Why do hunters have their harvested game mounted? It’s a simple question that never even crossed my mind until recently. As an avid hunter, outdoorsman and conservationist, I spend hours upon hours each day reading and watching endless amounts of material on ecological habitat, conservation strategies, outdoor equipment, and really anything hunting related. Unfortunately, this means spending a decent amount of time on the anti-hunting forums reading what others have to say. Yes it is true that I usually walk away with my mind spinning from the overwhelming ignorance and lack of accurate knowledge on the issue, but I try desperately to see things from other peoples’ perspectives. A full debunking of all the false and empty claims by anti-hunting associations would end with a hundred page post and several worn out stress balls; but that’s another issue for another time. However, one aspect in particular that I would like to tackle briefly is taxidermy. One common thread I repeatedly encounter from the “antis” is that hunters are savage and ruthless, and that mounting a game animal is a disrespectful and sick display of supremacy on the part of the hunter. It is astounding how truly misinformed and confused these people are. A mounted game animal is not just another ornament to brag about, it holds a much deeper meaning.
When a hunter mounts his game, the intention is to capture all of the preparation, emotion and hard work that went into that experience. It is a means of encapsulating the memory of the hunt. Ask any hunter about a specific mount and it's sure to bring back a flood of emotions and sensations from that day. His mind becomes filled with the joyous memories of the arduous hike up to his shooting location, the sounds of the birds waking up in the early morning light, the smell of the wildflowers in the air, the feeling of the crisp fall breeze on his cheek, and the adrenaline he felt when all of his hard work came to fruition. Or perhaps he thinks of the driving rain, the gusts of wind or the subzero temperatures that he was forced to endure. A mounted animal is a tangible reminder of a wonderful experience and those whom you shared it with. Hands down, hunters are people more in-tune with nature than anyone else and a beautiful mount shows respect to the animal, and displays a true reverence for the bounty you were blessed with. However, a hunt isn’t deemed successful based only on whether or not you filled your tag for the day, further dispelling the notion that a mount is merely a trophy to brag about. The memory of the hunt and the joy you felt in the solitude nature is the predominant factor in whether or not a hunt is successful. If you want proof, look no further than the rear view mirror of my truck. Hanging from that mirror is an empty Winchester Supreme Elite X-Tended Range 12 gauge 3½” shell that I shot last spring. Unfortunately, the pellets once contained by that very shell hit nothing but air and earth—that shell hanging in my truck is from a missed shot at a turkey last year. Now why would I prominently display a painful reminder of such a failure for me and all my passengers to see? Because that hunt was hardly a failure! When I look at that shell I smile every single time. I’m reminded of the joy I had with my father hiking ¾ of a mile into the woods to find a good position, the shuddering fear I felt when a pair of two glowing eyes locked on to me at 4am in the pitch black, the confusion of trying to locate an opening in the barbed wire fence, the frustration of having a gobbling Tom fly down from the roost and sprint straight for the woods. Although I missed my shot, that was one heck of an exciting hunt! And if anything, the experience I gained proved invaluable the following year. That shell reminds me of the good and the bad of that day. It makes me go back and retrace every move I made and re-evaluate every decision. Deep self examination like this has without question helped shape me into a better hunter. To me, that shell is simply a memory manifesting itself in something tangible, and that’s really all a mount is. Of course it is a tremendous source of pride; the amount of hard work and preparation that goes into hunting is unquantifiable—you have to experience it to appreciate it. But it is also so much more than just something to be proud of. It is something that is meant to be shared with others, and cherished for the happiness it has brought you. Just like a lawyer hangs his degrees, a musician hangs his gold records, and a baseball player hangs his game winning homerun ball, a hunter hangs his harvest because it represents all the hard work put into earning it, and it serves as a constant reminder of the euphoric feeling experienced at that moment. Just remember, behind every amazing mount there’s an even more amazing story. Don’t believe me? Just ask a hunter.