Taxidermy

May 17, 2013

fake deer head

By Gabrielle. Faux taxidermy available at Tillie & Tweedle.

After I posted a Living With Kids Home Tour that showed taxidermy in several of the photos, I received feedback that some readers were upset. One wrote: How can you teach kids to be free, respectful and caring when half your walls have cadavers? And: There is no style in cruelty. Another said: Once I see dead animals/animal parts used for decor, fake or real, the house no longer looks cool.

Those are strong reactions!

My take: I’ve never hunted, I’ve never owned a gun, I’ve never purchased taxidermy (fake or real) for my home. But. I grew up with hunters — in fact, one of my very best friends in high school, Jandi Jones, had her own gun cabinet. And my town had a school vacation built around the annual deer hunt. So I’m familiar with how taxidermy fits in to certain cultures. And when I encounter taxidermy, words like “cruel” and “cadavers” don’t come to mind for me, but obviously they do for others.

The topic brings up all sorts of questions for me, as I seek for a more nuanced understanding about how people feel. Are you someone that believes taxidermy is automatically cruel no matter what, even if the animal died of natural causes? Does it make a difference if the taxidermy was found at a thrift shop or garage sale? If you’re a meat eater (I am), can you even be against taxidermy? Or is that hypocritical? What about Natural History Museums that are full of examples of taxidermy — if you have strong feelings against taxidermy, do you feel that even in museums, taxidermy should be removed? And related, we posted about conflicted feelings overs fake fur last winter, and the comments were pretty mild. Does seeing fur trim on a sweater give you the same reaction as seeing a mounted set of antlers?

What’s your take? Do you have strong reactions to taxidermy when you encounter it in photos or in real life? Would you ever use taxidermy in your own decorating? Would you boycott a store that uses taxidermy in its displays? Do you feel fake (think cardboard or plastic) taxidermy is a fun alternative to the real thing? Or is it still a reference of cruelty for you? Any other thoughts on the subject? I’m so curious. Let’s discuss!

P.S. — For the Clue Party at January’s Alt Summit, the parlor was filled with taxidermy. I thought it was a bold entrance!

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Taxidermy
May 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm

{ 124 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heather HS May 17, 2013 at 7:17 am

I work at a natural history museum, and we get questions about taxidermy all the time. We have dioramas that were created in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, all for educational purposes. Hundreds of thousands of people see the dioramas each year, and learn about the environment in which these animals live. Compared to a zoo, it is a much more realistic environment and you can get a lot closer (though there is a sheet of glass there!).

Like any scientific specimen, the amount of information that scientists and the public can learn from a couple of taxidermied specimens far outweighs the cost to the population of that species.

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2 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I totally have a thing for dioramas.

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3 Lisa May 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

I’ve never understood how a chopped off head (of any animal) on display can be considered decorative or stylish. It’s not the look for me, that’s for sure. I don’t find the cardboard heads offensive, but I also don’t find it attractive. Some people hop on board with every decorating trend. I really don’t get this one’s popularity. As for your reader’s comments, I have to agree with them. To answer question, no I wouldn’t boycott a place of business or a blog for displaying taxadermy. I have to admit though that I have a little less respect for people who choose to display them. It really is a clear sign that we all have different values.

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4 Kitty January 2, 2014 at 11:56 pm

I grew up with taxidermy in the house. I think the reason for it isn’t to say I hunted, I achieved, I fed the family. I outsmarted an animal with a better nose and better hearing than I, and one which is better as sneaking away than I an at sneaking up on him. Animal mounts are in memory of a special day, and of a special animal. if you’re squemish about the idea of meat coming from a living animal you wouldn’t want that reminder, but many people feel that the money they put into getting the trophy mounted is as much a tribute to the animal as anything else. It’s a jumping off point to telling the story of the whole trip, including the special effort they had to put forth to bag that wiley, cautious, fast and old animal who then went on to fulfill the function of all wild animals. feeding the family of the preadator. A trophy animal has a lot of years behind him. he’s knowledgeable and a worthy opponent. And in case you think it’s bad to take those animals, you should also know that an older animal is more likely to die during the winter due to slowing down and being unable to fight the deep snow or the predatory animals. it makes no difference to him if he feeds a wolf pack or a human family and in fact he suffers less pain and less fear if he’s taken by a hunter than by a wolf pack.

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5 Raleigh-Elizabeth May 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

Ruh-roh. This is a topic of conversation in our house on a regular basis, too. My husband grew up in the rural South, and hunting was not only a part of life, it was one of his favorite things (well, wandering around in the woods is one of his favorite things, and another is venison.It adds up). When we married and moved in together, what to do with the taxidermy was a big conversation: he had a lot, and I’m not in love with hanging dead animals in my home. But every family is a compromise, right? We have on our walls the skull of first deer he hunted (with a bow and arrow, which is a bit of a fairer endeavor if you ask me, and he ate all of it, which I think is the only responsible thing – he hunts for food, not for kicks) and the head of a boar that nearly killed him when he was 13 when he was walking in the woods. His dad was with him and, thankfully, armed, because otherwise there would have been no Bill for me to love at all after that day. There’s a lot we don’t have, because hanging taxidermy in the house gives me a case of the heebeejeebies, so it stays at his parents’ home. That being said, he continues to hunt, and we continue to eat what he brings home. He wants to take our boy hunting when he’s old enough, and from an omnivore’s perspective, I really do prefer them hunting an animal that’s been out in the wild and lived a full life than us getting venison at the butcher from some poor deer that didn’t live a life of joy at all. I realize that’s not an explanation that’s good enough for most people, but it works for us, and I assure that if you’re eating meat at all in the first place, hunting isn’t an act that undermines all you’ve taught your children about kindness automatically. I don’t want my child to think meat comes from the market. I want him to have to think about, struggle with, and come to his own understanding for how meat, its source, and food work themselves out in his life. We have a compromise that works for us. I want him to have all the pieces on the table to figure out what works for him.

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6 Sally May 17, 2013 at 7:38 am

Well said! I couldn’t agree more with your last couple of statements. I grew up in a family where what my dad and brothers got during hunting season kept our family of 10 kids alive and healthy for the year to come. Along with what we were able to raise poultry wise, that was our meat source. I have a healthy respect for a living animal that gave it’s life for me to eat it.
As for how taxidermy fits into this, if the person hanging has a relationship, so to say, with the animal on the wall, I think it fits other than that, it’s not for me. It weirds me out just a little. I always think the animal is watching me like in those old Scooby Do movies where the eyes follow them.

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7 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I love how you approach life, Raleigh-Elizabeth! Your marriage always sounds like it’s endlessly entertaining.

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8 Lisa May 17, 2013 at 7:39 am

After reading just two other comments, I’m thinking that I shouldn’t judge others based on this. :)

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9 Sara May 17, 2013 at 8:02 am

Right, Lisa! Gabrielle and the other commenters have made a valid point. This just isn’t a black and white issue, and most of us aren’t vigilant enough in our own lives to pass judgement. I’m vegetarian and anti-taxidermy (even faux) in my own home, yet I find myself in situations where I could be deemed hypocritical, like when I purchase a leather purse or when I wear cosmetics without checking into the company’s history of testing on animals.

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10 Raleigh-Elizabeth May 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I am really impressed by how open-minded and honest and open-hearted everyone is being here. It’s really uplifting.

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11 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I agree, Sara. I know some people feel this is a black & white issue, but it seems to move into grey areas really quickly when you start asking questions.

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12 Sherri May 17, 2013 at 7:54 am

I grew up in a house that had hunters, hell I married a hunter. Yes I have a taxidermy on my walls. Was the animal handled with cruelty? No. That animal was handled with respect and fed our family for a good portion of the winter. What would be seen as cruelty in the eyes of most hunters is when the animal is killed, the head taken and the rest of the animal left to rot out in the woods. Not to mention, it is certainly a lot healthier for you.

When animals are harvested by hunters, they are given way more respect than the beef that comes packaged real pretty in the grocery store.

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13 Kristi May 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

I have grown up where hunting was a hobby and a way of life for a lot of people, both men and women. I even hunt and we eat the meat. Maybe that has something, or everything, to do with me being okay with taxidermy. I even sell painted naturally shed deer antlers as decor. (www.etsy.com/shop/rusticco) To me, it adds a rustic touch to the home, a part of life and the world God created for us. I respect hunting and as long as people are doing it justly and legally, I think it’s a wonderful thing. I understand others’ different views on it as well, though. Our differences are all part of what makes the world go round.

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14 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm

It’s interesting to read the comments and see how heavily people’s views on this topic are influenced by where they grew up. You could totally be from my home town!

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15 Ria May 17, 2013 at 8:00 am

While taxidermy is not my personal choice for home decor, yes, it would give me the creeps. Not my style. But if someone chose to decorate their home with these items, that is their choice. Who am I to judge. I do not hunt, no desire to hunt, but I have fished. Since the dawn of the human race, we have hunted animals as a source of food. Those who are quick to judge people who hunt, and/or have taxidermy hanging in their homes I wonder. Do you know where your meat comes from? Do you wear leather? Do you eat Jell-O? Do you eat eggs, cheese, fish etc? If so do you know where those animal products come from? Do you know how miserable an existence many of these animals lived before becoming part of your food and clothing? How about leather furniture? I am not perfect, but I try to be aware where my food comes from. I buy my meat, eggs, milk etc from a local farmers co-op where our meat is drug free, animals are free range. I try to avoid factory farmed food sources whenever I can. We sometimes eat a local restaurant where most of their food is locally sourced, their beef is grass fed, etc. Hunters are probably more connected to the natural world, animals, and food sources than those who love to ridicule and judge them.

I agree with the comments above whole heartedly. I think we as a society are so far removed from where our food comes from. I have heard of people who had no idea that milk comes from a cow. They just assume it came from the store. LOL

BTW I asked about Jell-O since what makes Jell-O all jiggly wiggly is gelatin, and where does gelatin come from? If you don’t know, google it. LOL

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16 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I love that you’ve put a lot of thought into this topic, Ria. Your confident, clear response is fun to read.

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17 Linda K May 17, 2013 at 8:03 am

Great that you take controversy head on and turn it into a (hopefully) respectful conversation! I’m a vegetarian and an animal lover. I would never have taxidermy in my home as it would upset not only me, but also my children. I do, however, see such beauty in all natural forms, so a part of me understands it. Who can deny the haunting beauty of Georgia O’Keefe’s work with skulls and bones? I choose not to interpret them as symbols of death but as proof of the magic and strong geometry that underpins life.

Anyway, not for me, don’t like taxidermy as “trophy” but not prepared to castigate others who may interpret differently.

Happy weekend all!

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18 Lana Cole May 17, 2013 at 8:12 am

We have a different type of taxidermy on our walls. My husband preserves insects and hangs them as art. I was unsure of this initially, but I have to say that the framed bugs look very neat and visitors always want to ask about them. Much of the taxidermy my husband does himself. He has a large shadow box full of bugs native to Georgia that he slowly collected while on his mission. He also spent a summer with his younger brother collecting the neatest bugs he could find in our suburban Texas neighborhood. We also have several rare bugs like an emperor scorpion (which was our “pet” before it died of natural causes), some goliath beetles, deaths head moths (think Silence of the lambs), a tarantula, and a wall of colorful butterflies. My husband thinks bugs are incredibly fascinating and beautiful. His vision of taxidermy is that he respects the amazing and beautiful parts of natures weirder designs and he shows that respect by hanging them on our walls. That being said, if my grandpa wanted to leave us his warthog trophy that he shot on safari, we would not be disappointed. I have to agree with my husband, taxidermy can be beautiful because nature is beautiful. Having animals around, preserved or not encourages questions and the desire to learn more about them.

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19 Trista May 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

That is too cool. When I was growing up, my mom was an elementary school teacher, and she loved science most of all. She would always pick up interesting bugs for her classroom.

She works in administration now, but last time I was at her house, she had a huge dead moth sitting on her window sill. She’s never framed anything, so I have no idea what she’s planning on doing with it.

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20 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Sounds absolutely fascinating, Lana!

We did not have an extensive collection of bugs on display, but my mother hung the most beautiful preserved butterfly in our kitchen. I loved looking at it! It was large, and the perfect shade of blue.

I have no idea where that butterfly came from. Hah! I can’t imagine she caught it herself.

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21 mo May 17, 2013 at 8:17 am

My dad was a hunter as was my grandfather. It was equal part sport and survival. And yes, there was a fair amount of fish and game bird taxidermy as a result. How I would love to have some of them in my house today! Not as items for decorating, but as reminders of the men that shaped my life and introduced me to the “outdoors”.
I recently came across this article about a woman who pushes the boundaries of taxidermy and why http://www.fieldandstream.com/photos/gallery/hunting/2012/09/san-francisco-artist-crafts-european-mounted-skulls-out-cast-bronze?fb_action_ids=10151886799428154&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

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22 Christa the BabbyMama May 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

I have no strong feelings other than loving faux taxidermy :)

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23 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Love it, Christa!

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24 Jenny May 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

Lana Cole your house sounds awesome! Bugs freak me out alive but I think preserved insects are gorgeous.

I grew up in Alaska and so the antlers and skins of the hunted animals were all over the place and it did’t really bother me ever because it seemed more humane (Although I thought it looked tacky) to use the whole animal and pet it’s nice soft pelt in gratitude long after the mean was gone.

And then I babysat for a neighbor who went on an African big game hunting safari in the 70s or 80s and their house was covered in Zebra skins and animals coming out of the walls and it just seemed so sick and mean and wrong to me and I hated going in their house with the poor little, innocent, dead friends of Simba on the wall.

So, apparently I have very strong feelings about African Safaris and a house with those animals will give me the heebie jeebies but I think bears and moose and wolves and cougars etc are free game. But I mean, I don’t have to love other people’s home decor choices. It’s not my house.

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25 Larissa May 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

I totally agree with this division. Trophy hunting for no purpose other than a display is an awful thing– especially if the animal is endangered.

Factory farming is much more appalling, in my book, than a hunter providing meat for his/her family and then preserving the head.

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26 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Jenny, I especially love the last paragraph of your comment. I think your self-awareness is awesome.

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27 Christy@SweetandSavoring May 17, 2013 at 8:40 am

What a great topic for discussion! It’s fascinating what aspects of the home tours will be highlighted in the comments.
My husband and I are vegetarian, and we’re not generally fans of guns. I’ve never understood hunting, but then again, I wasn’t brought up around hunting culture. The idea of taxidermy? I’m just not sure, to be honest. My husband will make remarks about ‘heads’ and ‘gruesome’ if we encounter taxidermy in a restaurant or other public building. I find the idea of animals heads in one’s home pretty strange.
However, when you brought up museums, I realized that I never connected the two. (“Hey, that’s taxidermy, too!”) Museums are valuable, educational institutions- and those exhibits might be the only way many people get to see some species.
Feel as though I’m thinking out loud in this comment- but what a fascinating topic!

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28 Tessa May 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

Great questions, Gabrielle. Your mention of a school holiday built around deer hunting rings true for where I live as well. We actually have had quite an issue in our part of the country with over-population of deer, which causes so many issues including disease and lack of food. By all means I would rather see a deer shot to death and used for its meat than to see them starving to death on the prairie. In our area, there are also programs where hunters can donate the meat from their hunts to food banks and other hunger organizations in our state if they are not going to be consuming the meat themselves. My husband and many of our friends and relatives hunt (both with rifles and bows and arrows). I cannot think of one person I know who hunts, whether it be deer, duck, pheasant, etc., who does not properly process and preserve the meat for their own use. And yes, some of them have mountings in their homes as a result of a hunt. While we do not have an taxidermy in our home (I don’t feel that it fits well with our style), it does not bother me in other people’s homes.

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29 smee May 17, 2013 at 11:36 am

Living in So CAL, the idea of hunting and guns in general is, well, a whole other topic!

Friends of ours moved out of state to a state where rural living is more the norm. They learned that their 8 and 10 year old boys would learn to castrate sheep in Cub Scouts! (would not have even been thought of in CA) Then, after a year of teaching at a High School our friends were astonished and humoured to see that at commencement, the honour students each received a case of shot gun shells; the valedictorian receiving a new shot gun and the case of shells. (NO WAY -lol- would that have happened in CA!)

When in Rome!

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30 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Those are fantastic examples, Smee! Even in the hunt-loving community that I grew-up in, I can’t imagine a gun as a valedictorian’s gift. Amazing!

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31 Jade May 17, 2013 at 8:50 am

I am not a hunter and I don’t believe in hunting for sporting reasons. I’m not a vegetarian and I don’t oppose hunting for food at all. But, to me, taxidermy always seems like boasting, or glorifying the catch and to me, that seems wrong. I see animals as another species, same as humans – humans are of more complex minds than most animals and usually top of the food chain and therefore, we are usually the hunters and I understand that (I say most b/c brain function/awareness is highly debatable with some mammals), and I would never hang another human on the wall to display a ‘catch’, so I apply the same to animals :)

I don’t judge others that do, but I’m definitely not drawn to rooms/decor where animals are hung just for display reasons. I think Museums are a different story because they are using taxidermy for teaching purposes, not decoration.

Just my thoughts! Great topic.

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32 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Interesting distinctions, Jade!

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33 Here Now Brown Cow May 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

I have no idea where I stand on taxidermy, I eat free range meat, wear leather shoes and belts and probably use a whole host of other animal products. I don’t see a problem with fake fur or fake taxidermy. or fake bacon. does it make much difference to anyone? Not sure about the real stuff, but again, if you eat the meat, and use the rest of the animal why not?
Beautifully written post, great way to address the conflicting views.

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34 Kim @ SwissAmericanLife.wordpress.com May 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

I grew up on a pig farm, my grandparents had a dairy farm. We never questioned the meat in our freezer or the way the animals were treated, because it was a way of life for us. My dad loved being a farmer, and my grandpa loved working with dairy cows. Fortunately, I can look back and see that compared with the current awful feed-lots and cramped chicken cages that make up modern meat production, our animals would have been considered all-natural, free-range, etc.

As an adult, we have raised chickens for meat on our small hobby farm. And it is important that our children participated in the butchering process. Each week as we prepared a meal, they understood what it meant to gather eggs and care and protect and love our animals. We had sheep and watched the miracle of birth each Spring and thoughtful discussions when it was time to take a ram to the butcher. It is a cycle of life, and for our family, a meaningful one.

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35 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm

“Each week as we prepared a meal, they understood what it meant to gather eggs and care and protect and love our animals.”

Everything about your comment was beautiful to me, Kim. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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36 Maria May 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

We have a set of antlers on the wall. In fact, it’s the ONLY thing my husband has gotten around to hanging in our new house. They went up right away. I would rather not have them on the wall. In fact, I did notice the taxidermy in the last post, and my immediate thought was, ” what in the world would you CHOOSE to hang those on your wall?” Especially since they didn’t look like they were the family’s hunting trophies. I think the whole antler faux rustic lodge look is ridiculous, but not cruel, etc. That gets my eyes rolling even more than city people who have never set foot in the woods hanging antlers on their walls.

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37 Carie Clayton May 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

“Another said: Once I see dead animals/animal parts used for decor, fake or real, the house no longer looks cool.” I agree with this 100% – I actually lost interest in the photo gallery – a first on your site!

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38 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’d love to hear more, Carie! Is it taxidermy specifically that bothers you, or do you try to avoid all animal products?

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39 Patricia May 17, 2013 at 9:10 am

Why are people so opinionated about the way others decorate their homes and live their lives? I really enjoy the Living With Kids Home Tours and cannot fathom ever saying negative things after a family was brave enough to share their home with the public. Too many women are way too quick to judge other women! What is up with that??

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40 smee May 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

Agreed!

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41 christie May 20, 2013 at 7:18 pm

agreed x2

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42 Cammie May 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

What a great discussion!
I don’t eat red meat. Not because I have a moral issue with it, but I have a digestion issue with it. But, I do have a cow-hide rug. I LOVE my rug. I hope the entire cow was eaten by those who do eat red meat and treated with respect.

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43 Kelly May 17, 2013 at 9:19 am

While I am not a huge fan of hunting myself I do really like the look of mounted deer heads. I found a happy medium and used one of the popular cardboard deer heads and papier mached it with pages from french books I had picked up while wandering Paris. I love the way it looks AND no animals were harmed :) You can see it below.
http://www.wildwandering.com/2013/04/29/be-a-deer/

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44 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Looks cute, Kelly!

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45 Cecilia May 17, 2013 at 9:20 am

Such an interesting and vexed (at least for me) question. I don’t like zoos, but I’m basically ok with natural history museums. I can respect hunters who know what they’re doing and eat what they kill, but trophy hunting (as someone mentioned above) or the killing of non-meat animals, such as wolves or coyotes, makes me shake my head. To me, a taxidermied animal head is beautiful, because the living animal was beautiful; a taxidermied head is also sad, artificial thing, because the animal is dead.

It got me thinking: why don’t people display the taxidermied heads of their pets? (Or maybe they do?) Does the different approach to that tell us something?

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46 smee May 17, 2013 at 11:28 am

My d-i-l lost her beloved bird when she was about 8 years old. Her mom saw how much it grieved her daughter, so she talked with d-i-l. The bird was gently wrapped and frozen just long enough for her mom to learn taxidermy. Once she felt proficient, she removed the (whole) bird and preserved it. They placed him back in his cage and hung it back up in her room where it stayed until the day she moved out.

This story always makes me laugh, a lot! But now I know both her mother and she, and it makes perfect sense. It was a truly loving mother that tried to comfort her daughter the best way possible and it worked. (Her mother is brilliant on many levels!) Any who, d-i-l *was* comforted and looking back she can see the humour in her mother’s act -but more so, she understands just how much it hurt her mother to see her grieve.

So, long story short…I guess some folks *do* preserve their pets.

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47 Cecilia May 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Thanks for sharing this story, Smee! It brought a smile to my face. (My parakeet died when I was the same age.)

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48 Tessa May 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Cecilia,
I just wanted to point out that sometimes wolves and coyotes are shot because they themselves are hunters and can be a threat to sheep and cattle herds, horses, and even outdoor pets in rural areas. I have not really heard of them being shot for sport, though I’m sure it’s possible.

I agree with you that a living animal is much more beautiful than a deceased one.

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49 Cecilia May 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Tessa,

I do know that especially in the West, where wolves are being reintroduced, there is hunter/hunter conflict. But sometimes I wonder who has the right of way. One of my neighbors in Maine (who does not have any livestock) traps coyotes because they are a “nuisance.”

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50 Suzanne May 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

My grandpa had his study decorated with animal heads. It was creepy, because I knew they were watching me (I was five). It doesn’t bug me anymore. I would never have had a chance to see some of those animals up close. Had it been merely for the trophy and not the whole animal, I would have a HUGE problem.

Most hunters I know love the animals they hunt and actively work to preserve and protect them. I know a guy who once picked up road kill to see it any of it could be used.

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51 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm

“Most hunters I know love the animals they hunt and actively work to preserve and protect them.”

I’m glad you mentioned that, Suzanne. If someone hasn’t grown up around hunters, they might not know that.

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52 Phaedra May 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

I guess I’m a bird of a different feather; the fact that the house had so much interesting taxidermy actually really attracted me; it was a unique feature that I liked. I thought it was beautiful, and it made the house stand out.

Of course, I’m biased. I am currently in the midst of putting silver leaf on the antlers of a deer head so I can put it in my living room. My father-in-law hunted the deer himself with a bow, which I take a lot of pride in; we all had venison from the deer. Anything left over, he donates to his local church’s food bank for local at-need families. Since he lives in rural North Carolina where most of the industries have been sent overseas, there is plenty of need and appreciation for the food he helps provide.

I guess I see taxidermy as a sign and a reminder of the fact that we are, innately, a hunter species. It’s where we came from, whether or not modern most Americans take part in the culture. I think it’s an important part of my family tree, and I acknowledge the love, skill, and respect that goes into hunting the way my family does it.

It’s too bad other people see it as something to be disgusted by; but we all come from different places. I think it’s really too bad that the last two homes that have been featured have been such bastions of controversy. I wish we would make this more about the women sharing their homes, and less about what we project negatively onto them.

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53 Louise May 17, 2013 at 9:31 am

So many good points have been made! I chose not to respond to the last post because I believe that no one can point fingers when it comes to morality and use of animals; and, because style is a totally personal prerogative. That said, it is hugely disappointing and boring to me when everyone thinks they need to add animal decor to their homes because they don’t want to miss a trend.

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54 becky May 17, 2013 at 9:31 am

having traveled the world since i was young, and especially since some of my adventures took me into the remote villages of new guinea (where a hunting trophy hits a little too close to home for all of us homo sapiens), i find this discussion interesting. after years of seeing our western-ism from an outside perspective, i have learned to live with a little less passion about these kind of topics. i’ve come to realize that we should all be thankful that we have the privilege to even worry about these issues – to make the kind of choices men and women have historically not been able to make. so, while i feel strongly about where my food comes from, eating seasonally, loving faux-taxidermy, not really big on hunting but know i should be willing to kill what i eat (theoretically), homeschooling, design, whatever issue of the day we are discussing…at the end of the day i am just thankful that we all have the relative comfort and privilege to have these kind of conversations. there are a lot of people in the world that would not understand taxidermy debates, much less debates about locally source food. falling back on what has been said repeatedly, i am respectful and aware of the cultural aspects of these traditions and choices…as respectful as i am the cultural traditions and choices of vegan/vegetarian communities. i think the issue is respect and i worry that this new age of social media is creating a platform for disrespect, narcissism ever present as people bully, cajole, threaten – i can never teach people about my passions if i speak with disrespect or if i refuse to understand the other side of my argument (which is why i respect gabrielle’s continued efforts to maintain a safe community in which to discuss these issues). vilification seems to be the new trend…trickling down from our media, all the way to our personal blogs and facebook pages and even to our dinner tables and personal relationships.

again, we should just be so happy to be so privileged – and once that is acknowledged, go fix the world or something. and if you define fixing the world by wanting everyone to hunt their own food or by wanting everyone to never kill/eat/display an animal again – do it. but do it with authority, education and compassion – go live a life so flipping amazing that we all want to jump on your bandwagon of awesomeness.

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55 Kristin Smith May 17, 2013 at 11:22 am

Agreed, Becky. As I was reading the comments, I was thinking, “This is such a first world problem.”

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56 Val May 17, 2013 at 11:23 am

Becky,

You have written a beautiful response that addresses the issues I find so vexing and pervasive in our society today. Sadly, I further believe that these demeaning tactics actually encourage others to hold more tightly to their beliefs rather than change their opinion.

I heart your final statement that if we want to effect change we should “do it. but do it with authority, education and compassion – go live a life so flipping amazing that we all want to jump on your bandwagon of awesomeness.”

Simply lovely! and… I think that Gabrielle is the epitome of this kind of awesomeness. I know I’ve been changed because of the kind and considerate way that difficult topics are approached on this blog :)

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57 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:28 pm

“again, we should just be so happy to be so privileged – and once that is acknowledged, go fix the world or something.”

I really love your comment, Becky. Really love it. Especially the last line!

I do try really hard to be aware of how privileged my life is. But man, I find it’s difficult to keep that perspective consistently. Have you found any tricks? Or do we all need to move to New Guinea? : )

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58 Barchbo May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Amen, sister! I was thinking how lucky we are to have a forum to express ourselves so unreservedly on any topic – blessing! Thanks for providing it, Gabrielle!

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59 Rachel May 17, 2013 at 9:38 am

Hmm. I’ve honestly never even given a lot of thought to this.

My family has Native American roots and some still-existing cultural heritage, so I grew up with a lot of Native American-made authentic artifacts around–things like painted deer antlers and drums made with animal skin. So to me, decorating with antlers and taxidermy or using animal products in general has never seemed inappropriate.

I imagine that most people would be pretty sympathetic to this since it has to do with a very legitimate cultural heritage (and in the case of drums, even a spiritual element, since they were used by my parents in drumming circles), which begs the question: Why isn’t the culture of hunting in the west or south legitimate too?

I used to have pretty negative feelings about hunting, in particular, but my feelings about it changed slightly a year or so ago when I had a conversation with one of my very sweet friends who hunts. I asked him about it, ready to tell him off, but he opened up, and through our conversation, I saw how much it means to him. He got emotional when talking about connecting with nature and the almost-cathartic process of preparing and waiting for the hunt.

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60 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Wow, Rachel! I’m impressed that you went into a conversation with your mind made up, but then were willing to listen openly to your friend. And that you can freely admit your opinion changed. I think that’s brave!

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61 heather May 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

I have my opinions on hunting and decore and they don’t jive all of the time. It’s hard to be consistant especially if you are going to point the finger because animal products are everywhere. I think it’s an ethical problem of a society who has the luxury of removing themselves from the process of food to table. I’m all for being kind to animals but look in the mirror before getting on the bandwagon,

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62 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

“I think it’s an ethical problem of a society who has the luxury of removing themselves from the process of food to table.”

Nicely stated, Heather.

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63 Olivia May 17, 2013 at 10:07 am

Like so many others here, I grew up in a home with hunters. It was a sport, but also feed our family of seven, meat is expensive! I never once considered that my dad had anything but respect for the sport or the animals and we had a fair share of animal heads in our den.

Whenever I see taxidermy, it reminds me of my childhood and the excitement and pride in my dad’s face when he came home from a hunt with something to show and to provide for our family.

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64 S May 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

A joke I heard once comes to mind: “It’s not a sport if the other side doesn’t know they’re playing”..

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65 Maeve May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

The game is always on in the woods. :)

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66 Meagan Claire May 20, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Absolutely, Maeve.

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67 PARIS BEE kids blog May 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

I wouldn’t want taxidermy pieces in my own home but I appreciate it as an art and I’ve always loved to go to Deyrolle in the 7th. It’s such a mysterious place and if anything it teaches us to value life and appreciate nature…

xoxo PARIS BEE kids blog

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68 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Deyrolle? I’ve never heard of it. Is it a Natural History Museum?

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69 Gia May 17, 2013 at 10:45 am

I grew up with a taxidermied iguana, my mom got at a garage sale and named Iguana Hold My Hand, hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom. She would bring it down to fascinate and scare the neighborhood children. Its feet eventually rotted off because she liked to put it on all of our birthday cakes.
This early introduction to bizarre decorating choices has framed my love for all things weird. I read “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson and felt like I was home. I gave a copy to my mom for Mother’s Day this year and it took her half a day to speed read through it, intermittently texting me between laughs and calling her friends to read them parts out loud. I love skulls, bones, and objects of nature. I love sharing them with my children at the museum or wondering into our favorite German restaurant that has a collection of taxidermied jackalopes and other oddities. One of the best exhibits I’ve seen was the skulls display at the Academy of Sciences several years ago. It was a huge room with thousands of skulls, organized by species. It showed the enormity of difference but also the intricacies and similarities between all living creatures.
I’m a huge fan of alternatives to taxidermy. Whether cardboard, wood, paper mache, or crochet I think they’re a great alternative to the real thing, and more appropriate for a house full of non hunters in a city. One of my favorites is the clever use of crochet to display “dissected” specimen. Pinned to little boards are crochet frogs, moths, pigs and owl pellets, patterned to show the crocheted insides and expose the crafter’s full creativity.
For the last two years we’ve held a preschool auction. The biggest sellers in the live auction are always the taxidermy. It’s unique and strange, perfect for San Francisco parents. We had a boar’s head the first year that was donated by a local coffee shop (it used to hang in their bathroom). There was a bidding war and it ended up selling for $1000. Crazy.

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70 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Oh hooray! I was hoping someone would bring up Jenny’s book. I’ve known The Bloggess basically since I started blogging and I have an advance copy of her book that I consider a treasure.

And I love your comment. I especially agree with this:

“I’m a huge fan of alternatives to taxidermy. Whether cardboard, wood, paper mache, or crochet I think they’re a great alternative to the real thing, and more appropriate for a house full of non hunters in a city.”

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71 Kimberly May 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

Oh, taxidermy. I keep thinking of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast: “I use antlers in all of my decorating!!” So while it’s not my personal decorating fetish, if you killed it and ate it, then by all means, put that head on your wall. If you didn’t kill it and bought it second-hand or fake … I think that’s a bit more “Gaston” but if you pay the rent/mortgage, the decorating choices are yours. For what it’s worth, I’m in the minority as well on the topic of chalkboard walls.

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72 Kelly May 17, 2013 at 10:51 am

One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite Disney songs! Haha. :D

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73 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

One of my favorites too! It’s a pretty fantastic line.

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74 Kelly May 17, 2013 at 10:50 am

I wear leather, eat meat, and have lived in the suburbs of Southern California all my life. I’m fully aware that I wasn’t raised in a culture where hunting and guns were part of everyday life, and whatever my own preferences and tastes, I don’t feel comfortable getting on my high horse with others with different values over an issue that doesn’t harm other humans.

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75 Val May 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

Gabrielle,
Thank you for taking the time to write these kinds of posts. I love the way you encourage each of us as your readers to think about and identify our own positions on so many controversial issues rather than simply attacking those who come from a different point of view.

Because of your lovely writing style and kind tone, I have learned to better analyze “why” I believe what I believe, and the learning that occurs when I look at issues from a why perspective has helped me to become a kinder, more tolerant person. I appreciate you and all those who share their lives on your site, especially when those sharing believe differently than I, because I have had the opportunity to grow in ways that would be impossible otherwise.

As for taxidermy, I grew up eating hunted meat, but neither of my parents wanted trophies, and I have no desire for them in my home. But, my mother’s father was a hunter, and had many full body taxidermy animals in his home that I found beautiful and amazing, so I have no issue with others who enjoy displaying them.

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76 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Val, thank you! You made my day.

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77 smee May 17, 2013 at 11:16 am

“He uses antlers in all of his decorating…Oh what a guy, Gaston!”

The ivory keys on my antique piano were once acceptable, now – not so much, but do I throw the piano away and waste all 88? The same with the pieces of coral I have, once legal, now, no way. Are the pieces of taxidermy obtained legally, humanely, and with respect?

I don’t “get” hunting or guns, I’m just this side of vegetarianism, and the thought of the heads/parts of animals hanging about gives me the creeps. That said, I love me some sea shells, star fish, anemones, and sea fans, toss in some coral and this fat girl will dance a jig!

How is one carcass different than another? (A friend has her mother in a jar on top of the spinet.)

If one is “black and white” on this subject then one would need to remove wool rugs, leather belts, any silks, stop smashing spiders and killing slugs, etc. Toss out about 98% of your make up (of the red beetles!), shampoos/soaps/household cleansers…gasoline! Oh and while we’re being b/w -toss in all those pearls and diamonds…pearls for the animal cruelty, and diamonds because of the human cruelty used to obtain the majority of the overprice little rocks.

Perhaps everything with moderation, respect, and humanity? Being a conscious consumer rather than a “Jones’” hoarder? Let’s think reasonably, finding *our* personal needs/style rather than just running out to grab the newest cool thing.

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78 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Wow, Smee! I feel like my mind is kind of being blown. I had never thought of sea shells and star fish and other preserved sea-creatures (and sea creature parts) in relation to things like antlers or taxidermy. I’d honestly never made the connection.

I need to think about that!

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79 Lauren May 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thanks for the thought-provoking response!

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80 michelle May 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

It’s so funny that you posted this because 5 minutes ago I searched “deer antlers” on Google. We don’t hunt. We do eat meat. We live on a wooded lot and large numbers of deer share our yard (and eat our bushes) daily. We want to find “shed antlers” and mount them on our wall. We see it not as cruelty but as a nod to our very alive backyard companions. For me, I wouldn’t want the head mounted. That would be hard to look at… although, as a person who eats meat and wears leather I have no illusions about the animals fates. Thanks for starting such a respectful dialogue. Somedays I think there is hope for the internet. :)

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81 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Michelle, I would totally think like that. If I lived in a place that had a herd of deer near nearby, you can bet I would be searching for shed antlers. I love having things in my home that relate to its locality.

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82 Lara May 18, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I have a friend that manages a herd so I asked him if I could have some of the antlers he has collected after they have been shed. He took me to his collection and I went to grab a couple and he immediately stopped me and said he would pick the ones I could have. His family has managed this herd for a very long time and depending on the age of the animal he can identify which deer each of the shed antlers belong to. He is very proud of them!

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83 Jenny May 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm

There are people all winter and springtime long parked on the side of my road watching the herds of deer with binoculars and scopes and I just learned they watching in hopes of collecting shed antlers. I had no idea that was such a huge thing!

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84 Suzie May 17, 2013 at 11:40 am

I wasn’t raised in a culture of hunting, although many of my friends and roommates in college did and I respect that culture if done responsibly, but my dad has worked in natural history museums for my entire life. I grew up in the museum collections, surrounded by taxidermy, bones, tissue samples, skins, and the like. Turning off all the lights in the collection space before we went home was the most fun and the most terrifying; Dad always told us stories about the “museum beast” that was going to eat us (a la The Relic).

I’m not sure I would like a lot of taxidermied animals in my house, but I recognize their usefulness, especially in museums where they are used for research. My brother and I have even donated animals that we’ve found to natural history collections at a couple of universities. We had two fully taxidermied animals (a stuffed weasel and a freeze-dried fawn; both died of natural causes and my Dad collected them) that I love. I also really liked a lot of the mounted heads in the museum and the dioramas using taxidermied animals are often so fantastic and interesting. The people who create them are so knowledgeable and respectful of the animals that they are trying to show the public. Also, I think antlers are pretty (and can be “foraged” since most antlered animals shed them at some point).

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85 Colleen May 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I personally don’t believe in hunting for sport and dislike the taxidermy-as-decor trend. I am not offended by others using it, it just isn’t for me. That said, I am definitely a meat-eater! I just find the idea of killing for sport rather disturbing.

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86 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I think I agree with you about killing for sport (versus killing for meat). I’m curious about how much of world’s hunting is done for “sport”, and how much is done to provide food. I want to believe that very little is done for sport, but I actually have no idea.

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87 Lara May 18, 2013 at 6:19 pm

We have friends that do some sport hunting and they always donate the meat to the local guides that accompanied them during their hunt.

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88 Maike May 17, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I like so much how you approach a topic like this in such a light but still complex and sensitive way. I am German, I find it hard to find the right words in English, but this is one of the reasons why I like your blog so much.
When you get strong reactions like this it is probably hard to pick up that topic again without being defensive or judgemental or or or…
I know, I would find it hard. And I like all the aspects that you bring into it.
I have to admit: When I saw the tour I stopped liking the house the moment I saw the dead animals hanging from the wall. Without judging the owners: That is just not for me. I eat hardly any meat, I would never buy or cook some myself, I wouldn’t be able to touch or chop it. That’s why I couldn’t have these eyes looking down on me, just couldn’t.
But I know there are different angles to look at the topic and I also think that everybody who is regulary eating meat should not be judging this. This is part of it.
My daughter, who is 4 and a real meat eater, knows everything about where the meat is coming from and which animal she has on her plate. I think that is very important. If you decide to eat animals you have to accept the whole truth and culture that comes with it. That is more natural than blocking it out and being overwhelmed everytime you see a dead animal. My daughter LOVES animals and is totally okay with eating them. Since I believe her instincts are more intact than mine I suppose that is not a contradiction.

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89 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

What interesting circumstances, Maike! It must be so strange for you to be raising a meat-loving child. Does your husband do the meat cooking?

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90 Meghan E May 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm

The way I see it, nature is very cruel. Just watch a nature video. A cheetah will, with no guilt, rip the guts out of a baby gazelle who is still gasping for breath. The rest of the gazelle, not consumed, will be left to be eaten by birds of prey and other small animals. Talk about no respect. Humans are really quite humane comparatively. A bullet to the head or a vital organ and the animal is dead. But for some reason if a human kills an animal there is outrage, if a lion does it’s called “nature”.
An animal is an animal not a person and at the end of the day I’m thankful for their furs, leathers, feathers, and best of all meat. I see no problem displaying taxidermy. A lot worse happens in nature.

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91 Tessa May 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Interesting perspective, Meghan. How sheltered most of us are from nature.

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92 Megan M. May 17, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I agree – an animal is an animal. I find it a little strange when, for (true life) example, people are perfectly fine with watching a TV show about people being murdered, but the minute a dog or cat is killed, the message boards explode with “How dare they! So cruel!”

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93 bryssy May 17, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Well, it’s not my style choice at all. It doesn’t bother me to see it, when it was an animal that was hunted and eaten. I’m sure my experience growing up on a farm in the rural countryside and have eaten both food we grew (vegetable and animal) and what my dad hunted colors my opinion. I have also helped kill and butcher animals that we raised for food (rabbits, chickens, sheep, pigs, cows & helped with the butchering of each deer my dad hunted) and that, ultimately, colors my thoughts the most. The process is gory. It is not pleasant. But, it can be done so that the animal does not suffer. So, while I really appreciate not having to pluck a chicken before I cook it (such a lot of work) I can also appreciate an honorable death given to an animal that will provide for myself and my family. I don’t have a problem having the skin of an animal that we have consumed tanned for making something useful for us. I’m in the gray area. I don’t love a house full of taxidermy, but consumed animals bother me much less than those killed for ‘sport.’ I don’t enjoy seeing sport trophies at all.

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94 Elisabeth O May 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I grew up in an area where pretty much everyone hunts, including a lot of women and girls. My dad and both grandfathers have always hunted. Taxidermy doesn’t really bother me, although I don’t really like it as decoration. In our house, mounted antlers are allowed inside, but deer heads are not. My dad’s taxidermy is therefore at his office, which probably offends some people, but all of the animals were humanely killed. At his office, he has deer heads, a moose head (that thing is enormous!), a stuffed peasant, and a fox hide. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know if I’d want it staring at me while I sleep. I now attend a college where one of the science buildings is filled with taxidermy (of all sorts). Some people don’t come to the college for this one small detail, but I don’t mind it. They are moving the taxidermy this year to the art building to use as models for the painting and drawing classes, which is something I had never thought of before. Also, I just remembered that growing up, my brother had a stuffed alligator, bones (including a cow skull we found while hiking), and a preserved shark in a jar. Guess it really isn’t a big deal in my family!

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95 Design Mom May 17, 2013 at 1:47 pm

“I now attend a college where one of the science buildings is filled with taxidermy (of all sorts). Some people don’t come to the college for this one small detail, but I don’t mind it.”

I’ve never heard of someone choosing or not choosing a college based on this. I’m fascinated! I imagine most colleges do have some taxidermy — at least in their science departments. My university (BYU) has an entire museum of taxidermy.

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96 Megan M. May 17, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I would never imagine people would avoid a school because of taxidermy… it’s for educational purposes.

I recently went on a tour of the school my daughter will be attending next year, and I was so pumped to find out that they had a brand-new science lab and it was full of specimen jars with all kinds of bugs and frogs and other things to look at. I was like, Wow! She’s going to learn so much!

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97 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker May 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I love that museum!

Did you see the Harry Potter spoof video by Divine Comedy called Firebolt? In the video one of the students who is suposed to a huge Harry Potter fan “steals” the taxidermy snowy owl and is shown being chased my museum staff.

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98 julie May 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I also live in a community where hunting is the norm, and it does feed families well with a sense of accomplishment for the work it entails. I have been privileged to share in some of those meals and they were delicious. Although many in our family hunt, my husband and I have not hunted, but we do have a faux taxidermy. My husband created a very beautiful piece from a resin antelope skull, and . . . my apricot tree! That’s right, the antlers are made from a cherished apricot tree that grew in our yard until a severe drought took it a few years ago. It is a great conversation piece, and I enjoy it. You can see it here: http://www.etsy.com/listing/38628499/faux-deer-rack?ref=shop_home_active

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99 Sarah K May 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I love Linda K’s take on it. I don’t personally like taxidermy at all–not for any ethical reasons, but just based on aesthetics. I don’t understand the appeal of it aside from what Linda mentioned–the beauty of natural shapes and geometry that can be found in animals.
But if I wanted to get those shapes, I would rather go for sculpture or ceramic pieces than taxidermy. There’s something about dead animal parts hanging out in my house that feels creepy–and it seems (though I don’t know for sure) that they might be hard to keep clean. Do you vacuum taxidermy pieces? Dust them?

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100 cheryl May 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I am in total agreement with Gabrielle and Raleigh Elizabeth. I grew up with it as well and am not offended. However, a little goes a long way.
I would never be so judgemental about another person/family who displays their interests. It’s great to have opinions, but there is no room for hateful, judgemental attitudes.

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101 Kimberly May 17, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I like taxidermy. I want a moose head…I have no room in my house for a moose head at the moment, but someday I want one! I have a longhorn cow skull and horns…I think antlers or mounted heads look cool. I am ok with new taxidermy if the animal is not endangered or protected and if it was killed humanely (died quickly, did not suffer); I prefer that it be used for its meat first and for its taxidermic (?) appeal second. I think second hand/vintage taxidermy is great!

My husband enjoys hunting. He enjoys the challenge, and we enjoy the meat.

Its easy to judge…its rarely necessary to judge.

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102 elz May 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I married a hunter. As such, our home has several taxidermied pieces throughout-probably about 6 total. People who don’t hunt fail to appreciate all the work that goes into making sure the animals have all they need to thrive, selective hunting to ensure the strongest animals survive and reproduce. Hunting is highly regulated to protect native populations of each hunted species, while ensuring the participants are protected as well. It is not the way I was raised, but it is the way my children are being raised. Our girls love going hunting with daddy. I love that they have a special thing to do with him.

Our house reflects what our family does. My girls and my husband hunt, therefore, we have taxidermied deer and ducks on our walls (not all-just a few). It is not a house of horrors or fear by any means, our home is full of laughter and hugs and love, just like yours.

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103 Megan M. May 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm

The idea of taxidermy has never bothered me. My stepfather hunted deer occasionally (and we enjoyed his venison casserole!) and he once took my younger sister and I with him to see the deer get processed. I don’t remember anything anymore except that we each got to take home an antler, but he says we were totally fascinated.

There are times when I see something, like a recent news story about a teenager bagging the biggest alligator on record in Texas, and I think, “Well why did you have to KILL it??” But on the other hand, I eat meat. I know where it comes from. And as Raleigh-Elizabeth said, I tell my girls where it comes from, too. That hamburger you love? It used to be a cow. Those nuggets and eggs? Chickens. I want my kids to think about where their food comes from – all of it, vegetables and fruits and grains, too.

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104 Cerise May 17, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I like the deer head pictured. Nice and not the real thing. I don’t have a problem with it really…not as long as the animal died naturally or was killed for food…and not just for their head or feathers.
My father in law has really high ceilings in his house and the walls are COVERED with deer, antelope..a couple foul…It kinda creeps me out to be stared at from all angles by the dead. It’s not something I grew up with and I also get creeped out when my cat stares at me…so maybe it’s just me.

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105 Lauren May 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I don’t appreciate taxidermy as decor, and don’t believe in hunting for sport, but I think an animal hunted for its meat– with other parts (head, fur) used for decor– is humane, definitely more so than animal products from a factory-farmed animal (including eggs, milk). We have never hunted but my husband and I are considering having him kill a deer next winter as an alternative meat source to factory farmed animals.

My favorite book on this subject is The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

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106 Elizabeth N. May 18, 2013 at 1:42 am

My cousin is technically a taxidermist. He has been doing it on the side since high school I believe. I have no problem with it ethically, just find it a bit creepy. Between his live animals and his stuffed animals, I’d rather never visit his house. When he lived at home, I was always hearing stories about what his parents would find when they opened up their freezer. The animals had to be kept somewhere really cold after all! Why not the family’s personal freezer?

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107 Kay May 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Here’s my take, since you asked:
I don’t eat meat most of the time because I’m morally opposed to most modern industrial farming practices. I don’t feel good about eating the meat of an animal that suffered during its life. However, if the animal was raised with care and compassion (on small, old-fashioned farms) and did not suffer, then I’m happy to eat it. I think it’s natural for humans to eat meat, but not natural to be okay with animals suffering throughout their lives to get it.

On that line of thought, hunting is my favourite source of meat when I can get it. What better life could an animal live than in its natural habitat? And hunting practices usually result in a quick, painless death (hunters make efforts to ensure this). Using the whole body, not just the meat, feels like a tribute to that animal so I find taxidermy fits well with my philosophy. Plus I think it is interesting and beautiful!

Really enjoyed this discussion thanks for letting me share my two cents.

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108 Nicole May 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I’ve threatened my family with the idea I’d like to be stuffed when I die. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s an option, but I do adore the idea of being conversation for generations. Especially in a house tour, “we just had the floors redone, here’s the living room, and over in that corner is my great great Aunt Nicole…”

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109 anon May 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

I don’t like animal heads on walls, but it is common here in South Africa. A lot of people also use animal skins as carpets (even my brother had one although I think it was wall art)

However I remember being about 18 and buying a rabbit skin, I was going to make a handbag with it, but many people were disgusted by the idea so I eventually threw it away. But I think it would have made a great bag.

I don’t care if you have it on your walls or not, I would just prefer not to sleep/sit in a room with wildlife staring at me. And I prefer to get out of that section of the museum quite fast as well!

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110 patricia May 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I find it offensive and even sense a lack of empathy and real understanding and connection to the natural world if people display real taxidermy in their homes or personal spaces. I have to deferred to Satayana’s quote : Fashion is something barbarous for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.

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111 Cherie May 19, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I find taxidermy kind of creepy, but anything dead that still resembles part of the living animal it once was will do that to me (especially if there are eyes, truly the window to the soul!) I don’t eat octopus, whole fish or chickens feet at dim sum either (and forget about a pig on a spit with an apple still in its mouth!). All of these things still remind me of the living animal. Same goes for wearing fur and snakeskin or crocodile products, they still too closely resemble the living animal. I have no problem eating meat or wearing leather though, I appreciate my logic may be flawed and offensive to some but its just the way I feel.

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112 the emily May 20, 2013 at 8:15 am

I never gave it a second thought until I moved to Gallup, NM and every single house is filled with bearskin rugs and antlers on the wall. It could be considered barbarous to some, but not to the good people here. They eat the meat, they don’t just kill for sport. I don’t see the big deal in bringing them home to be displayed, especially if the alternative is to let the beautiful animal rot in the forest. Also, the Navajo here won’t kill bears because of a belief in reincarnation but when bears causing trouble on the reservation, they call my (white) next-door neighbor to come kill them. If he’s going to kill a bear, he’s going to keep the hide, believe you me. :)

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113 Becky May 20, 2013 at 8:25 am

I found myself having this exact conversation in my head at the beginning of this year’s hunting season (the first hunting season I’ve ever been an active, enthusiastic part of.) I’ve found myself recently on a journey to connect more meaningfully to my food by both- farming and hunting it.

Which brought me into the taxidermy shop. My roommate shot his first antlered deer with a bow. We had just loaded the carcass into the truck, dropped the meaty portion of the animal off at our friend’s butcher shop to be processed into edible meat. I now found myself in the taxedermy shop becoming absolutely entranced by nature. It was a mom-and-pop kinda establishment, but it struck me how young the couple was. Just about my age- and they were the best in town. Clearly experts, working with no showroom, just in a well ventilated box trailer. Word of mouth being more effective network advertising than a billboard in this culture of hunting. Expertly with a razor blade, she was so neatly preserving the beautiful parts of the animals brought in. I was fascinated. And perhaps a little bewildered about how much art and care and craftsmanship goes into a carcass.

These are the parts of the animal that would disappear into the landscape, be eaten by scavengers, consumed again by nature, had nature killed the animal of ‘natural’ causes.

But then you get into all the questions of our human nature- and I like to think a lot of our humanity, humane-ness, stems from culture. Our values, wherver they come from. And this culture of hunting and perservation and respect and admiration of animals and all that they have to offer, their value in the grand scheme weighed against their value of being consumed, falling dead at our own hands only to give us health and life and communion with eachother.

Antlers, nature’s personal trophy of good genes each buck gets to grow, display, fight with, mark territory boundaries, and eventually shed at the end of mating season. Trophies that litter the forest floor every year, discarded matter no longer useful for enticing reproduction. Why, as humans, do we have a fascination in preserving these things?

I’m a huge fan of well executed taxidermy, because it’s an art, a craft that really does make me think. The antlers and skull (European mount, they call it) hanging in the prominent spot in our living room reminds me every day to connect and awaken to the bounty of nature and the effects of our human culture in this vast organism that is our earth. To be greatful for all the ways it dies in order to make my life possible. This may sound kind of depressing, but it’s really quite magical how, for example, the death of winter paves the way for exhuberant spring!

What a fascinating topic- loved reading and thinking about all the comments!

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114 KelliO May 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

My husband loves wild animals and shows a deep reverence for them. He also likes to hunt. One day it hit me how paradoxical this sounded. I asked him how that was. He thoughtfully replied that when killing an animal (for meat not sport), he feels that reverence and connection to the animal that will sustain the life of his family. I don’t think he really considered this too much before, but his response sounded very traditional to me. Again, for those who did not grow up arounding hunters, most value the wildlife and animals and promote their health and wellness.

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115 Jessica May 20, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I love taxidermy. The end.

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116 Meagan Claire May 20, 2013 at 11:23 pm

I’ve lived my whole life in Texas. My uncles hunt, we all eat it, and many of them have heads mounted on their walls. My mom and I wear (real!) fur, real leather, and are real fond of our detached longhorns. My parents raise goats for milk and meat, grow their own produce, and keep free range chickens.

There’s a lot about the American food industry that turns my stomach, but none of it has anything to do with antlers and hunting lodges. There’s an obvious disconnect with people and their food/clothing/shelter.

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117 Mrs. Kucera May 21, 2013 at 7:32 am

Great piece. I am also from Texas. We hunt, fish, raise our own goats and chickens (much like Meagan), and grow our own vegetables. My husband got three deer one year – it fed our family of seven. If you respect nature, eat what you kill, never take more than you need, then I cannot imagine someone complaining about how another person chooses to decorate their house.

I have to say that I even found it rather humorous, that anyone could be so offended by taxidermy (real or fake), but still jump on their computers and their cell phones to post their (very strong) complaints. The leading destruction of wildlife is not the humans that kill it for food and choose to hang it on the wall (although, for certain species it can be a factor). No, the humanity that has a greater effect on wildlife is the human in search of power or living space. A single oil or gas well in the western part of the U.S. can send a migrating herd of ungulates into certain turmoil. The constant encroachment of human beings since America was discovered has destroyed countless species (animals and – put your big girl panties on vegetarians… and plants).

So, before you go complaining about folks hanging their first kill on their wall (of which they ate), turn your PC off and go outside. Take a look at the rivers that are dying and being polluted by industry and the lack of folks that care. Reconsider your next electronic purchase – do you really need it? Reuse, reduce, and recycle your things. Turn off your lights and your computers when they are not in use, save a few pennies and maybe an elk or two. When your electronic footprint is smaller than mine – then you can complain about the deer head hanging on my wall. I have not expanded fully on the subject, but I certainly could…just sayin. ;)

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118 Chrissy May 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I love this response. Yes…exactly.

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119 bdaiss May 21, 2013 at 8:44 am

Taxidermy doesn’t bother me, but it’s not my choice for my home. And yes, like so many others I grew up around hunters/hunting. As long as it’s not for “sport”, then I have no qualms about folks using up every last bit of that animal. It’s just another form of art, one that means something to these folks.

But what I really came here to post is this link: http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/the-unique-wood-chip-sculptures-of-segei-bobkov.html Beautiful art. And I thought his quote was relevant to the conversation: “He says many people compare his artworks to taxidermy, because they both look so much like the animals they replicate, but Sergei believes they are as different as light and darkness. Whereas taxidermy is all about death, his wood-chip art symbolizes life.”

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120 marie May 21, 2013 at 10:59 am

Me and an artist friend just opened an exhibition in a small valley in the Alps.
One work circle shown is about trophies – hand made stage props in this case (http://mariemarie.me/t1/) and matching portraits (http://mariemarie.me/t2/).
We both grew up surrounded by the mountains and there is a special kind of storytelling there, with stories that are both endlessly fascinating and scary at the same time. We grew up taking all of it as natural and only after we had gained some distance did we realize how many strange things we thought were normal and how uncommon and extraordinary some creatures and traditions we grew up with actually were. The location makes such a difference.
What was more likely ‘real’ – the stories we had heard about the hunting or the pictures we had created about it in our minds? Even growing up in a house full of science, these mind-blowing stories were present. Because it was not just nonsense, we learned from early on to understand that there were many different ways of looking at things. I’m more than fascinated by trophies and taxidermy – although I’m only surrounded by stage props in my studio and not by taxidermy in my appartement. But I wouldn’t judge real ones. It can be part of a tradition that just isn’t everyones.

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121 Elspeth May 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I grew up in a big city and now live in the country. I like to eat venison. I’m for gun control and against the NRA. At Christmastime, I use the shed antlers we find on our land with greenery in bowls and on tabletops.

I don’t particularly like the ideas of stuffed heads on my own walls, but I don’t mind them in other people’s houses. And I don’t care whether the heads on someone else’s wall were hunted with care and love or if they were bought by the dozen, as long as they have some meaning to the homeowner. In fact, I feel more passionately about chevron patterns and ripping the covers of old books for decoration, a la Restoration Hardware (I’d never have them in my house, and exceedingly tired of seeing them everywhere online and in magazines), than I do about taxidermy. I don’t think I’d mind the idea of just antlers, though, mounted on those small wooden plaques. And I don’t understand faux taxidermy at all. To me it’s rather like tofurkey, neither fish nor fowl, so to speak : ) . If you’re going to make a choice, I think you should embrace it and not try to have it both ways. But I’m not going to get on my high tofurkey if you do!

I’m with those who can’t understand making a big deal about what’s in someone else’s house. I don’t expect anyone else to have the same taste in decor any more than I expect them to have the same thoughts on religion, politics, what to eat, or how (or where) to school your kids. To each her own : ) . I suppose you could look at pictures of someone’s house, which could all be lovely and animal-free (no taxidermy, no leather sofa, no pets), and yet that person could hunt for sport on vacation, and not be teaching his kids to be free, respectful and caring. Where *does* one draw the line, and who gets to make the ultimate judgment on how best to teach someone else’s kids to be free, respectful and caring? I don’t know that I could draw these lines and make these judgements for most of the people I know in real life. At the end of the day, these are just pretty pictures on the internet, folks : ) .

Gabrielle, if you haven’t been to Deyrolle yet with your family, you’ll have to go before you return home. It may as well be a museum! I haven’t been to the new premises since the fire, but have fond memories of the original store.

http://www.deyrolle.com/magazine/spip.php?rubrique93

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122 Corinne May 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Great discussion. I love all of the different perspectives.

I grew up greatly respecting my very gentle father, who was a 6’5 former national MVP rugby player. He was so kind and gentle with all animals that it taught me a respect for life that even includes most bugs (we remove them instead of squishing them at our house, and I think its really made my kids more compassionate, as well as being less afraid of bugs! different topic). So I pretty much felt revulsion for hunting of any kind and didn’t like taxidermy because it represented hunting and was just wasn’t my taste. But my opinions have morphed over the years. I have a brother in law who hunts, and I married a man whose family raises and butchers their own beef, lamb, and pork. I decided at some point that unless I was willing to become a vegetarian (I love meat too much! though we eat meat very sparingly at our house), I needed to reconcile my ideas of animal treatment and my own actions. I found that I wasn’t opposed to hunting when the animal was treated with respect and consumed as food (for a very fascinating treatment of this subject, I listened to the author of Call of the Mild interviewed, who talked about her transformation from New Yorker to hunter, and how she came to see the beauty in the hunt, her respect for life increased, her views of animals, hunters, and hunting changed). I have allowed my kids to take part in the process, even though we try to be extremely kind and gentle with animals, I think it is good for them to see where meat comes from, why we don’t eat a lot, and when we do, why we eat all of it, with respect. This is long. I’m okay if people eat what they hunt, even though it isn’t for me. The only paradox for me, over the years, is that trophy hunters go for the biggest “rack” so to speak, which would make for the worst eating (old and testosterone-y and tough!). But, to each his (or her!) own, I guess. :)

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123 Allison May 23, 2013 at 3:27 pm

This is such an interesting topic! Because I, like many of the other commenters, am from the Deep South, I have been exposed to hunting-related taxidermy all of my life. I can sympathize with the idea that the practice is cruel or somewhat repulsive, as that’s exactly how I felt as a younger person. However, over time I have come to accept it as a harmless part of Southern culture. Many families encourage their children to hunt, for example, and that first buck they bag or fish they catch is just as much a source of pride to them as a soccer or baseball trophy.

However, I do find the idea of taxidermy as a means of decor for non-hunting households to be very unusual. While I can’t imagine that the practice would ever lead to a source of abuse on the level as the fur industry, for example, it does seem like an odd choice to decorate your home with, well, dead animals. I guess fashion serves to always surprise!

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124 Erika July 28, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Okay, I know the last comment was a couple of months ago, but I would like to share my thoughts, if I may. Now, I am still a kid, really. Just 13 years old, but if you’d still like to read my response instead of judging me like most people do to kids my age on the internet, then thank you.

In my bedroom, there sits a small plastic fish aquarium. In it, there is a nearly complete raccoon skull, along with a scapula, carpal/tarsal, and atlas from the same specimen; a complete rat skull; a raccoon jaw from a different individual; and a miscellaneous unidentifiable bone.

Before some of you recoil, just know that I found these bones myself, after the animals had died of natural causes. The first raccoon we believe died of illness; the rat from falling from a hole in the ceiling through which they entered (which has since been closed); and the raccoon jaw and misc. bone of other causes (it’s impossible to tell).

The first one I found, the raccoon skull, was in my driveway on my way home from school. Something had carried it there from about twenty feet away where it had died, which was odd, since a dog would have crushed it, a cat wouldn’t have cared, and a raccoon… well, I can’t imagine a raccoon would have any interest in another raccoon’s skull, but who knows?

I went inside and told my mom about it, and she put it in a plastic bag and left it on the front steps. I did lots of research to try to figure out what I had found, and I learned a lot. I cleaned it with water and sanitized it with peroxide. I brought it in and set it in the aquarium. I love it as much as any pet I have.

My thoughts are that, if an animal is going to die anyway, or if it is already dead, then the more we can save from it, learn from it, the better. Isn’t that true? Senseless cruelty is immoral, but not everything is senseless. I would never kill an animal or let it die just for its bones, but if a friend is going to hunt for meat, or if a farmer shoots a coyote to protect their animals, I would not object to keeping the bones from those creatures in the slightest. I would also not object to collecting the bones of roadkill. That way, the animal’s life can be used to learn from, instead of being picked up and rotting in a landfill somewhere.

I will not deny that I feel excited when I find new bones. It is sad that the animal died, of course, but that’s what happens in nature. For some people to claim that they speak for nature, and then deny that nature is cruel and that animals die every day – that just seems wrong to me. We live in a world full of dark beauty. I prefer to learn from it what I can, instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist. Does that make sense? To preserve in death that which has once lived.

There’s a phrase that has always resonated with me, even though it may seem corny – Memento Mori. It means, roughly: be mindful of death. Working and studying bones allows me to connect more with that. Everything ends. Everything dies. And that’s okay.

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