Author, TV host, and lifetime sportsman Steven Rinella weighs in on the hunting industry, wild game, conservation, and his new book series.
You can’t get many more candid opinions on hunting and the outdoors than you get from Steven Rinella. The experienced hunter, angler, trapper, and outdoorsman shares his perspective and expertise in a variety of ways, most recently through an extensive book series The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game.
Rinella was kind enough to answer some questions from Wide Open Spaces, and delivered honest, thoughtful insight. If you’re an avid fan of the “MeatEater” television series or just a sportsman looking for someone worth listening to, you’ll get something out of what Rinella has to say.
What follows is Rinella’s unedited responses to inquiries about the hunting industry, wild game cooking, and more.
As a hunting personality, you’ve written, created television shows, spoken publicly and now entered the podcasting realm. If you had to choose your favorite, and the one medium you’d prefer to use for the rest of your career, what would it be?
“I can’t say that I’ll be doing television shows when I’m an old man, but I’m 100% committed to being a writer. When people ask me what I do, I still say that I write for a living. I only mention TV when I’m pressed for details. I’m very proud of the MeatEater TV show and everything that it’s become, but I do have an overall distrust in television. It has this way of bringing out the worst in mankind. It turns even honest men into bullshitters. Give me a chance to hunt with a writer or a TV host, and I’ll go with the writer.”
The term “hunting personality” can mean a lot of things. What does it personally signify for you? Is it something that goes through your mind regularly, as in, There’s a lot of people who pay attention to what I do…?
“I honestly don’t think about it. It’s not like I wake up every day with an awareness that people are watching me and listening to me. In fact, it’s hard to imagine someone’s life being altered by what I do, perhaps because I’ve never allowed any single person outside of my family or close friends to have an outsized impact on my own life. That being said, I greatly enjoy having an audience to share my ideas with. I like that sense of having an ongoing discussion with people through my books and TV shows. I feel that I owe friendship to anyone who takes the time and energy to consider what I have to say.”
You reference one of your favorite research subjects, Daniel Boone, in many places. Can you share something almost nobody knows about the guy?
“That he hated bloodshed. That, despite his modern reputation as an “Indian fighter,” he went to great lengths to avoid killing another human.”
What’s the thing that annoys you the most about the hunting industry? Is there a way to fix it?
“Every year, there’s this huge firearms and shooting sports trade show in Las Vegas called SHOT show. There are military and law enforcement components to SHOT, but hunting is a major part of it. Everyone is there, from conservation groups to knife makers to ammunition companies to clothing manufacturers to TV hosts. You can spend three days at this trade show and not see everything; it’ll literally make your brain numb from overstimulation. Rather than making hunting seem approachable, SHOT makes hunting seem byzantine and unknowable. For that reason, I can’t say that I have any serious complaints about the hunting industry. It’s just too big and varied, and I know that there’s another side to every story that you might find objectionable. I will, however, admit to having some minor pet peeves. Like why do magazines that take an editorial stance against the domestication of wildlife insist on putting giant, fenced-up bucks on their covers? And why do so many hunting brands and TV shows help push the notion that young girls need to get dazzled up with makeup and pink accents in order to go hunting? And why doesn’t every hunter support groups like National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership? Stuff like that does drives me nuts.”
It can be argued that you’ve sparked an interest in intelligent discourse surrounding the important issues affecting hunting, angling, wild food and conservation through your show, books and podcast. Was this intentional? Do outdoorsmen and women communicate and debate as much or as well as they should?
“My driving goal in my media pursuits has been to portray the worlds of hunting, fishing and the outdoors in a way that feels true to me. Part of that “trueness” has been the lively spirit of debate that has always colored the interactions that I have with my core group of hunting and fishing buddies. We love to argue, to engage in mental wrestling matches over ideas ranging from wildlife ecology to hunting strategies. This has gone on for my entire life, and it’s taught me to appreciate a clearly articulated viewpoint even if I don’t agree with it. So it’s only natural that I’d make debate a part of everything that I do. And it’s not just for fun. I feel that it will benefit hunters, fishermen, and conservationists tremendously if they learn how to explain where they are coming from in a clear and engaging way.”
The new book is widely extensive, but also is readable in pieces and very easy to digest. How much work was put into The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game series, and how did its creation differ from your other books?
“The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking contains lifetimes of knowledge that took several years to capture in writing. It is much different than my previous three books, which are narrative in form — that is, they each tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The two-part guidebook series deals in facts and opinions, which are organized in an easily accessible way. Each page stands on its own. I wish I had a book like this when I was young, because it would have saved me years of trial and error while I was learning to hunt. I can say with all certainty that no other guidebook on the planet explains the process of hunting as well as these books do. They are the best resource available to hunters.”
You specialize in some diverse wild game dishes, but what is your favorite to make in your own kitchen, for your own family to enjoy and spend time together eating?
“I mostly like to cook the things that my wife likes to eat, and her favorite is steak salad. Take a hunk of loin or a roast and sear it thoroughly on all sides and then finish it in the oven until it’s still plenty bloody at 130 degrees in the middle. Let it cool and slice it thin and serve the slices alongside a green salad with a soft-boiled egg, avocado, and tomato. Top the salad with vinaigrette and put some coarse sea salt on the egg and meat. We eat everything from muskox to whitetail like that. My wife also likes burgers. We just had moose burgers tonight with pickles and tomatoes from our garden on top. Fried eggplant from the garden on the side.”
What’s next? What do you hope to do now that a huge project like this book series is finally seeing the light of day? What will you be doing 15 years from now?
“I’m going to continue working on another narrative book, one that deals with my favorite period in American history. I’m also working on a documentary project that I’m very excited about. Look for that in a couple of years. As for the question about fifteen years from now, I’ll be 56 years old. I hope I’m hunting Dahl sheep with my brothers, far away from any roads.”
Anything else you’d like to add, we’re all ears.
“Get involved in the conservation movement. I don’t care what anyone says, habitat loss is the number one threat to hunting. We cannot afford to lose another acre of wild land. It’s the best thing we have going for us, and we need to protect it with our lives.”