Al Cambronne

The website of photographer and author Al Cambronne

Category: Books (page 1 of 6)

Five Years of Gutting, Cutting, and Cooking

GICICI cover

Five years ago, on 09/09/09, Krause Media released Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison.  Since then, largely through word of mouth, it’s gone on to become the best-selling book on the topic—and a perennial top-seller among hunting books in general.

Every year my coauthor and I are helping more hunters learn to butcher their own deer, and that’s exciting.  Sure, they’ll save a few dollars.  But the biggest payoff is something less tangible.  It’s the same feeling of self-reliance you get from building your own deck or canning your own tomatoes—but somehow way more powerful and primal.

Eric Fromm, my coauthor, was definitely the expert on this project.  I, on the other hand, could totally empathize with the complete beginner.  That’s because as an adult-onset hunter, I was one myself.  In the end, however, it turned out that my beginner’s perspective was actually very helpful.  It meant I took nothing for granted, and I knew just which steps would seem especially challenging or intimidating.  And given my instructional design background (that’s been my day job for the last twenty years), I thought a lot about what learners really need to know so they’ll be successful at this task.  In the corporate world, I helped people learn the skills they need for their jobs.  Here, I helped hunters learn the skills they need for this job.

This book is different from anything else out there.  We’ve shown readers all the step-by-step details, with supportive tips and guidance at every step of the way.  We’ve been especially careful to zero in on the details that matter most.  Other books only devote a few pages to the practical details of field-dressing, skinning, and butchering.  But that’s where we spent nearly all our time.  That meant there just wasn’t room for recipes, hunting stories, advice on how to shoot the biggest buck of your life, and the history of deer hunting over the last 50,000 years.  But that’s OK.  There are already plenty books on those topics.

After all the butchering is done, and after the chapter on making deerburger, sausage, and jerky, we did include a brief chapter on cooking techniques.  Once you’ve gone to all that work, we’d hate to see you ruin your venison in the kitchen.  And it turns out that cooking venison is very different from cooking beef.  For now, if you remember just one thing, remember this: Don’t overcook it.

In the five years since Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. first appeared, more and more deer hunters are deciding this is a job they don’t want to delegate—and maybe you’re one of them.  Plus, more Americans are taking up hunting as adults, and more of us are thinking of ourselves as DIY locavores.  It’s not just about sustainability, and it’s not just about saving money.  It’s about the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done the job yourself—all the way from pulling the trigger to doing the dishes.  That means five years later, Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. is more relevant than ever.

Finally, a few words of encouragement:  You can do it.  If you’re a beginning deer hunter, or if you’re an experienced deer hunter who hopes to butcher your own deer this fall for the very first time…  Just relax.  This isn’t a delicate surgical procedure.  Your deer is already dead.  If some of your steaks from that first deer are a little lumpy, and if you inadvertently turn some of the very best cuts into ragged scraps and shreds, it’s OK.  They’ll be great for gourmet stir-fries and fajitas.  You can do this.  If you can clean your own fish, you can butcher your own deer.  So good luck, good hunting, and bon appétit!

And by the way…  You can find Gut It. Cut It Cook It. online at AmazonBarnes & Noble, Backwoods Home Magazine, Bass Pro Shops, Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, Scheels, Target, Walmart,  and a number of other sources. You can also find it at bookstores, sporting goods stores, and outdoor retailers everywhere—not just Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, and Scheel’s, but lots of smaller independent shops, too.  Same with bookstores.  But if you’re not near your favorite independent bookstore right now, click here to buy Gut It. Cut It. Cook It. at Indiebound.

© 2014 Al Cambronne

Pierre and Me


So the other day I did the vanity Google. Admit it.  You have, too.

I don’t get past my first name before Google offers auto-completes like Al Jazeera, Al Pacino, and of course…  Al Capone.  But then right after that, Al Cambronne pops up pretty quickly.  That’s me.

And if I simply search for “Cambronne?”  There’s apparently a restaurant supply company called Cambro, and as long as I can remember I’ve been seeing their name on the bottom of those cheap red plastic glasses at pizza parlors. But immediately thereafter, up pops my name—Cambronne, a surname I share on the internet with a distant relative at a Minneapolis law firm, a cousin who’s an artist working in metal, and various other relatives who mostly live here in the Midwestern U.S.

In Paris, however, there’s the Paris Eiffel Cambronne Hotel, the Best Western Hotel Eiffel Cambronne, the Ibis Tour Eiffel Cambronne, the Hotel Carladez Cambronne, and dozens more hotels and very classy French restaurants—and by “French” I mean the kind that are actually located in France.  They’re near the Cambronne Metro station at the Place Cambronne, and most are on the Rue Cambronne, one of my favorite streets in Paris. Theoretically, that is.  I’ve never actually been there.  But apparently there’s great pizza at a place on Rue Cambronne called Pizza Flora.

Nor have I been to Cambronne Street in New Orleans.  But when I search for Cambronne Street, I see many real estate ads. From the prices, Cambronne Street looks like a pretty OK neighborhood.  One ad describes a “large, gorgeous home” as being located on “mellow Cambronne street.”  Yeah.  That’s me.  Not Easy Street, but Mellow Cambronne Street.

All these places, it turns out, are named after Pierre Cambronne, a heroic general of Napoleon’s who may or may not be an ancestor of mine.  He fought and was wounded at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and may or may not have said something quite noble, quite obscene, or both.  The Battle of Waterloo, of course, gave us the idiom “to meet one’s Waterloo,” and that’s where Pierre Cambronne met his.

According to one newspaper account, when asked to surrender he replied “The Guard dies.1280px-Cambronne_-_buste It does not surrender.” After his death, these words were carved into the base of his statue.  But since he surrendered at Waterloo, married the Scottish nurse who cared for him after his capture, retired to his home town of Nantes, and lived happily for 27 more years until dying there in 1842, more appropriate words might have been “The guard surrenders. It does not die.”

There is, however, another version of the story that’s gained much greater traction over the last two centuries.  Legend has it that when asked to surrender Cambronne replied with more colorful language that was not later carved into the base of his statue.  According to most sources, his defiant reply was brief and to the point: “Merde!”  (“Shit!”).  Even today, in polite company the French often use the euphemism “le mot de Cambronne” (the word of Cambronne).  Although this is the version of the story told by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, I’ve also heard vague rumors that Cambronne may have used even stronger language at Waterloo.

At any rate, on the rare occasions when I introduce myself to anyone from France who stayed awake in history class, they are always delighted to learn of my last name.  I tell them I’m not sure, but yes, I might be related to Pierre.  Yes, probably.  I’m pretty sure.

The moral of the story: There’s nothing like a good story.

© 2014 Al Cambronne




A Special Thanksgiving Post

Venison Roast, Copyright Al Cambronne

It’s time for a special Thanksgiving post.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about deer lately, I suppose this could have been a timely history lesson about how turkey wasn’t even on the menu at that first Thanksgiving.  The main course was in fact venison.  Which is true, and the “story behind that story” gives us fresh insights into American history.  But more about that another time.

Instead, here’s a post about being thankful.  First, of course, for deer—even though botanists, ecologists, and foresters have taught me and my readers a great deal about how too many of them in one place can be a mixed blessing.  Deer are wondrous creatures, and their mere presence makes the woods feel wilder.  They have also provided us with a few dinners, and writing about them has even paid a couple bills.

For turkeys, especially of the wild variety—a few of which occasionally wander through our neighborhood.  For being far to the north and far upstream of the “farms” where those other turkeys come from.  (Sorry.  This was supposed to be an unrelentingly positive post.  I’ll get back on track in a moment here.  Please continue enjoying your leftover turkey sandwich.)

For all the reviewers, columnists, and bloggers who read DEERLAND, enjoyed it, and helped to spread the word.  For the TV and radio hosts who patiently coached me through my earliest interviews—and then later, through the magic of editing, made me sound incredibly fluent and articulate.  Thank you.

For everyone else who read DEERLAND, enjoyed it, and is telling their friends about it.  And even for readers who didn’t enjoy DEERLAND—usually because it included new facts about deer that didn’t fit with their existing beliefs.  I heard from a few of those people, too.  (Interestingly, roughly half were hunters and half were anti-hunting vegans.  People of all sorts have strong feelings about deer.) You can’t please everyone, and those occasional pieces of genuine hate mail helped confirm I hadn’t written a bland book.  For that, and for all the footnotes and rock-solid science I made sure to include, I am hugely thankful.

For tremendously supportive fellow writers and bloggers.  For a great agent who has given me wise counsel, supportive guidance, and tough literary love when I needed it.  For the talented, hard-working editors, publicists, and salespeople I’ve had the privilege of working with at two different publishers.  For all these people, I am deeply thankful.

I should also remember all the non-literary reasons I have to be thankful this Thanksgiving. A loving wife who’s the best thing that ever happened to me.  Our health.  A roof over our heads, and a great place to live.  Wonderful friends and neighbors.  And more.

Although I can often be a real glass-half-empty kind of guy, sitting down to write this blog post has reminded me that I have a lot for which to be thankful.  Every now and then it’s good to pause and count one’s blessings. Glad I did that.  I highly recommend it.

So…  Here’s to the deer, and Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2013 Al Cambronne


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