Steven Rinella has long been an outdoor writer we have been watching from the sidelines. His work in various publications around the country and in publications that are not mainstream hunting publications has been inspiring to us including the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Outside Magazine and more. His two books American Buffalo:In search of a Lost Icon and The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine have done extremely well and we are inspired by his Op Ed piece in the New York Times Locavore: Get your Gun.
Steven has been tapped to host a new show on the Travel Channel and we have enjoyed the first two episodes of The Wild Within. The show takes a gutsy look at Steven’s quest to become a better outdoorsman and provide the nourishment to his family and friends whether that is in Alaska or racing down the river in a hand made Buffalo Bull Boat. The show is inpiring and provides an honest real look at hunting and food collection for the modern man or at least what it could be.
How did you get started with your passion for the outdoors?
I started fishing and hunting very early. I was fishing at three years of age, hunting small game at seven, and trapping muskrats, mink, and raccoon when I was ten. My main influence was my father. He fought in WWII (he had me when he was fifty) and when he came home from the war he was really stir-crazy and he found an outlet through archery. Back then guys were just beginning to rediscover bowhunting, and he traveled a fair bit hunting black bear, wild boar, deer, all with a recurve. When my brothers and I were kids, he’d set up extra tree stands above his stand and my brothers and I would sit up there with him. Then my oldest brother turned twelve and I started sitting with him in his stand. I was nine. When my middle brother Danny turned twelve I started sitting with him in his stand. I sat my own stand when I was twelve and on opening day I missed a fork-horn buck with my bow at about twelve yards. I was utterly hooked on big-game hunting by then. I’ve been hunting big game heavily since then.
Growing up in Brooklyn, where did you hunt with your family?
I’ve only lived in Brooklyn a few years, since I was married in 2008. I was born in Michigan in 1974, in a rural community called Twin Lake. I moved to Montana after college and stayed out there for eleven years and then moved to Alaska briefly. My two brothers, Matt and Danny, live in Montana and Alaska, respectively. I hunt with both of those guys where they live, and then we travel a fair bit as well. Now we have a cabin in Southeast Alaska, and we hunt and fish up there together. I’d like to get involved with hunting in New York, but the only thing I’ve hunted there so far are squirrels on my buddy’s dairy farm. His place gets loaded with Canada geese in the winter, but his mom doesn’t want me hunting them. Which is a shame, because goose confit is one of my favorite wild game preparations. Hopefully she’ll read this and realize that she needs to change her mind. Please, Mrs. Chase – let me hunt those geese!
What has been your most exciting hunt?
A few years ago I hunted wild buffalo in the Wrangell Mountains of south-central Alaska, where I had to take raft down the Copper River and then pack in from there a few miles on foot. I killed a buffalo after a long, arduous hunt, and then the work really started. I had to move five hundred pounds of meat along with the skull and hide out of mountains on my back. That’s a total of about seven hundred pounds. In the meantime, I had a pair of grizzlies take a strong interest in my project. They stalked around the kill site, backtracked along my trail, and left tracks in the snow about thirty inches away from where I was caching the butchered meat. I got awfully paranoid after a few days of this, and it honestly started to affect my psychological state. I chronicled this adventure, as well as the dramatic history of the buffalo, in my book American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.
What motivated you and your brothers to purchase the camp at Saltery Cove?
About a decade ago my brother Danny, who’s an ecologist at the University of Alaska, was doing some work on Prince of Wales Island. He and his team hired a local named Ron Leighton to drive them around in his landing craft on an end of the island where there are no roads. They did a lot of fishing and shrimping together and became friends. A year later, I went out and stayed with Ron on Saltery Cove when I was working on my first book, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. We stayed in touch, and within a year or so a piece of property on the cove came up for sale. The land included a shack, a stack of rough-cut lumber, a Lund skiff, a few outboards, a lot of rusty tools. We’ve been sinking time and money into that place ever since.
What do you think the biggest threats are to the world of hunting?
Access to land and habitat loss due to development are the biggest threats to hunting. Restrictive gun laws are definitely troublesome, as are hunting regulations that aren’t based on sound science (such as the wolf debacle in Montana and Wyoming, and Yellowstone’s buffalo situation) but loss of access and habitat worry me the most. Put simply, we need to stop building trophy homes and subdivisions on top of our hunting lands.
What motivated you to begin a career in writing?
My original plan was to be a mountain man, but I was a couple hundred years too late for that. Then I wanted to be a professional fur trapper, but the markets tanked so bad that you couldn’t make any money at it. From then on, I figured I’d make a career out of trapping nuisance cougars, coyotes, and wolves for the government, but then I’d have to join the political storm of being a federal predator trapper. So I somehow settled on the idea of becoming an outdoor writer. I’ve written about a lot of other stuff as well, such as food and travel, but outdoor writing has been my bread and butter for my entire career.
What are your favorite outdoor books and authors?
I love the writer Duncan Gilchrist, who died about six or seven years ago. He has a classic called Hunt High. We used to joke that it meant to hunt while smoking weed, but he means hunting the high alpine country. What sets him apart was that he was a stylist and not just an expert. That man could write. I also love John McPhee, who isn’t exactly an outdoor writer but he’s close to being one. His Coming Into the Country is a great book about Alaska, with plenty of hunting in it. Mainly, though, I enjoy reading accounts and autobiographies from explorers, particularly those that spent a lot of time hunting with indigenous peoples. One of my favorites is My Life with the Eskimo, by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Also The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman. And The Heart of the Hunter by Laurens Vanderpost.
How did The Wild Within come about?
The show came about through my writing. I get contacted a fair bit by production companies and networks who want to explore ideas, and I eventually hit on the right group of people. The Wild Within is made by Zero Point Zero Productions, and I love those guys. As long as I do TV, it’ll be with them.
What can we expect to see in the series?
Lots of meat, and lots of excitement. Just to name a few things, I make a boat from a buffalo hide in Montana and take it down the Missouri. I get shocked by an electric eel and bowfish for piranha in Guyana. I get fitted for tweeds and hunt red deer in Scotland. I scour the Alberta bush for moose and then float the meat down a river that’s as full of slush as a daiquiri. Stay tuned!