Crystal Spring Farm Contributed photo

Consider your eyes: set just above your nose, less than two inches apart, designed to zero in on what’s before you. There she is, nostrils working, tail twitching, taking one cautious step at a time, eyes wide to her head’s sides, designed to know what’s all around.

You and this deer are complements of aimed and spread awareness: predator and prey. You are hunting, and your prey is not the slow, shrink-wrapped meat of a supermarket aisle.

Whether we choose to hunt or not, we are of this relationship; it is part of our design. We are, of course, descendants of eons of hunter-gatherers, who found both a living and a place in a natural world tucked full of such relationships. Our social organization turned us into apex predators, and as we grew numerous, we chased other predators (see wolves or lions, e.g.) away.

During hunting season, common wisdom holds that hunters are filling an old role. Less common is an understanding of how vital hunting is to our valued, conserved, and agricultural lands.

In my last column, I wrote of tagging along with a local bowhunter as he looks for deer. To deepen my understanding of the role of hunting in our eco-system, I turned to a number of familiar and new writers, among them Leopold, Thoreau, Dillard. What’s grown in me, as a result, is an appreciation for the ways hunters know and value the land they walk.

My October example came from nearby Crystal Spring Farm, a more than 300-acre mix of farm and forest owned by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and farmed on over 100 of those acres by Seth Kroeck and Maura Bannon’s family.


Crystal Spring is both working and wondrous land; deer think so too, as does the odd turkey.

Recently, as the Kroeck-Bannon family has sought to expand their planting of vegetables, carrots being one, they have experienced an uptick in crop loss to deer.

As Kroeck said, “Deer love carrots, and sometime, generations ago, a doe learned that not only were the greens good, but that if she pulled on them enough, she got a great tasting root, too. Of course, she taught her fawns, who went on to teach their spawn…and on.”

Kroeck, who says, “I share responsibility for our choices here,” has invested in portable electric fencing to deter the deer, and that has had some effect. But unchecked, deer will eat and multiply to the point where farming becomes more difficult than it already is. These deer also spill into neighborhoods that once were forest and eat your hastas and shrubs. They may become so many that their own health suffers.

Hunting at Crystal Spring is limited to bowhunting. Each year during the fall’s expanded archery season (Sept. 12-Dec. 12 this year), the Land Trust allows experienced bowhunters to apply for a permit to hunt on this land. After an interview and orientation, accepted bowhunters may hunt deer on land away from trails. Signs go up, wearing blaze orange is advised, and many walkers and runners keep on along the trails. The Trust has experienced little conflict between these activities. As my bowhunter guide noted to me, “Bowhunting is intimate. Bowhunters don’t aim at motion; they must be near and see deer.”

Out of season, when deer multiply and devour crops, a farmer may apply for a “nuisance” permit from the state. As Kroeck noted, “We need to show loss,” and any deer taken must be donated rather than kept by the hunter. The nonprofit Hunters for the Hungry often receives these donations. Before archery season this year, when Kroeck experienced such loss, an experienced hunter killed three does, the limit for this permit.


To deepen my understanding, I researched other such programs, some based in suburban areas even denser than ours. During my search, I spoke with, Bob Dalton, who manages a bowhunting program in Andover, Massachusetts, sponsored by both the local land trust and the town. That program requires similar permitting of hunters. Dalton has directed the effort for a number of years, keeping the deer herd in check in an area where the only other predator of note is the car fender. His program is both popular and useful.

Besides replacing missing predators, hunters also develop a special relationship to the woods and fields where they spend so many hours. “I have deep respect for bowhunters,” says Kroeck. “They are often pure naturalists, who make a real commitment to understanding the micro and macro systems of this land. That commitment often means sitting for hours in the wet and cold. Their goal is to learn it, know it, be of it.”

Such knowing and inhabiting often turns a hunter into a strong advocate for open and wild lands. “What better stewards are there than those who spend many hours outside observing nature and learning its movements?” asks Margaret Gerber, Director of Stewardship for the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. “People yearn for a connection to nature, and in towns the size of Brunswick and Topsham, it’s easy to forget that such a connection may not be cultivated on a marked trail but by following one laid out by deer hooves or turkey scratches.”

Such readers of ground are likely to become that land’s most active supporters. That was true at the outset of the land conservation movement, and it was certainly true of the hunter I had the pleasure of following this fall.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick, Maine resident, chairperson of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. His book, “Critical Hours — Search and Rescue in the White Mountains,” was published by University Press of New England in April 2018. He may be reached at

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: