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Know the West

Rinella aims for the impossible, scores a hit


Book Review:
Meat Eater, Adventures from the life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella
231 pages; Spiegel & Grau. 2012

Periodically, an outdoor writer aims for the impossible: to explain the why of modern hunting, as opposed to producing just another “how to” book.

The task is impossible because the motivations behind hunting are as individual as each hunter and go deep into the human psyche.

Most writers wilt at the challenge. Exceptions include Jose Ortega y Gasset, Ernest Hemingway, Tom McGuane and David Petersen. Put Steven Rinella’s new title, Meat Eater, on the same shelf as the classics.

Rinella is the host of MeatEater on the Sportsman's Channel, which has distinguished itself as a thoughtful program in a genre saturated with ego, ignorance and poor taste.  

But the written word allows Rinella to showcase his literary talent. A fog bank sweeps across an Alaska ridge “so thick and solid it looked like it could scrape up my tent and carry it away.” An Arizona puma takes a step “as lightly as a balloon touching the ground.”

Rinella is a history nerd, gonzo adventurer and urbane foodie, wrapped in a boyish glee for hunting and fishing. Although born in the Midwest and living in New York City, Rinella honed his writing skills at University of Montana’s famed Creative Writing Program. This book would have been impossible without the rich wildlife habitats of the American West, which provide setting for his most colorful yarns.

Meat Eater tackles not just the question of if hunting and fishing is ethical, but when is it ethical and what makes the difference.   

These are more stories than essays. There are sometimes several little plots crammed into each page, even the footnotes. Many surround Rinella’s Michigan upbringing, his dad (a hardboiled WWII vet) and his two equally gonzo brothers. (Which makes the reader wonder about, and sympathize with, his mother.)

Hunting is very much a part of the western psyche, but still a large gulf separates those who “get it” and those who don’t. Rinella’s thoughtful and entertaining prose erects a bridge over that gulf for those hungry enough to cross it.

[If you are in the Denver area on Sept. 13, see Steven Rinella read from Meat Eater at 6:30 p.m. at Sportsman Warehouse in Thorton.]

 Image: Cover of Meat Eater, courtesy of Spiegel & Grau.

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director of Resource Media.