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!

126 thoughts on “Taxidermy”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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…”

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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. :)

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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. ;)

  15. 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: 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.”

  16. 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 ( and matching portraits (
    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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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. :)

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. Artist Kelly Rene Jelinek fabricates life-sized replicas of taxidermied animal heads using fragments of upholstery fabric. The decorative objects conjure nostalgia from Jelinek’s youth spent in rural Wisconsin where she frequently encountered taxidermy deer and game mounts as part of the everyday household decor. The artist begins with the same foam mounts utilized by actual taxidermists to which she applies shreds of fabric, yarn, resin (or found) antlers, and glass marble eyes. The results are surprisingly modern sculptural objects that mimic traditional anatomical mounts. Jelinek sells many of her original works on Etsy and you can also follow her on Instagram. (via The Awesomer, Hi-Fructose)

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