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Wildlife Recapture gets national contract

by Alan Lewis Gerstenecker
| September 20, 2013 11:48 AM

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<p>Co-owner Kevin Neidigh prepares an African nyala.</p><div> </div>

Wildlife Recapture, a local taxidermist studio co-owned by two Libby men, has received a contract from a national sporting goods chain that will bring both expansion of the business and new jobs to Libby.

The studio, which is owned by Mel Siefke and Kevin Neidigh, has won a contract with Field & Stream, the outdoor supplier of Dick’s Sporting Goods for the store in Cranberry Township, Pa., and others.

“They’ve been a balls and sticks store,” Siefke said, referencing more recreational sports such as baseball and golf. “This is their outdoor store. It’s a five-year, open-ended contract. It’s great news. We’re excited about it, and it’s good for the town.  We want to spread the wealth.”

Siefke was reluctant to discuss the financial aspects of the contract, only saying he plans to expand and hire additional taxidermists. However, the contract is lucrative, as Neidigh said a typical full-body bear mount costs about $3,500.

“We’re looking at hiring 20 more employees and expanding our operation,” Siefke said. “By the end of the year, we hope to expand with a 100 (foot) by 200 (foot) building.”

Siefke has already hired John Hayes of Dumont Taxidermy and Andrew Lovich. 

“There will be others (hires),” Siefke said. “Next year, we’ll be producing 1,500 (full-bodied) mounts, which will include everything from musk ox to whitetails to bull elk and moose to badgers and groundhogs.”

In addition to the mounts, Wildlife Recapture is responsible for designing the fencing and the mountains depicted in the dioramas.

“We do everything,” Siefke said. “You can do the math. The mountains alone are $180,000.”

He also said his business is in the market to buy game taken by local hunters. 

“We’re interested in all North American wildlife,” Siefke said. “We get things from all over the country, Alaska and Canada.”

Siefke said he preferred to be low-key about the contract. Initially, he denied repeated attempts for an interview when news about the contract leaked. But, when the Dick’s Sporting Goods Field & Stream 50,000-plus square-foot store in Cranberry, Pa., opened Aug. 12, Siefke explained he was bound by contract not to discuss his work until the store opened. He also said, while the Cranberry store was where his most recent work went, it won’t be the only one.

“It’s not just this store,” Siefke said. “There will be multiple stores. It’s a big contract.”

Siefke, Neidigh and a team of taxidermists made the trip to Pennsylvania to set up the dioramas in preparation for the grand opening.

“Sporting goods stores are not as interested in just wall mounts,” Siefke said. “Instead, they’re looking at pieces that tell a story — dioramas. Some of our dioramas are 40- to 60-feet long,” he said pointing to a photo of a display that includes several full-bodied mounts.

“They want larger pieces,” Siefke said. “Everything has to tell a story.”

An assistant manager at the Cranberry Field & Stream store acknowledged on Wednesday the dioramas, but said he could not comment and instead referred calls to Dick’s Sporting Goods corporate office and Public Relations Specialist Jaime Kutchmark. A message left for Kutchmark at corporate offices for comment was not returned.

Wildlife Recapture co-owner Neidigh said the contract is something both he and Siefke have strived to achieve.

“To be successful and comfortable, it’s something we want,” said Neidigh, who was working on an African antelope called a nyala. “It’s all that much more gratifying to provide something that the public enjoys. We just do things that tell a story. That’s what everybody wants instead of just a deer and a doe.”

Earning the contact was competitive, Siefke said. 

“People in this business, even nationally, know everybody. It’s a small world,” Siefke said. “This process started about 13 months ago between nine of the biggest, well-known studios.”

Like many businesses, the road to success for Siefke and Neidigh, who have been together for 14 years, has not been as smooth as they would have liked.

This summer, Byron Rockstad filed a breach of contract lawsuit to seek payment for shed antlers he provided Wildlife Recapture. That suit, which sought $65,403.72, included the judgment of $34,450, attorney fees totaling $18,991.85 and court costs.

On Thursday, Siefke said the lawsuit was a misunderstanding, and he paid Rockstad the balance before it was due.

After a payment on Sept. 10, the final payment did not need to be paid until Dec. 10, but Siefke paid it early.

“I’ve been paid in full,” Rockstad said Wednesday.

Through the legal process, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department was called upon to enforce closure of the studio until payment was made, which Siefke completed.

The suit stemmed from the balance of antler sheds supplied by Rockstad.