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Hunting tradition keeps Wisconsin butchers busy

December 02, 2009 at 04:55 PM

Herald Times Reporter, Manitowoc

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin deer hunters can spend many thousands of dollars on rifles, clothing, lodging expenses, even private land, seeking to shoot that prized buck.

“But it’s not just a hobby around here ... it’s a tradition,” said Keith Van Ess, in between skinning whitetail deer at his parents’ Newton Meats & Sausage.

Sam Busse completely agrees. “Hunting is a lifestyle,” and the Two Rivers man first went to deer camp at age 10, and had a rifle in his hands two years later.

At Tim Braun’s Taxidermy in Manitowoc, Busse was ordering a “left-turn, full-sneak shoulder mount” for what was “by far, the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in the woods.”

It will be several months before Braun, a taxidermist for more than 20 years, will complete Busse’s first trophy on a wall, at a cost of $350.

“They (hunters) want to see them before the next deer season,” said Braun, who also has created po st-mortem wildlife masterpieces of elk, sharks, foxes, turkeys, possum, raccoons, pheasants and multiple fish varieties.

Recession notwithstanding, Braun said he’s busier than ever in his basement taking different measurements of the deer - killed by guns last week but also by bow and arrow earlier this fall - before ordering the individually cut foam form and then overlaying the hide and fur.

Busse already had personally butchered the “mature, 8-pointer” he had shot on family land near Dunbar, garnering nearly 100 pounds of meat. Whitelaw Meats will make sausage, then steaks and chops later.

Jason Zipperer of Two Rivers also will be enjoying venison steaks and hamburger after taking down a 10-pointer, with an antler-to-antler tip spread of 14 inches.

Braun will create a shoulder mount for the den wall of the Zipperer household - though his wife Suzi’s 7-pointer, shot as a teenager and already on the wall, tops her husband’s new prize with a 17-inch s pread.

Sharp knife in hand, Van Ess, 29, already had skinned about 25 deer within three days of the first carcasses coming in on the first day of the nine-day gun deer season. Hunters are expected to “field dress” the deer, slitting them open and letting others and birds of prey feast on the deer’s innards left on the ground.

Van Ess’ mother, Karean Van Ess, meets with the hunters and talks about what kind of meat they want before turning over the animal to her eldest son.

She’s also learned whether the dead deer is headed to a taxidermist after butchering. “The last thing you want to do is ruin the mount,” Keith Van Ess said.

Electric chainsaw in hand, he cut the antlers - 8-point, 21-inch spread - off the head of John Hoffmann’s buck. Then, with a couple thumps of the skull on the side of a waste barrel, his mother removed the brain.

“My wife would never let it be in the living room,” said Hoffmann, of Two Rivers, of the antlers destined for p lacement on a wooden display board.

Aarron Hoffmann, 15, said he wanted the antlers to be a coat rack in his bedroom. “It was a good shot,” the teen said of his father’s kill in Price County. “No, just lucky,” said the father.

“It was my biggest ever, by far, and I’ve been hunting since I was 16,” said John Hoffmann.

His deer is one of about 200 the Van Ess family expects to process this season. James Van Ess, who bought the business in 1992 with his wife, Karean, said sausage making has changed over the past two decades.

“The smokers are computer controlled for more consistency,” he said.

The work is not as physical, he said, pointing to overhead cranes with one-half to 1-and-a-half-ton lifting capacities for moving deer, beef and pork carcasses through the butchering process.

James Van Ess said gun deer season means lots of overtime with beef and pork processed during the day, deer in the evening. But, he said in recent years he began ta king off all of Thanksgiving.

The Van Ess family and other Lakeshore area deer butchers might have more business in 2010.

A Dec. 8 meeting in Madison of the state Natural Resources Board will consider a 16-day gun deer hunt next year.

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