Author: Jess Wagner
A South Central Wisconsinite, passionate about the outdoors with a love for hobby farms, agriculture, and hunting & fishing. BA from UW Platteville in Animal Science and President of the All-Woman Madison, WI Chapter of Pheasants Forever.
On this edition of the Where to Hunt podcast, guests Alex and Andy from Outdoor Addiction Taxidermy & Wild Game Processing talk about mounts to processing to podcasting and everything in between. With 8 years of taxidermy experience under his belt, Alex Lease has decided to take the leap in processing and podcasting to round out his business. He has a lot of irons in the fire that are just starting to heat up.
History of Outdoor Addiction
Alex began his taxidermy ventures completely on a whim. He knew he wanted to start a business but wasn’t sure what or where to start. Looking to his hobbies, he chose taxidermy. His first customers were friends and family after he completed taxidermy school. In school he only completed one shoulder mount which made it difficult to promote his services. He credits his mom for his start as he performed his services in her garage starting in 2012. His first year in taxidermy allowed him to complete 8 shoulder mounts. Now, after purchasing his uncle’s meat processing facility in 2019, he has completed 150 shoulder mounts and process roughly 600-700 deer this past year alone. It is true that you get what you pay for. Alex started his business charging $300 per shoulder mount and has increased his prices to $725 per shoulder mount. When it came to the point where he felt his business was getting off the ground, he needed a name and googled “how to name a business”. He typed in key words in a generator relating to taxidermy and meat processing before landing on Outdoor Addiction. The logo was created by his then-girlfriend. Today, the shop provides meat processing services, taxidermy, and produces their own podcast in house.
The shop is located right off highway 151 in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. This is roughly 20 miles west of Madison. The building is an old cheese factory – creating a unique layout. The basement is roughly 2,000 square feet of taxidermy space while the main level has a loading dock, freezers, processing area, and show room. If this wasn’t enough of a dream space, there is an apartment located on the second floor. Alex truly enjoys being able to work as he pleases because he lives on site.
From day one, Alex has wanted his business to be a one-stop shop. Starting out he would offer a discount on shoulder mounts with processing and still offers that service today. Deer aren’t the only species welcome in his shop. Alex says “African stuff, rugs, ducks ... I don’t care how crazy it is (other than pets) I’ll do it.” He projects completing between 400-500 total mounts per year between all species. Outdoor Addiction also delivers and picks up items for processing and taxidermy. The owner can consent for someone to pick up their items on their behalf. The only exception is migratory birds. If a migratory bird is transferred without proper tags and paperwork, it is a federal offense. More services that Outdoor Addiction offers is small group training, 1 on 1 training, and a small business boot camp. Alex isn’t here to just be your one-stop shop guy; he truly wants you to get the most out of your hobbies and wants to share knowledge about what he has learned through these ventures.
“Taxidermy is arts and crafts – on steroids”
Taxidermy is no joke. If measurements aren’t right or the hide was tanned improperly, it could ruin the mount. Alex takes great pride in his work so you know he will produce a high-quality product.
Shoulder mounts are his most popular request. This is an elaborate process that takes a matter of 18 hours over 30 days so let’s break it down. The first step is to measure the animal and order foam sculpted by an artist that fits those measurements. Measurements are taken when the deer gets to the facility. These foam sculptures won’t always ship to perfectly represent every animal so some recreating and extra sculpting may be necessary. Basic forms are boring and stiff and while the high end ones cost more, they tend to be more pliable making it worth the extra money. To get the best fit and pose, Alex will sometimes mix and match necks and heads. Another thing that is noteworthy is the eye to nose ratio is important when ordering forms. Once the basic mold is finished, the unique features of the animal can be added. A rutting buck may need a thicker neck so clay or epoxy will be applied to build that up. The way eyes are shaped is by applying a layer of clay to form the brow arch and a base for the eyeball. Alex uses glass eyes because he feels those have a higher quality over the dark or brown eye that is more commonly used. He has the ability to fix broken tines but says broken tines and battle scars are characteristics that enhance the animal.
Preparing and mounting the hide is a whole other animal in and of itself. The first step is to cape the hide, which means to remove it from the carcass. Once caped, the hide will be placed in the freezer until the hide is ready to be tanned. Alex doesn’t go into the tanning process in the podcast but did note that if this process is not done properly there will be pulled skin and cracking visible. After the hide is tanned, it will then be prepped to be mounted, mounted, then left to dry. When the hide is dried on the mount, Alex will come in for touch up work including painting and fixing scars to make it look as alive as possible.
European mounts are also available at Outdoor Addiction. Alex uses simmers and baths with a chemical or solvent finish to produce top quality European mounts. Other techniques and processes are used depending on the animal and bone makeup. Bring in a head that is fresh or frozen. Rotten heads are common and easy to deal with but not preferred. This is a reminder to be kind to your taxidermist and freeze a head you don’t plan on taking in for a while. If you are planning on doing a European mount at home, be sure to keep the water below boiling to otherwise it will become weak.
Turkey mounts can be difficult depending on the customer’s vision and how the takedown happened. If feathers are missing or if the bird was blown up, it may not be a great candidate for a full mount. Altering the pose may help but not in every case. Turkey mounts that Outdoor Addiction offers: cape, splatter, fan, breast, life size, tail, and wing are the most notable ones. If you have a photo of something different than listed above, he is more than up to the challenge. Some tips to keep the bird in tip top shape for a good looking strutting mount are as follows: call or make a noise when the bird is in range, aim for the head on their foot long neck, have a friend with that will wear leather gloves (to prevent injury from the spurs) grab the bird to prevent it from flopping and hold it upside down until the bird is expired. If the bird is strutting, wait until the bird deflates it’s feathers because feathers will be damaged if the bird is shot while strutting.
Meat Processing Is A Grind
Anyone can do meat processing. But not everyone is good at it. Sure, people make sausage and jerky at home but not everyone has mastered it. Outdoor Addiction has mastered the art of meat processing. All curing, smoking, jerky, sausage… You name it, they do it in house. People ask if they get their own venison back and the answer is YES. All of the fresh cuts aka backstraps, chops, steaks, and roasts you will get back from your own deer. Sausage is where you have the choice of community meat or your own. Typically, large batches of sausage consist of a total of 250lbs of meat. Large batches do not guarantee you will get your own meat back. Private packages are available but there needs to be a total of 50lbs of meat to work with. Sausage consists of 70% protein and 30% fat so 35lbs of venison is required to make one private batch of sausage. What this means is, for example, a customer only wanted 5lbs of a flavor of sausage but wanted their own meat, they would need to upgrade to a full private batch or settle for a community batch. Venison is very lean so fat is needed as a binding agent but also for flavor. Beef and pork fat is available for purchase to mix with all sausage batches. A disclaimer for bear and pork products is they may grease out and that is a risk you need to be willing to take if you order sausage consisting of those meats. Turkeys that are brought in for mounts will get the breasts back but any other cuts are questionable depending on the mount style requested.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or more commonly known as CWD, is fairly prominent in Wisconsin so it’s important to note that Outdoor Addiction is a test site. This is a huge plus for a one-stop shop. While it may cause some chaos during gun deer season, it is important to test your deer even if you have no interest or opinion in CWD because this gives the DNR data on where CWD exists. A test cannot be completed without a designated harvest location. The meat will be held at Outdoor Addiction during the testing period. If the deer comes back positive, most people don’t want the meat and it can’t be donated so Alex ends up dispersing it to family and friends.
Most Memorable Hunt
Story time! Alex gives the dirty details on his favorite buck(s) that he’s harvested back on Halloween 2012. He said Halloween just has this aura for producing big bucks and this was a major bucket list hunt for him. This was an all-day sit and switched stands half way through the day. He was situated with a camera hooked up by 1PM in his second stand, looks down, and sees a big buck. The buck walked about 15-20 yards before he drew back and double lunged and dropped him. Alex was stoked to be able to watch his biggest buck with a bow go down at 1PM in the afternoon. Shortly after, he hears something running behind him. His heart races as he has yet to nock another arrow. He turns around and sees a doe running. All of this was happening during the Earn-A-Buck era. Earn-A-Buck was a program by the Wisconsin DNR to push doe harvest numbers up by requiring each hunter to harvest a doe before being able to harvest a buck. He had two buck tags: one from the year before and one for the deer he just shot. Around 1:30PM, he hears a buck grunt behind him. This was the biggest buck he’s ever seen and he was hot on the doe’s trail. Alex guesses it was a 170” whitetail. As he watched it trot away, he nocked an arrow and sat waiting for another opportunity. Around 2:30, he sees a monster buck coming down the hill in front of him. This buck is bigger than the one he shot but not quite as big as the one he let go. This buck comes down and drinks from the creek then walks up the same trail as the first buck. He stopped in the same spot as the first buck and Alex took his shot. It was like déjà vu – double lunged him and Alex watched him drop a little farther than the first one. At this point, he was so excited he got out of his stand to check out his harvests. The first buck was a 110” 9 pointer and the second buck was a 140” 8 pointer. He describes this day as the best day of his life and definitely one that he will never forget.
Author: Greg Tubbs
Co-Host of the Where to Hunt Podcast and Avid Outdoorsman
How do we get started?
If you truly want to go through this process the right way. It will require some major effort on your part. Starting with your bow being completely in spec. With a compound bow, there’s a few things that need attention.
Your bow has got to be in tune!
First and foremost. The cam timing must be set perfectly. If one of the cams is rotating around before the other. Your arrow won’t leave the bow properly. This may be happening already and you don’t even know it! Some how, you may be compensating for it with another adjustment in your sight or your rest. Cam lean can also create issues with flight. A good archery shop will be able to go through your rig and get it all back to spec. They may even recommend replacing the string and cables. If they do. This will add another step to the process.
New strings on a compound bow require a break-in period. Most require around 200 shots or so to stretch them out. Currently I am dealing with this part of the process. My Mathews, Halon 32 is four seasons old with thousands of shots through it and one derailment of the string. It’s due for replacement before something happens.
A trip to the archery shop is needed!
After you get through the break-in process. Have your bow set to the draw weight you want to shoot and keep it there! Get your rest centered. If you shoot a drop away rest. Make sure it’s in time along with the cams. This is all necessary for absolutely perfect arrow flight. I know… This seems like an awful lot of effort to go shoot some deer. If you want to have perfect arrow flight. This is a major part of the process. Spring is the time to do this! After your bow is back into spec. It’s time to start tuning the ammunition.
Author: Greg Tubbs
Co-Host of the Where to Hunt Podcast and Avid Outdoorsman
Archery, The Beginning
Although archery probably dates back to the Stone Age – around 20,000BC – the earliest people known to have regularly used bows and arrows were the Ancient Egyptians, who adopted archery around 3,000BC for hunting and warfare. We’re not writing to talk about primitive hunting, although that stuff is fascinating. We’re going to start from about the last twenty years or so it has been common practice for hunters to shoot lighter weight arrows in order to increase their speed and flatten trajectory. “If it’s fast enough I can beat a deer’s reaction to the string!” That is the thought anyway…
Most of my generation Started hunting in the early 90s when carbon arrows came out on the market. They were lighter, faster and stronger than aluminum arrows. There are some inherent traits to lightweight arrows however. Penetration is the biggest issue unless you increase your Front Of Center weight (F.O.C.).
The recommended F.O.C. For Whitetail hunting is in the range of 7 - 15%. It’s becoming more common to exceed this into as much as 19%. Is it necessary? This is up to you! I personally would rather have a heavy arrow that flies perfectly straight than one that gets there quick but can’t break through both sides of the animal.
Heavy point weight isn’t always the answer to imperfect arrow flight. Arrow spine is also important. If the arrows side walls are too weak. The arrow will flex under the thrust of the string. When it leaves the riser it’s flexing and wobbling. The fletchings can only do so much to correct for this. When the arrow hits the target it flexes more on impact and unloads its energy. This affects its ability to get good penetration. It lost efficiency.
A properly spined and weighted arrow will fly perfectly all the way to the point of impact and pass through the animal. Plenty of hunters will argue that a pass through is not needed. I would say I have had better success on recovery of pass through shot deer than the latter.
Their are a few other details to discuss when tuning an arrow for perfect flight. We will discuss this in the next article!
Adams County, WI 21 point, 200 2/8” Green Score
Matthew Ornes of Sparta, WI's brother-in-law shared a photo of Matt's first bow hunting buck on the Where to Hunt Facebook page. When I was adding all of the photos to our 2016 bow season gallery, I couldn't believe the photo of Matt's first every bow buck! It seemed other's couldn't believe it either, so I reached out to ask if Matt was willing to share this awesome story about his first bow buck. Matt gladly agreed and I've shared his story below.
Normally I would simply sum it up and call out the highlights, however Matt wrote a great picturesque story of how it all unfolded. I thought it'd be best for his story to be read from his perspective and words, enjoy!
After the sudden unexpected passing of my father in law, Dave Eckes, last November, my mother-in-law Donna and brother-in-law, Dustin presented me with the bow that Dave had hunted with years past. Dustin, my brother in law invited me to join him in preparing the land owned by Rock & Dawn Stone (Adams County, WI) for bow hunting the following year. I was excited to take on a new hobby. The next several months consisted of heading to “Dave’s Lodge”- named after my father in law for all his hard work he put into preserving the hunting location. We prepared deer stands, food plots, checked game cameras, and saw what the woods had to offer us for the hunt; increasing our excitement for opening weekend.
It was a beautiful weekend for opening bow season, and my first experience bow hunting. Equipped with my late father-in-laws Mathews Drenalin bow, and anticipation – I was ready to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. My hunting partners Dustin Eckes, Dave Schultz, and John Schmitt had taught me as much as they could and had plans to get me in the best locations to see some deer.
As we woke up in the early hours of the morning to head to our stands I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was so happy to be sitting in a stand taking on this new hobby, and couldn’t wait to see some deer. The sun came up and the morning turned into evening with no sight of a deer anywhere. That evening back at “Dave’s Lodge” my hunting partners told stories of the deer they saw that day. Dustin showed me a video of two little bucks scoring in front of him. John said he saw some does and fawns and Dave said he didn’t see a single thing either.
I tried to think of what I could have been doing wrong that I didn’t see a deer. I asked the guys for some advice and came up with a plan to head to a different stand the following morning. The stand I was headed to was the stand Dustin had sat in the day before. I was excited to get some movement around me, and possibly shoot off an arrow.
Sunday morning came quickly and I was in my stand ready to see some deer. The fog was settling in and there was not a leaf on a tree that was moving. I sat there and waited… and waited. And nothing came around. The woods were silent, not even a movement from the squirrels, the feeling was eerie. I headed back to “Dave’s Lodge” mid morning and was ready to go home. I was convinced that I had bad luck and my excitement was drained. The guys did everything they could to get me to stay for one more time out, and my wife encouraged me to stay for a few more hours.
The guys all decided to take a nap, but I couldn’t fall asleep, something was telling me to get out in the woods. I kept checking the time and had a feeling to just go back to the woods. I headed to the stand near the water hole. The weather was warmer than usual and the sun was shining. I decided I was going to walk instead of driving the four-wheeler out, maybe the deer could hear it coming. After getting in my stand I could feel the wind blowing and the tree swaying. I sat there for about three and a half hours before I finally got the glimpse of my first deer of the season, a little fork buck. Shortly after that a few more came out; first off another buck, then a few does all coming to drink water. My adrenaline was going. I decided with the movement I should maybe get my bow in hand.
Down the trail right in front of me I see movement, a big doe presents herself. My adrenalin had me shaking. I had every intention of taking a shot at her but in the corner of my eye I noticed more movement behind her up the hill. I suddenly stopped shaking and was still as I saw the bigger bodied deer coming towards the water. It walked slower and with more authority than any of the other deer I had seen that night. As it got closer I could see glimpses of antlers through the saplings. About fifteen yards out he finally cleared the saplings and I could see tall beams. My body remained calm and I knew this was my chance, I got my late father in laws bow in hand, drew back, lined up the sights on the deer and as soon as he stepped towards the water I let the arrow fly! I could see the arrow heading towards him and make impact and off he ran. Oh my – what just happened?? I sat there for a few minutes to gather myself before climbing down to check it out. I tried to call Dustin to tell him I shot a buck because I knew he was close. He didn’t believe me, and it took some convincing. He told me to get out of the tree and head to “Dave’s Lodge” to get the other guys and we would track him.
Grabbing some lights and the guys, we went back out to the watering hole and started to look for the blood trail. John picked up the trail and we began to track. About a hundred yards of zig-zagging through the briars we saw a massive deer laying feet in front of us. We all began to shove each other out of the way to get there first to see what it was. As soon as we all stood around him we knew he was the big one we had seen on camera. Everyone was speechless. Dustin broke the silence and congratulated me and Dave and John followed suit. We drug him out of the briars to a clearing to get a better look at his mass and count up the 21 points. He was loaded up to take to show the landowners. Everyone was smiling, beers were consumed and I was still in shock of what had just happened and couldn’t believe this beast that lay in front of me was the result of my first time bow hunting.
I know my father in law was with me in that stand. All I remember is the feeling I had back at “Dave’s Lodge” earlier the afternoon, something telling me to get out to the stand. As the deer had approached I wasn’t even shaking, something was keeping me calm. When the earlier deer came out I was nervous and shaking, but this buck didn’t trigger any adrenaline as I anticipated the shot. It is hard to explain the feelings but I stayed calm and collected and was able to line up my sights on this massive deer standing in front of me without a tremble. I know my father in law was with me in the stand that afternoon, teaching me the sport of bow hunting – with his bow in my grasp.
I can’t thank everyone enough for all their help and guidance; My brother in law, Dustin and hunting partners, Dave and John; The landowners, Rock & Dawn, and their generosity that is second to none, and my late father-in-law, Dave, for his guidance that day. Without all of them, this experience would have never happened. My first bow buck is a 21 point, 200 2/8” green score. I am ruined, I will never top this once in a lifetime buck, but I will be back in the stand again and I can’t wait.
Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting Also known as “still hunting” which would seem to indicate not moving. Instead still hunting is about spotting the deer before they see you. Once you have your eyes on the deer the tricky part starts.
When you think of waders what are the most common uses coming to mind? Duck hunting and fishing perhaps? What about deer hunting? Have you ever waded to deer hunt?