Why you should care
Because women hunt, too, you know.
Dressed in leopard-print flats, a plaid button-down and a white faux-fur vest, Ashley Tudor looks like the sort of trendy urbanite who spends her weekends working out at, say, Soul Cycle — not stalking elk in the wild. While most Michael Pollan disciples agree we should know where our food comes from, Tudor, who lives in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights, takes it to another level: She can pinpoint the exact patch of grass where the animal took its last breath. Here, the 33-year-old nutrition guru, author, artist and chef (and former vegetarian) shares what it’s like to shoot and kill her own supper. And to make a living? She turns taxidermy on its head and transforms elk skulls into $10,000 to $35,000 art. Bronzed European-style casts that you can find in high-end galleries from San Francisco to Jackson, Wyoming, to New York City. Nose to tail — to wall mount.
She doesn’t just know where her food comes from. She can pinpoint the exact patch of grass where the animal took its last breath.
So, wait, you used to never eat meat, and now you’re a hunter?
Well, I became a vegetarian in fourth grade; I had this one really influential teacher. It lasted through high school, and then one day, my body just really started craving meat and I had a hamburger.
And now, here you are, with how many guns in your house?
You don’t want to know.
How’d you get started?
My brother’s always hunted; he learned in the Boy Scouts. But for me, it initially grew out of my desire to source clean pastured meat; at the time it wasn’t the rage it is now. Five or six years ago, I was working at Ideo as a design strategist, and we had a trip to an unnamed area in the middle of the country, to a large, unnamed industrial meat-processing plant, and it was just gross. I was exposed to the conditions that these animals lived in. I got kind of into it. I’d go visit my parents in Iowa and check out the massive slaughterhouses. You know, it’s farmland out there; it’s like Disneyland for city dwellers.
Those experiences really stuck with me. That exposure, coupled with my background and knowledge in nutrition — and the ability to try hunting with my brother; that was it.
Tell me about your first time.
I was in my late 20s. My brother and I flew into this ranch in Idaho and set up camp. We were up at 4 a.m., had breakfast and then we got on horses and rode out as the sun was coming up. Animals move around at dawn and dusk, so we glassed with our binoculars for like five hours. Took a nap in the heat of the day. It had been two weeks out there and we’d seen nothing. And then we spotted a herd of elk. They got spooked but we went back the next day. It was a three-day hunt until we got close enough. The elk was 260 yards away when I shot him.
How’d that feel?
It sucked. It sucks. It’s a double-edged sword, you know. The joy of the hunt and taking the life of an animal. It’s really hard. We skinned it, gutted it. Elk pee on themselves; it’s a horrible smell. You have to get in really close, really get in there. I couldn’t do it. I can do it now, but I couldn’t then. Obviously, not something you face when you take it out of the plastic at the grocery store.
It’s a double-edged sword, you know. The joy of the hunt and taking the life of an animal.
Must taste better, too.
I felt extreme reverence for the meat. I didn’t want it to spoil; I didn’t want to waste any or give it away to someone who wouldn’t appreciate it. I’m definitely not a cold-blooded killer. It was an 1,800-pound elk, about 1,200 pounds of meat; fed our family for a year. Steaks, sausages, roasts, jerky.
I’m not really the taxidermy type, but your bronzed elk skulls are gorgeous.
Thanks. Coming from a design background, I really wanted to do something sculptural, something different. I create a mold from the original skull and then fill the mold with molten wax, which hardens and makes an exact replica. From cast to mold to pouring the bronze, and buffing to a shine and attaching the antlers, each finished piece takes about three months. I’m currently working on a solid gold elk head that is 28 pounds of expensive.
Where do you go around here?
I’ll hunt boar in the Oakland Hills … quail … I’ll go to the range. There are a bunch in the Bay Area. Hunting is an art you’ve got to practice. In Marin, there’s ladies’ nights. Shooting and Champagne!
Still, hunting probably isn’t the most popular weekend activity for a single woman in San Francisco.
Ha, yeah, my friends go out for dinner. I kill it.
Do you, like, strap the animal to the roof your car?
Nooo, not in the Bay Area; that’d probably offend people. I’ll generally put it in a bag in my trunk, bring it back to my kitchen, break the animal down and say, ’Guys, I’ve got a pig. Come on over.’ Everyone shows up.
You don’t wear camouflage, huh?
No. I prefer Swiss mountain attire, felt hats and stuff. This whole notion of the American hunter is so dumb! You don’t really need to wear camo. Maybe if you’re duck hunting, but deer, elk, they’re color-blind. They don’t know camo from a cashmere sweater.
Ashley Tudor’ s second book, Perfecting Paleo, will be published in March.