Welcome to 'Deerland': A new book explores the relationship between Americans and deer

  • Article by: WILLIAM SOUDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2013 - 6:17 PM

In a new book, Wisconsin writer and hunter Al Cambronne investigates the complicated relationship between Americans and a massive population of whitetail deer.

hide

Al Cambronne gestures toward the wildlife habitat outside his rural home. "Hunting is our best tool for keeping deer numbers in check," he says.

Photo: David Joles • djoles@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

There are many ways to fail at deer hunting. Of the more than 400,000 hunters who will take to woods and fields when Minnesota’s firearms deer season opens on Nov. 9, about 280,000 will not kill a deer before the season ends. Many will simply be unlucky. Others will put themselves in poor locations or will shoot badly. Quite a few will pass up opportunities to take a doe or a smaller-antlered deer while waiting for a monster buck to show up — and go home with nothing to show for their choosiness.

One thing that won’t factor into hunter failure is a scarcity of deer. There are plenty of deer.

“It’s the single most impressive thing about the North American whitetail,” says Wisconsin writer Al Cambronne. “There are just so many of them.

This wasn’t always the case, says Cambronne, whose new book, “Deerland” (Lyons Press) is an expansive and penetrating exploration of the territory of the whitetail — both literally and philosophically. From a total population of only 300,000 a century ago, U.S. deer numbers have swollen to 30 million. “How many deer are too many?” says Cambronne. “That depends on who you ask.”

Originally from River Falls, Cambronne, 55, spent his early career studying Chinese and teaching English in Taiwan. For the past few decades, he’s worked in corporate training programs and logged his time in the Twin Cities. In 2003, Cambronne and his wife moved to Solon Springs, Wis., where he became an “adult-onset hunter.” He started out walking the woods for grouse and within a year began learning to hunt deer. Cambronne was immediately hooked. “The whole experience is great,” he says, “but what I really love is venison.”

Cambronne says he understands why many hunters are obsessed with trophy bucks — but says he isn’t. He’s more interested in what’s in his freezer than what might go up on the wall. Besides, shooting does is essential.

“Hunting is our best tool for keeping deer numbers in check,” says Cambronne, “but only if hunters are willing to harvest does, not just bucks. Some hunters still believe shooting does is wrong. But it’s a tradition that has outlived its usefulness.”

“Deerland,” though it has plenty to say about deer hunting, is not only for deer hunters. Exhaustively researched, it’s a thoughtful and engaging hunt for a different kind of quarry: balance in a natural world that we are perpetually unbalancing. Cambronne’s investigation of our relationship with an animal that has always symbolized wilderness and that now thrives in the midst of human civilization takes him into every corner of what he calls “the deer-industrial complex,” an enterprise so vast, writes Cambronne, that if deer hunting were a single corporation it would be larger than the majority of companies listed on the Fortune 500. Hunters spend more than $30 billion annually on gear and licenses, and most of them are deer hunters.

Cambronne says this means that, in a sense, what’s good for deer is good for America — though he qualifies that with “mostly.”

Nature, says Cambronne, isn’t always kind to deer. Deer habitat has a finite “biological carrying capacity.” The land can only sustain a certain number of deer, and when the deer herd exceeds that capacity the situation become self-correcting — a nice way of saying the extra deer will starve. But letting nature take its course, says Cambronne, “is not always the best option for the deer or for the habitat. The more deer you have, the less you have of everything else.” Hunting — especially by hunters willing to shoot does — takes the edge off nature’s harshness and helps keep habitat and deer numbers in better harmony.

Cambronne believes that there is also a “sociological carrying capacity” for deer, and here is where “Deerland” ventures more deeply into the sometimes difficult relationship between humans and deer. The growth of the suburbs, where hunting and predation are limited but food is plentiful, has been one of the main drivers behind swelling deer populations.

Suburban deer numbers are sure to continue to grow, says Cambronne. But our tolerance for the havoc they wreak on our gardens and shrubbery may not. Everybody loves seeing deer in the yard — until they prune the arbor vitae or take out your carefully tended heirloom tomatoes. And as deer assaults on gardens increase, so does the incidence of deer-vectored illnesses such as Lyme disease.

These problems are minor, however, compared with the damage deer do when they attempt to cross the road. Cambronne writes that the whitetail deer is the “deadliest animal in North America,” more dangerous than bears, wolves, rattlesnakes or sharks. There are more than 1 million car-deer collisions every year. About 150 people are killed in these accidents annually, and thousands are injured. Annual insurance payouts approach $4 billion.

Cambronne says there isn’t much that can be done to prevent this mayhem. Slow down at dusk when deer are likely to be about — and if you do end up with a deer in your headlights, don’t swerve. Many injuries from car-deer accidents are actually the result of a driver dodging the deer and then colliding with another car or a tree.

Some of the most intriguing sections of “Deeerland” are concerned with the evolving nature of deer hunting in places beyond city and suburb, where the long-standing principles of “fair chase” are being redefined. In areas such as Wisconsin’s legendary Buffalo County, where guides can help you find huge deer on leased hunting property, hunter success rates are no better than anywhere else — partly because holding out for a trophy buck is an advantage to the deer.

Cambronne sees less fairness in hunting deer that have been raised and confined behind fences.

“There are places where you can spend $10,000 to shoot a trophy buck that’s been released into a 3-acre fenced lot,” says Cambronne. “That’s not fair chase. Shooting a specific deer you’ve selected in advance from a catalog is even worse. The bottom line is that if your hunting success is guaranteed, that’s not fair chase.”

For most Minnesota deer hunters headed out on opening day, fair chase won’t be an issue. Success is not only not guaranteed — it’s less than probable.

 

Local writer William Souder’s most recent book is “On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.” He lives in Grant.







 

  • related content

  • Al Cambronne, author of "Deerland," writes at his home office in Solon Springs, Wis.

  • Wisconsin-based writer Al Cambronne, author of the new book "Deerland," plans to partake in Wisconsin's deer opener this month. But he won't be stalking trophy bucks, he says. "What I really love is venison."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 24 FINAL
Washington 27
San Diego 38 FINAL
San Francisco 35
Minnesota 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 114 FINAL
New Orleans 88
Utah 86 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Atlanta 104 FINAL
Houston 97
San Antonio 93 FINAL
Dallas 99
Indiana 73 FINAL
Denver 76
Milwaukee 102 FINAL
LA Clippers 106
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Philadelphia 7 FINAL
Toronto 4
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Montreal 4
Washington 4 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Tampa Bay 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Florida 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
NY Rangers 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Chicago 2 FINAL(SO)
Columbus 3
Nashville 6 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 5
Calgary 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
St. Louis 2 FINAL(OT)
San Jose 3
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
SMU 62 FINAL
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 71 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 68 FINAL
Penn State 73
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 82 FINAL
Butler 73
Marshall 58 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
Lafayette 69 FINAL
Kansas 96
Oral Roberts 63 FINAL
Memphis 78
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
Fla Atlantic 56 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
Arkansas Tech 57 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 94
Howard Payne 50 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 89
UMBC 66 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
St Josephs (IN) 54 FINAL
Chicago State 76
Eastern Mich 77 FINAL
Missouri State 65
UCLA 44 FINAL
Kentucky 83
UC Davis 81 FINAL
Air Force 75
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
UC Riverside 78
Davidson 80 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
Drake 54
Wake Forest 50 FINAL
Florida 63
High Point 80 FINAL
James Madison 71
Texas Southern 71 FINAL
Michigan State 64
New Hampshire 60 FINAL
Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 FINAL
Texas State 90
Purdue 63 FINAL
Notre Dame 94
Prairie View 44 FINAL
Sam Houston St 61
Xavier 88 FINAL
Auburn 89
Bluffton 53 FINAL
Akron 92
NJIT 84 FINAL
Central Conn St 76
Hofstra 77 FINAL
Columbia 82
Boston Univ 62 FINAL
Dayton 78
Iona 81 FINAL
George Mason 86
Valparaiso 75 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 72
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
Kansas State 71
Morgan State 69 FINAL
Manhattan 73
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Marist 58
East Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 66
Richmond 65 FINAL
Pepperdine 63
La Salle 67 FINAL
Towson 53
Incarnate Word 110 FINAL
UMKC 104
CS-Bakersfield 59 FINAL
Idaho State 50
Iowa 44 FINAL
Northern Iowa 56
Milwaukee 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 61
Long Beach State 68 FINAL
Texas 78
TX-San Antonio 57 FINAL
TCU 88
SE Missouri St 67 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Lehigh 84 FINAL
Arizona State 81
New Mexico 69 FINAL
New Mexico St 67
Oklahoma 67 FINAL
Washington 69
Utah Valley U 61 FINAL
Weber State 73
Jacksonville St 60 FINAL
Northern Colorado 69
St Edwards 55 FINAL
Grand Canyon 81
NC State 69 FINAL
West Virginia 83
TX A&M-CC 75 FINAL
CS-Northridge 68
Cal Poly 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 63
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Pacific 71
Montana State 60 FINAL
Portland 87
Ball State 57 FINAL
San Diego St 70
South Dakota St 68 FINAL
Utah State 65
Stanford 77 FINAL
BYU 79
Utah 59 FINAL
UNLV 46
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
FIU 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
Denver 51 FINAL
Purdue 65
TX-San Antonio 48 FINAL
Texas Tech 64
UCF 57 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Campbell 66 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 55
Florida A&M 67 FINAL
SE Louisiana 69
Northwestern St 61 FINAL
Jackson State 62
Lehigh 61 FINAL
Arizona State 81
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 77
Liberty 60 FINAL
Minnesota 74
Wofford 60 FINAL
North Florida 68
Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Hawaii 85 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 76
San Jose St 62 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
San Diego State 54
Norfolk State 36 FINAL
East Carolina 65
Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Arizona 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 72
Northwestern 92 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 44
Oral Roberts 52 FINAL
Wisconsin 70
Florida Atlantic 44 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
La Salle 76 FINAL
Georgia State 68
(16) Oregon State 73 FINAL
Nevada 50
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
Villanova 49
Delaware 59 FINAL
Cincinnati 67
Troy 75 FINAL
Tennessee St 71
Saint Louis 68 FINAL
Utah Valley U 66
Washington 74 FINAL
UC-Riverside 71
Pacific 43 FINAL
Long Beach St 53
Old Dominion 69 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Austin Peay 62 FINAL
Montana 83
Lewis-Clark State 48 FINAL
Idaho 74
(21) Miss State 73 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 36
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close