Fans of the Sportsman Channel’s popular “MeatEater” series know host Steven Rinella as the insightful traveling outdoorsman who Friday nights whisks them away on exciting hunting adventures where he tracks down, cleans and cooks an amazing variety of wild game.
His compelling, ever-varied dishes range from Mexican coyote BBQ to caveman-style sheep ribs prepared deep in the Alaska Range backcountry. Such delicious diversity encourages fellow hunters to shed the shackles of their comfort zones and reap the full culinary benefits wild game has to offer.
Rinella is also a widely published and critically acclaimed author who strongly encourages hunters to be good stewards of the land and tireless defenders of the delicate circle of life that surrounds their chosen quarry.
Thanks to his success both in print and on the airwaves, the Seattle resident has become a self-styled frontman for conservation, the hunting lifestyle and total utilization of each wild harvest.
Rinella’s journey to the world stage began on the outskirts of Twin Lake, a rural community in Lower Michigan’s Muskegon County. Like his two older brothers, Matt and Dan, Steven learned to hunt and fish from his father at an early age.
“My dad was an avid outdoorsman,” he recalls. “He was a diehard bowhunter back before the sport went mainstream. But he was also part of a dying breed of generalists who hunted and fished everything, before the age of specialization we live in today.”
Opportunities for outdoor adventure were everywhere. “We lived on the shores of Middle Lake,” says Rinella. “Hunting and fishing were right outside our back door.”
With his father and brothers, Rinella slipped away to the backwoods or lakeshore every chance he got. He fished from the time he could hold a pole, turned to squirrel hunting at an early age, and tagged his first deer at 13.
He was also a compulsive reader. “I was fascinated by stories about mountain men and early American fur trappers and explorers,” he says.
Inspired by these boyhood heroes, Rinella vowed early on to pursue a life in the outdoors. “At first it was trapping,” he says. “I was determined to make a living at it. I started with muskrats when I was 10, took trapping lessons, and went on to trap beaver, coyote, otter and fox. But fur prices were dismal and at some point I realized trapping wasn’t the answer.”
Rinella stopped trapping when he was 22. By then, his career was already headed in a different direction. On the advice of his English instructors at Reeths-Puffer High School and Muskegon Community College, he had begun writing about his passion for hunting, fishing and the outdoors. He went on to receive a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Montana-Missoula in 2000.
“By the time I finished grad school, I was already selling stories to magazines like Outside and Field & Stream,” he says. Credits in a number of other national titles followed, as did a series of five books.
“It’s not a bad life. I get paid to run around with cool guys hunting and fishing.”
Rinella entered the television realm with “The Wild Within,” an eight-episode Travel Channel series that aired in 2011. “MeatEater” premiered in 2012. The show has since become a Sportsman Channel staple, and a focal point of Rinella’s career.
“It’s not a bad life,” he smiles. “I get paid to run around with cool guys hunting and fishing. Whenever I complain about something, my wife reminds me that I hunt for a living.”
Married in 2008, Rinella and his wife have three children. He admits that extensive time away from home is one of the job’s biggest challenges.
“I’m gone almost half the year,” he says. “My wife and I have developed a lot of mechanisms for taking the stress of it off our kids. When I’m home, I spend a lot of high-quality time with them. Still, we keep a close eye on things and if any serious problems were to arise, my family would take precedence over travel. But for now, it’s working.”
Rinella also misses the chance to spend time afield with his brothers. “We’re very close, and not being able to hunt with those guys as much as I’d like is hard,” he says.
“I know plenty of guys back home who can’t tell you what kind of tree their deer stand is in.”
On the plus side, Rinella relishes the opportunity to immerse himself in the culture of his destinations. “I enjoy getting a thorough, first-hand education on each location,” he says. “Being able to satisfy my curiosities about a place, its people and their styles of hunting is extremely rewarding.”
Along the way, he has developed a keen appreciation for many of the indigenous peoples he’s visited. “In South America, for example, I spent time with a couple of different tribes that are masters of their environment,” he explains. “These guys hunt and fish 300 or more days a year. They know every square inch of their territory, every plant, every animal. We don’t achieve that level of mastery in our culture. I know plenty of guys back home who can’t tell you what kind of tree their deer stand is in.”
Better TV, Food And Conservation
Though he’s an accomplished writer, Rinella has also developed a love of the television medium. “I like the act of making TV much better than the act of writing,” he says. “Actually, I’ve never enjoyed writing, although I do enjoy the satisfaction of having written something.”
Producing “MeatEater” also allows Rinella to pursue his passion for cooking wild game, and for utilizing each animal to the fullest extent possible.
“I’ve always been very interested in things that other people overlook,” he says. “For example, everyone knows backstrap is good. But I spend a lot of time experimenting with the less-desirable cuts—the shank, tongue, organ meat, ribs. People think it isn’t worth much, but it’s actually some of the best meat around. Using it gives you a tremendously greater value from your harvest.”
He notes that maximizing the harvest also sends a strong message to non-hunters. “No one likes to see things go to waste,” he says. “You’re doing yourself and hunting a great favor by being a thrifty and conscientious predator.”
“Our wealth of natural resources didn’t just happen. It’s the work of many people over many decades.”
Such public relations efforts are extremely important to Rinella, who explains that representing hunting in a positive light is one of his top goals. “Besides producing quality, thought-provoking entertainment, if I could have a legacy it would be to have lived a life and produced work that demonstrated to the outward world that hunting is a useful, constructive activity that has the best interest of wildlife and wildlife habitat at its core,” he says.
Toward that end, he also aims to inspire fellow outdoorsmen to get involved in the preservation of wild places, and not take clean air, water and wildlife habitat for granted. “Our wealth of natural resources didn’t just happen,” he says. “It’s the work of many people over many decades. Hunters need to carry on their efforts to protect these precious wild places now and for the future.”
For more information on Steven Rinella, including his favorite hunts and recipes, visit themeateater.com.