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


Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer

Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer

Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer, edited by David Hewitt and just out in 2011, is a book that belongs on the shelf of every deer enthusiast.  Think of it as the modern-day version of the 1984 classic White-tailed Deer Ecology and Management, edited by Lowell K. Halls.

At only 686 pages, compared to its predecessor’s 870 pages, it’s much shorter—but only in the same way that recent Cabela’s catalogs have slimmed down from 1,288 pages to “only” 908 pages.  And despite its cover price of $119.95, it’s currently available on Amazon for “only” $96.96.

That’s not cheap.  Still, if your interest in deer extends beyond an annual weekend of hunting or an occasional morning spent cursing the midnight marauders that pruned your hostas, then this book might be worth a look.  And it’s not just for wildlife biologists or the truly deer-obsessed.  It’s also worth owning if you’re a curious amateur who wants to dig deeper and learn a little more.

If you’re a hunter, you probably already own enough books about how to hunt deer.  If you’re a watcher, you probably own enough deer picture books to cover your coffee table.  For what you’d spend on a couple more of them, you could instead buy this volume.  A few more boxes of ammo, a few more sacks of “deer corn” (which you shouldn’t be feeding those deer anyway), half a pair of mediocre binoculars…  You get the idea.

Co-published with the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer includes 21 chapters divided into the following topics: The Past (just one introductory chapter on taxonomy, evolutionary history, and distribution), Biology (nine chapters on a variety of topics ranging from “Antlers” to “Spatial Use of Landscapes”), Management (ten chapters ranging from “Management on Private Property” to “Managing White-tailed Deer: Exurban, Suburban, and Urban Environments), and The Future (just one closing chapter).

By the way…  By now you may have noticed something unfamiliar about the spelling and hyphenation of your favorite animal.  Modern usage has settled on the consensus of “whitetail deer,” as in the magazine titles Quality Whitetails or Whitetails Unlimited.  In a scientific context, however, the animal remains “white-tailed deer.”  In a title, the W and D are capitalized and the T is not.  You get used to it after a while.

As I noted in a review of this book’s 1984 predecessor, my DEERLAND research involved hundreds of journal articles and dozens of other books besides these two.  I also did a fair amount of primary research by interviewing the top experts in their fields.  (And when I say “in their fields,” that wasn’t always a figure of speech.)

With other DEERLAND sources, I headed out in the woods.  With botanists, foresters, and wildlife biologists, I hiked around and asked lots of questions.  With one urban bowhunter, I climbed about 20 feet up an aspen that, once the late afternoon wind came up, felt like it should have been slightly larger in diameter to support the two of us.  To get my roadkill story, I spent an entire shift riding around with a State Trooper.  (But at least, unlike one of our guests that night, I got to sit in the front seat.)

So don’t get me wrong.  I did lots of other research.  But Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer, along with a number of other books, provided important background.

And if you happen to be a curious amateur deer enthusiast, then you’ll find this book both informative and entertaining.  There won’t be much on TV next winter, and Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer will keep you occupied for several long winter evenings.  Once you’ve finished it, you’ll own an invaluable reference work.  So for you, it just might be worth every penny.

© 2013 Al Cambronne


For Deer in the North, April is the Cruelest Month

A Beach in April, copyright Al Cambronne

Last week I spent two fascinating days at the Midwest Wolf Stewards conference.  I learned a lot, and it would be tough to summarize fourteen hours of presentations in a brief blog post.  Next time, however, I’ll share a few highlights.  But first, a digression about the weather.  Except it’s not really a digression.  As usual, it’s all about the deer.

This year the conference was held at a hotel and conference center in Silver City, Michigan.  This is a very tiny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It’s still mostly closed up for the winter.  I arrived late the afternoon before, learned there’d be nothing in town to eat that night but frozen pizzas at the bar, and decided to make a run to the nearest grocery store.  It was 14 miles away.

Silver City is on the south shore of Lake Superior, just at the mouth of the Big Iron River.  The night before the conference I went for a walk and snapped a few pictures.  I decided they’d be more fun than shots of wolf biologists sitting around in a conference room.

As you can see, spring is arriving slowly in this part of the world.  That evening’s sunshine didn’t last; the next day was dark and drizzly.  Two days later, on the way back from the U.P. to NW WI, I drove through rain, sleet, and then a blizzard for the last hour or so.  After I arrived home, we were blessed by another 18” of heavy, wet snow.  That night, with the window open just a crack, we fell asleep to the sounds of white pine branches breaking.  By the interval that passed between the snap and the thump, we were able to tell roughly how high the branch had been.

Parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula received over 20 feet of snow this winter.  It’s not easy being a deer in that neighborhood—or even in my own.  Some deer have already expired and been scavenged by wolves.  Others waded slowly through deep snow and fell prey to wolves whose oversize paws allowed them to float on the surface.  But of all the deer that don’t make it through an entire winter, a disproportionate number of them almost do.  To quote T.S. Eliot slightly out of context: “April is the cruelest month.”

In an unusually hard winter, a large percentage of deer don’t survive.  Of those, most expire in April, right before the spring green-up.  Last year’s fawns are hit hardest.  Surviving does will have lower birth rates; rather than twins and triplets, most will give birth to one fawn or none.  These fawns, in turn, will experience higher rates of neonatal mortality—and may even be more vulnerable next winter.  Let’s hope it’s an easier one.

But the thing is…  Across much of the whitetail deer’s northern range, all these things happen during milder winters, too.  Only the numbers and percentages are different.  Nature is nothing like those Disney movies I loved to watch when I was a little kid.  In particular, it’s nothing like this winter scene from Bambi.  And by the way…  The legs of real deer don’t bend that way.  If deer fall on the ice and all four legs splay out like that—which does sometimes happen—the deer don’t get up.  Ever.

Sorry.  That was a little depressing.  I don’t know what the hell got into me.  Next time I’ll try and do better.  Until then, here’s another sunny springtime photo.

© 2013 Al Cambronne

Spring Breakup, copyright Al Cambronne