Al Cambronne

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Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner

I recently finished Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, by Lily Raff McCaulou.  Being an adult-onset hunter myself, I’m fascinated by the stories of others who shared this experience.  McCaulou has crossed a cultural chasm, and the story of that crossing reveals much about our cultural landscape.

She begins her very first chapter with these words: “You would be hard-pressed to find an unlikelier hunter than me.  I’m a woman, and married to a man who does not hunt.  I grew up in a city, terrified of guns.  I love animals, and even entered college on track to become a veterinarian.  Yet, at the age of twenty-six, I made the strange decision to pick up a gun and learn to hunt.  It was a complicated choice, but it started with one simple thing that almost all of us—hunters and non-hunters, women and men, city dwellers and country bumpkins—have in common: dinner.  Not the greens and grains on the side of the plate, but the hunk of meat in the middle.”

Unlike Tovar Cerulli, author of The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, McCaulou didn’t begin as a vegetarian.  But in other ways her transformation was just as dramatic.  Her journey began with a literal one, from New York City to Bend Oregon.  As she applies for jobs in the West, she begins “Dear _______, Don’t let the address at the top of this letter fool you.  I’m not just a city slicker looking for a Western adventure.”

“But the truth is,” she writes, “that’s exactly who I am and what I’m looking for.”  She finds it.  She also finds a new career, new friends, and new love.  And along the way, inspired by Michael Pollan, a vegetarian friend, and her many new friends and neighbors who hunt, she finds a new way to obtain that hunk of meat in the middle of her plate.

She learns, however, that it’s not easy getting started.  “And then it dawns on me,” she writes.  “Hunting is a twenty-first century rarity—something you can’t learn online or in a book.  There’s no Hunting for Dummies.  There are no intro classes at the local community college.  Most hunters would have you believe that theirs is the sport of the everyman.  But I’m finding it to be oddly exclusive.  Hunting isn’t so much a hobby as an inheritance, passed from one generation to the next.  You have to learn from someone, and that someone is usually your dad.  But where does that leave me—an adult whose parents are openly disgusted by the idea of killing an animal in the wild?”

For starters, it leaves her the one adult in a hunter’s ed class; most of her classmates are twelve-year-old boys, nearly all of whom are more experienced and comfortable with guns than she is.  She seems to handle all this with grace and charm, and she eventually graduates with a certificate and a congratulatory letter addressed “to the parents of the Hunter Safety graduate.”

After a few shooting lessons, her next hurdle is The Shopping Trip.  Her stories about condescending male gun shop employees of questionable competence are humorous only in retrospect, and those guys are going to be pretty embarrassed if they read Call of the Mild and recognize themselves.  But they didn’t sound like big readers, so it may not be a worry.

Over the pages that follow, McCaulou also gives readers far more positive glimpses into hunting culture and the role hunting plays in wildlife conservation.  Non-hunting readers are likely to finish her book with a greater acceptance and tolerance of hunting, and hunters will enjoy most of those passages, too.  Hunters will also find fascinating this glimpse into how they and their culture are viewed by outsiders and newcomers.

(From what I understand, however, the most controversial part of the book has been McCaulou’s brief and relatively mild criticism of the NRA.  If you’re an NRA member who’s easily offended, just skip those two paragraphs.  Enjoy the rest of the book.  McCaulou’s mostly on your side.)

Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt my Own Dinner is subtitled A Memoir, and it’s a deeply personal one.  It’s a hunting story, but it’s also a love story, and a story about other pivotal life events that McCaulou experiences during this period.  Not all of them are happy ones.  On balance, however, Call of the Mild is a fun read.  I finished it in one sitting, and it was way more entertaining than whatever might have been on TV that night.  I give it two thumbs up.  You can visit her website and order your copy right here.

© 2012 Al Cambronne



  1. Good review Al. I’ve heard of the book and of Lily’s story. I look forward to reading her book. I found her notion of hunting being – ‘not as accessible as many would believe’ – to be very insightful. Because it’s true.

    Hunting in the US and Canada is quickly going the way of European management hunting.

    This is not happening ‘to us’, so much as we are ‘allowing it to happen’. I am of the opinion that hunting, as we know it today, is unlikely to exist in the next quarter century; if not sooner. I hope this will not be the case, but I am a realist.

    Of course, in the most remote areas of the country, hunting and fishing will continue as available resources allow. But for areas near human habitation, they will either become devoid of wildlife or inaccessible for such reasons as; political variance, regulations, access, social pressures, etc.

    The ‘open market’ for outdoor goods and services to the ‘hook-n-bullet’ groups will cease as we know it today. The market will dry up. I don’t look forward to this – but it’s not likely to be avoided. Humanity put into motion, decades ago, actions filled with seriously negative outcomes and the outdoor heritage activities will be severely impacted. Change is inevitable. We can either be run over by it .. or learn to ride it.


    • I hope you’re wrong, but there are some disturbing trends out there. One bright spot, however, was that recent U.S. F&W report showing that hunter participation numbers are up by about 9% since 2006. Maybe all these new adult-onset hunters and locavore foodies are helping swell hunters’ ranks. But still, long-term… I’ve also seen numbers suggesting that hunters’ average ages are climbing. Time will tell…

  2. I have read the book and it’s excellent, so I also recommend it to any of Al’s readers. My “quick review” on Amazon was that the book is really the story of an urban environmental consciousness of global threats to the environment that lacks any understanding of landscapes and the actual daily workings of nature meeting rural conservationist hunters and anglers who have an intimate understanding of their surrounding landscapes and workings of ecosystems.

    I think, in response to O’fieldstream,: her point about hunting being inaccessible is that the skills to learn aren’t easy and most of the people who hunt don’t have it in their minds of how to bring people in who are interested. I just experienced this teaching a couple hunting classes this last year. Trying to explain deer hunting in a couple hours and set people on a path so that they can do it was a huge challenge. You pick up so many skills through others and your own trial and error that you forget what a skill even “easy” types of hunting are.

    I believe some democratic tradition of American hunting will continue, but I’m very worried about privatization of hunting, as well as the demographics of hunters as Al mentioned. We do have the ability to stop this trend through recruitment and a strong “hunter and angler” conservation movement that advocates for our interests as well as broader economic, environmental, and social benefits of hunting and angling..

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