of sun and has a good food source.
And with many deer in a single area, your chances of finding a shed increase exponentially. And if you find one, you may find its match.
“When we find one, if we find a giant, six-year-old mature shed, then we seem to find it (other antler) in the same area for the same deer. Big deer have a small home range. They know the area, feel safe there, and know where to bed (down). They will overlook a big valley,” Eric said.
Don’t get the idea Eric is after big sheds only. In fact, it’s the opposite.
“It has gotten to a point where I love to find the small ones. My biggest thrill come from the smallest ones, which is like a shed hunter’s Holy Grail. The smaller the more prestigious the find,” Eric said.
“Anyone can spot and find a big shed. Finding a nubbin buck shed is another game. I will never turn down a big one, but it’s more challenging to find a small nubbin buck shed.”
So what does he do with all his sheds? He’s made a chandelier out of some, while others he uses for home décor such as cabinet and drawer handles. Mostly, he just keeps them as “they mean too much to me to sell them.”
And he’s ready to hunt for some more to add to his collection, and to the stories that accompany them.
“When you got to a place (shed hunting), go to a place for a reason. Look for something a little different. One little thing that sticks up, it could be the tine of a shed,” Eric said. “I have found them in trees (squirrels haul them up there), to seeing them eye-level in bushes. I literally see sheds in my sleep.”
Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the La Crosse Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
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