As long-time readers of this blog know, I am concerned about the future of hunting, especially because already-established hunters have hitched their wagons to an increasingly narrower and narrower spectrum of America politics. I have implored people involved in mass communications, be it film, television, or the written word, to find ways to reach beyond this narrow base. Indeed, had I not grown up in rural America where hunting and fishing were celebrated ways of life, I probably would be among the most noxious antis, just because my own politics simply don’t align with those of most hunters now.
However, there is at least one hunting communicator who does a great job reaching beyond this narrow base. Steven Rinella is an outdoor writer and science journalist extraordinaire, and what’s more, his art is reaching people who are not conservative in the true wonders that are hunting and fishing and preparation of wild meat. Rinella’s written word, such as can be found in what I consider his classic work, American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, is a mixture of William Faulkner, Aldo Leopold, and certain Midwestern rusticity that I cannot fully place. and is this writing stye that he applies to narration and story-line of MeatEater.
In 16 new episodes, which you can watch on Netflix, Rinella takes us from Interior Alaska to the Rewa River in Guyana. Lots of things are learned in each episode, from Latvian hunting incantations to the finer art of hand-lining for black piranha, but the most important thing we learn is that hunting is not evil. Not a deer falls in the Nevada desert, when Rinella and Joe Rogan go bow-hunting for mulie bucks, and most of the two-part episode of hunting Sitka black-tails on Prince of Wales Island involves seeing no deer at all. Most of those two episodes involve foraging shrimp, rockfish, and red sea cucumbers from the oceans and simple friendship in magnificent land.
Rinella loves animals. He revels in their biology and habits. To him, hunting is an intellectual exercise in which he matches his skills against their instincts and far keener senses. Animals die, but the carcass is butchered. The meat and organs go not to some banal rough fare, but instead, they wind up being prepared in fine dishes, many of which are cooked right over a campfire.
There are many moving scenes in this new season. When Papa Janis Putelis kills a moose that appeared to have “manifested” itself before his gun as a result of his Latvian “magic,” we learn about his general philosophy of life, which is to enjoy every footstep and savor every breath. We marvel at petroglyphs left by ancient hunter-gatherers in Guyana, ones that even the natives who take Rinella to see the artifacts just call the “ancient ones.” Though these Amerindians who guide Rinella seem almost Stone Age to us, they are inheritors of this world, and their world is ultimately changing as new technologies and foreign capital begin to work their way deeper into their part of the jungle.
However, perhaps the most moving scene in all of this season comes when Doug Duren, a Wisconsin farmer and conservationist, bags a bull caribou out of the Fortymile herd. Duren shoots the bull with pinpoint accuracy, but when he approaches the fallen beast, his emotions are flying. He revels in the excitement of having killed, but there is a look of admiration for the bull on his face that is difficult to describe. He strokes its chocolate and cream-colored fur so tenderly it is as if he’s petting a beloved dog that was just euthanized. There is reverence for this beast as the living being it was. This scene is something I’ve never before seen on a hunting show. Most of these shows have the hunters celebrating and high-fiving as if they have won the Super Bowl.
This reverence for the animals and their habitat mixes so nicely with the realization that ever episode that winds up with an animal’s death ends with that animal being prepared into a fine piece of table fare. Rinella’s narration is mesmerizing and deep, for it is his skill as a writer that really shine. The cinematography is gorgeous, but Rinella’s words pull and prod the images along, striking your aesthetic senses at their very core.
This is the art of MeatEater, and why Rinella is such a fine spokesperson for hunting in this century. He is not trying to feed the prejudices of the already extant hunting show aficionados. Instead, he reaches people at their deepest romantic and aesthetic senses, the part that makes us love animals and nature so much that one could just as easily become an anti-hunter. Indeed, because so few publicly visible hunters try to communicate on this level, these senses remain untapped and untapped at our peril.
I loved this season so much that I was almost in tears when it finally ended. Rinella is truly at master at his craft as a writer and communicator, even more so than he is a master at the art of hunting.
But he is truly a master at both.