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.