Exotic animals and international adventures don’t usually come to mind when thinking of Franklin, N.C., but a visit to the wildlife museum at Wilderness Taxidermy and Outfitters will change that. Located at 5040 Highlands Road, owners Bill and Linda Fuchs have provided taxidermy services and guided worldwide hunting excursions for more than 25 years.
Originally from Homestead, Fla., Bill met Linda in her hometown, Mobile, Ala., during college. While living in Mobile, Bill taught biology, chemistry and environmental science at the McGill Institute and Linda studied dental hygiene. They moved to Franklin in 1975 when they bought Bill’s grandfather’s farm, wanting to raise their family in a more rural environment. However, finding work was a struggle.
“I used to substitute teach at the high school; Linda kept kids,” said Bill.
“We knew we wanted to stay up here and whatever it took to make a living, we were willing to do it,” said Linda.
And they did exactly that. For years the couple farmed the river bottom on their property and sold vegetables in an honor market.
“It was a humble way to make a living ... never took any kind of assistance from any organization,” said Bill.
Their old market sign, cultivator and money box are on display in their museum. Eventually, though, they fell back on Bill’s hobby: Taxidermy.
“At the time we never realized that our business would grow to the capacity that it has now,” said Linda.
The Fuchs started out as a small family business, but now they take in work from all over the world and have several celebrity clients, including Donald Trump Jr. and Gerald McRaney. The quality of work and dedication to customer satisfaction keeps their staff busy with orders all year long.
“We couldn’t do it without our crew: Tommy, Steve and Jose... they’re artists,” said Linda.
“Our employees are loyal and stable, they’ve been with us a long time,” Bill added. “We take a tremendous amount of pride in what we do. Every piece that leaves here, all five of us will look at it... because it’s got to be right.”
The other side of their business, outfitting, has taken the Fuchs all over the world, including Alaska, Africa, the Amazon, Canada, Russia and Costa Rica. They began taking people on hunting adventures when they realized there was an opportunity to turn a profit while doing something they loved.
“We found a really interesting niche,” said Bill. “Twenty-five years ago, Linda and I had never been to Africa. We’d traveled extensively in South and Central America, but we wanted to go to Africa. So we set up a hunt knowing it would be expensive, but knowing that the end result was that we’d start booking safaris. And we did! We booked dozens.”
Not only are they commissioned to take people on safaris, but their clients bring back trophies for the Fuchs to mount.
“Unlike a travel agency, we want to send you to the right place at the right time... and we take you personally,” Linda added. “It’s a guarantee when you book with us.”
Many of the trophies from these hunting adventures can be viewed in their 6,000 square foot studio.
With hundreds of different animals on display, the Fuchs’ state of the art museum allows them to educate visitors on the importance of conservation.
“We feel compelled to spread the gospel about responsible hunting,” said Bill of the museum, which is free and welcomes visitors. “Any time you share knowledge with people it’s a good thing and this is something I’m very passionate about.”
“It’s so important to let young people know where their meat comes from. It doesn’t come from a bag; people hunt.” said Linda. “Animals are a renewable resource and it’s important that you manage it properly and teach people there’s a balance. We’re not just out slaughtering animals for the head, we’re taking them from a conservation standpoint.”
They also hope to spread awareness about the misconception of hunting endangered animals in Africa. According to the Fuchs, hunters are responsible for the bulk of conservation efforts and funds on the continent.
“To hunt a lion or a leopard, you pay huge trophy fees, 30, 40 or even 50 thousand dollars ... and a portion of that goes back to protect and study that animal in that area,” said Linda. “I think that even gives the indigenous people the thought that ‘this animal is valuable, let’s protect it.’”
“On the other side of that card, [the animals] have babies every year, so what you have to do is keep the population stabilized with the amount of area that’s afforded to that animal,” said Bill. “It’s a very complex issue. What’s good for the buffalo may not be good for the elephant, might be just right for the warthog or the topi. Every animal is researched on their own merit.”
Bill further explained that in America, hunters actually have a self imposed tax, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration of 1937, or more commonly known as the Pittman- Robertson Act, that distributes funds to each state to help protect animals and their habitats.
“It’s a tax on all guns, ammunition, hunting and fishing equipment and hunters did it to themselves to have the resources to protect their sport,” said Bill. “Hunting is the very essence of conservation.”
As their business continues to grow, the Fuchs are taking every opportunity to educate a larger audience. In March 2011, the Fuchs were featured on Discovery Channel’s “Taxidermy USA.” This year, Linda will be featured in Safari Club International’s documentary “Beauty in the Hunt” that will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The Fuchs were also recently invited by N.C. Representative Mark Meadows to testify before the U.S. Congress about the importance of citizens’ rights to bear arms.
“It’s a unique business,” said Mr. Fuchs. “It’s fun. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”