Cambronne, Al. Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. Gilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2013.
I have never been an avid hunter, let alone a deer hunter. But my work with one of the country’s premiere deer biologists, Dr. Scott E. Hygnstrom, has engaged me with this deer hunting community. As I work with deer biologists, researchers, most of whom are also experienced deer hunters, I have been repeatedly surprised at how eyes brighten and grins broaden whenever the subject turns to deer hunting. My bewilderment also extends to the protests of animal activists who decry deer hunters as “Bambi killers”.
What is it about deer that make some people wish to eat it and others wish to simply protect from all and any harm? If you have similar questions or just an interest in the social and human aspects of wildlife management, then Deerland is for you.
Cambronne surveys the complex relationship between humans and deer in a manner that is both factual and interesting. He divided his book into two parts. Part 1 “Love and Obsession” explores the positive side of this charismatic megafauna known as deer. Cambronne explains the life history of deer and details how deer are big business in the U.S. In fact, the business of deer is so big it’s called the Deer Industrial Complex. Cambonne also investigates the emotional side of the human-deer relationship such as the popularity of feeding deer and the allure of big racks of antlers otherwise known as horn porn.
Part 2, “Consequences” analyzes the negative aspects of abundant deer populations. In separate chapters, Cambronne discusses the effect that deer have on environmental balance, deer collisions, disease transmission, and the options available for managing deer. Throughout, Cambronne maintains a decidedly neutral position. He doesn’t say we should shoot more deer or to increase deer populations. His goal is for Americans to think more deeply and profoundly about deer and their role in the environment. Ultimately, we have to decide what kind of nature we want.
Animal rights activists will object that the book insufficiently explained or defended their point of view. True, Cambronne does not spend a great deal of time on the subject of animal rights. But I don’t think this objection is any more worthy of consideration than a medical journal not evaluating the medical theories of the religion known as Christian Science.
Cambronne properly reviews the situation that brought us having so many deer-human conflicts. Deer are here and our management of them is not optional. But the choice of what kind of management we will adopt is and Deerland helps inform us about the consequences of whatever decision we ultimately make. I suggest that my proposal for Shepherdism as presented in my book, Dominion over Wildlife: An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) could point us in the right direction.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School (http://kingsdivinity.org). His research interests include practical theology, specifically environmental issues. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009.
He is available for speaking, preaching, debates, and teaching. He can be contacted at svantassel at kingsdivinity dot org.