Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum.
Bone arrangement makes a point: this is a Garden of Eatin', not Eden.

Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum

Field review by the editors.

Franklin, North Carolina

"Bambi's gotta die sometime," said Bill Fuchs, co-owner and founder of the Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum. "We can't have all these deer surviving in North America. Insurance companies want 'em all shot because they cause so many damn road accidents."

Cape Buffalo head. To the right, Linda Fuchs poses with hippo she shot.
Cape Buffalo head. To the right, Linda Fuchs poses with hippo she shot.

The heads of Bambi's dead relatives hang on the walls of Bill's museum, along with a menagerie of wild creatures from across the globe, many of them killed and taxidermied by Bill or his wife Linda. "It's a collection of a life of adventure," said Bill.

For example: Bill was in Tanzania where he shot the fourth largest lion in the world. Some local villagers came into his camp. Would he mind killing a crocodile that had eaten seven villagers in the past week? Bill didn't mind at all. He shot the man-eater, then brought both it and the lion back to his museum. The crocodile is displayed with a dummy human foot sticking out of its mouth, along with an arrangement of gruesome photos showing what Bill found in its stomach.

Bill Fuchs has no idea how many animals he's killed, but it's a lot.
Bill Fuchs has no idea how many animals he's killed, but it's a lot.

Public collections of taxidermy have become endangered species in the 21st century. Many that survive, such as the wildlife at Bass Pro Shops, are presented with careful detachment. Visitors are encouraged to admire the majesty of the animals without thinking too much about how they got there.

Possum hangs out in the main exhibit hall.
Possum hangs out in the main exhibit hall.

Bill Fuchs wants no part of that. He displays his dead animals with photos of their death scenes, posed with proudly smiling gun-toting hunters such as Bill and Linda. Bill believes that those who kill animals for sport should be respected, because the money they pay to kill animals pays for conservation programs that keep the rest of the animals alive. "If it weren't for hunting, there wouldn't be a living animal left in Africa," Bill said, although it does sound a bit crazy.

Those same hunters are often outfitted on their safaris by Bill, in what he admits is a cozy relationship. The animals killed are then brought back to North Carolina and taxidermied by Bill or his staff, hard at work in the studio, and the first thing that visitors see when they enter the museum. This is no video tour or peer-through-a-window factory; you're right in the middle of the production floor.

Linda and Bill in 1976, when they first opened the museum.
Linda and Bill in 1976, when they first opened the museum.

"This cat here, his whole head was 'bout blowed off," said taxidermist Steve Gatling, pointing to an African serval he had recently reconstructed.

If you appreciate taxidermy as art, Bill and his staff really do make dead animals look good. Many of their clients, and big-game hunters in general, are often well-funded and well-connected.

Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum.
Bird in a jar.

"We've done work for Donald Trump's boys in here," said Bill, whose political views are clearly expressed in signs hung throughout the building.

The museum's ecosystem is stocked not only with dead animals but with artifacts of Bill's family history and the rural people and wildlife of western North Carolina. One simple display shows the awful results of a bite from the tiny brown recluse spider, native to the region. "Such an innocuous little varmint," said Bill. "When he bites, you think nothing of it until your flesh starts to rot away." As with man-eating crocs and car-smashing deer, the spider exhibit shows that wild animals and humans don't get along, and sometimes humans lose.

Much as Bill loves stalking wild game, he also enjoys matching wits with "armchair ecologists" and "tofu-farting liberals" who occasionally visit his museum and criticize what they see. One woman from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he recalled, said that Bill's taxidermied elk was disgusting. "I answered, 'Ma'am, your home in Jackson Hole has killed more elk than all the hunters in Teton County. That's prime winter habitat! Because of you, the elk have to eat hay -- subsistence feeding by the government, just like Welfare.'"

For those who dream of hugging wild animals rather than shooting them, the Wilderness Wildlife Museum is a rare look at the kill shot reality of wildlife management. Dusting and vacuuming all the furry displays is an expense, but Bill keeps the museum open free to the public as part of what he feels is his mission of enlightenment and education.

"I've had people come here and get real upset and try to voice mindless thoughts about why these animals shouldn't die," said Bill. "I remind them that the chicken quesadilla they had last night was pretty good, wasn't it? Somebody had to jerk the head off that damn thing."

Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum

Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum

Address:
5040 Highlands Rd, Franklin, NC
Directions:
Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum. US Hwy 23 to Franklin. Take the Highlands exit onto US Hwy 64. Drive east 3.5 miles. The museum will be on the left (north) side.
Hours:
M-Tu Th-F 8-5, Sa 8-12 (Call to verify)
Phone:
828-524-3677
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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