In the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, it only took a few moments for Steve Rinella and his bowhunting buddy, Dan, to spot some pronghorn antelope in the distant brush. Cowan was tagged with perhaps one of the most recognizable hunters in all of America, even though he had never hunted in his life.
“I’m doing what I was born to do, what I love,” Rinela said.
He is the creator and host of the popular TV and web series “MeatEater,” now in its 11th season. It’s hunting the way a hunter sees it—up close and personal—and for Rinella, hunting is personal. He said, “At my core, I love nature, I love hunting, I love fishing, I love eating what I hunt and fish. And I’ve turned that into the work I do.”
He came hunting the way most people do; his father hunted. Back then, he looked at it mostly just as a sport. “When I was 18, I was possessed with hunting and fishing. I did not know or use the word conservation. In my mind, all the resources we enjoyed fell from the sky … they were there for us to take.”
“And they would always be there for the taking?” Cowan asked.
“Get yours while the supply is good.”
But today, conservation is at the heart of almost everything MeatEater does. The quality of the hunt, he says, is only as good as the health of the population being hunted, whether it’s deer, fish or anything else. His point is that the love of the wild, while still taking the life of a wild animal, is not mutually exclusive. “I’ve never met a person in my life who values game so much who doesn’t value wildlife,” Rinella said. “And they understand that there’s a limit to how much we can get out of it, or you end up taking it apart and destroying the whole thing.”
Agree with it or not, it’s nothing new. Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway and John James Audubon all loved nature and hunting. And there is Theodore Roosevelt, who especially loved the country. Rinella said, “He saved about 50,000 acres of mountains, plains, forests in this country for every day he was in office. Why? He was inspired to do it through his connection to hunting.”
The same idea – respect for resources – is what he tries to teach his own children, partly through food.
At his home in Bozeman, Montana, Rinela’s refrigerator is stocked with the frozen spoils of his wilderness adventures: elk meat, ducks, wild turkey. Everything here, he says, has a story that brings with it a discussion. “Every night when we eat, we eat something that we grew, that we hunted, that we found in the forest, that we found in our yard,” he said. “And not a night goes by, I’m not kidding, not a night goes by that we don’t talk about it.”
His cooking also attracted non-hunter viewers. Rinella became the “Julia Child of the campfire.” The last third of almost every episode of “MeatEater” is cooking the day’s catch or kill, making the forest look like a 3-star Michelin restaurant, like when he was cooking deer and pumpkin stew.
Rinella said, “I’ve read this story dozens of times, there would be a shock: ‘Wow, this chef, this famous chef’ – whatever, name your famous chef! – ‘took an interest in hunting.’ Of course he is. Because he’s interested in food!”
Rinella isn’t trying to convince animal rights advocates to suddenly become hunters themselves. But what he hopes everyone interested in the show will take away is the idea that hunters aren’t always the enemy of animal welfare. “I talk to my kind; by that I mean I talk to other outdoorsmen and outdoor women,” he said. “I also talk to people who are, like, kicking tires in this world, who are curious about it. They weren’t curious, they wouldn’t look.”
“MeatEater” has now grown into a lifestyle brand – clothing and hunting products. He has written a number of bestsellers, including cookbooks. And it has a top-rated podcast. His brand is based on his unique philosophy: that none of us live he earth, we live with that.
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Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Emanuele Secci.