In Deerland: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness, Cambronne, a writer and photographer from northwestern Wisconsin, examines the ecological impact of America’s multibillion-dollar deer hunting industry.
What is your background as a hunter and a writer?
I’d written a lot of corporate training, and I’d also written for a number of magazines. I learned to hunt as an adult; the friend who taught me butchered his own deer, and eventually he and I co-authored a book entitled Gut It, Cut It, Cook It: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. It was a fun how-to book. But I’ve written Deerland for a very different audience.
What is your motive here?
It’s about more than just hunting—a bigger cultural and environmental story. It tells how few Americans hunt, and about hunting and its subcultures, with a special environmental angle that turned out to be an even bigger story. Being new to hunting, I brought to this project an insider’s knowledge, but an outsider’s perspective.
Deer are everywhere, but we often take them for granted. When we see them, we don’t really see them. I wanted to help my readers see the familiar with new eyes. You know those little yellow bumper stickers, “start seeing motorcycles?” It’s time to start seeing deer.
What would you like to say to hunters?
I would say, “Keep up the good work. Eat more venison. Shoot more does and hunt closer to home.”
A veteran hunter may be a traditionalist, looking for a big buck with big antlers. And everyone wants to see more deer. But in terms of achieving ecological balance, if deer populations were more in balance with the habitat, they’d be healthier—and perhaps some of those deer would grow bigger antlers, too!
Regarding hunting closer to home, people like the idea of “going up north” to embrace the mystique of the wilderness experience, the big woods. But, in fact, in those areas, there are fewer deer. Additionally, if everyone “goes north”, there will be even more deer causing damage to agriculture and forest systems closer to home.
You mention that Duluth, Minnesota, is overpopulated with deer; specifically of a homeowner with a small back yard where 16 deer would congregate. How is that kind of problem addressed?
It’s different in every community. In Duluth, they’ve decided to go with a managed bowhunt. Other communities, say certain suburbs in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, have called in sharpshooters to hunt deer (over bait) during the night.
People don’t like to see individual deer hurt. But you can’t say “shoo” and solve the problem. The deer come back. This is happening all over America; some places have 200 or more deer per square mile. There’s a real ecological impact.
Several solutions such as relocation, contraception, and planting unappetizing vegetation have not deterred the deer. What can be done?
It’s interesting to explore this, because there are no easy answers. Maybe if you lived in a gated community, you could close the gate. But seriously, lead them not into temptation! If you feed deer corn, you can expect them to come back for salad (all the vegetation you hoped they wouldn’t want once they were full of corn).
What was the research process like; do you have any new projects?
The intense part of the research took more than a year. But I was obsessing and studying long before that time. I included an extensive bibliography, especially because a number of topics were controversial and I wanted to reflect solid science.
I have a couple of projects I’m thinking about. They will revolve around nature and the environment.