Monday, November 19, 2012

Meat Eater

Adventures From the Life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella
The Random House Publishing Group, 231 pgs
978-0-385-52981-5
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 3.5

Steven Rinella's explanation of why he hunts is, drum roll, he was hungry. He says "there is no time for emotional dawdling," but instead for "unerring judgment...speed, precision and discipline...time to do what millions of years' worth of evolution built us to do. And in the act of doing it, you experience the unconfused purity of being a human predator, stripped of everything that is non-essential. In that moment of impending violence, you are gifted a beautiful glimpse of life." Hmmmm...I thought he was just hungry.

Meat Eater is the story of how Steve Rinella developed into the outdoorsman he is today. It is the story of a boy who began fishing at three, shot his first squirrel at eight and his first deer at thirteen. At the age of ten he aspired to be a mountain man and fur trapper. He tells the story of his ultimate disillusionment with trapping, particularly snare traps. He even chose the colleges he would attend based on their locations in relation to hunting and fishing opportunities. He is now married and a father, living with his family in Brooklyn, New York. Yes, Brooklyn. But he and his brothers own a cabin in Alaska so it's all good.

My favorite chapter is the one about an expedition for Dall sheep in Alaska. The author and his brothers spent several days camping and scouting for the sheep. Rinella goes into detail about the strategy and tactics involved, the habits of the sheep and biological characteristics. This is the only hunt that he describes as "trophy hunting," seeing as how they might not be able to pack the meat out in time before it began to rot. Rinella acknowledges the controversy inherent in trophy hunting: he wanted the skull to decorate his home. So, do with that what you will. I don't usually like the idea of trophy hunting but, as described in this chapter, predator and prey seemed fairly well-matched.

Also, the author holds a special ire for catch-and-release fishing. He seems to regard it as moronic. Rinella only practiced it for approximately a year because: "Just to be clear, catch-and-release fishing amounts to poking a hole into a fish's face and exhausting it, then letting it go because you don't want to hurt it."


There is an essay at the end of each chapter called "Tasting Notes." We found out how to cook, and how not to cook: squirrel (grill after marinating in a Jamie Oliver recipe); beaver (what appears to be a rump roast in a Crock pot - tastes like beef, or you can eat the tail which is all fat and gristle);deer heart (slice like a bell pepper, dredge in flour and fry on the stove top); jerky (dried in a contraption built of stuff laying around the garage that sounds like found art); black bear (bear meat tastes like whatever they've been eating, also render the fat and use it for cooking); salmon (dipped raw in a mixture of soy sauce and tubed wasabi); and mountain lion (barbecue and chip it.)


Author Steven Rinella

I myself have few reservations about hunting. My father's side of the family have always been hunters and fishers. I have spent some of the best times of my life with a cane pole and a box of worms, dissecting minnows lakeside at the age of three. I have, in my time, helped my father gut, clean and skin deer. I drove home from school one afternoon to find a deer carcass hanging in the tree over my parking spot. I have eaten venison, dove, quail, rabbit, buffalo, squirrel, frog legs, and enjoyed many a fish fry. I was taught to eat what you kill. So I have no problem with the hunting of prey animals. I do have a problem with hunting the predators. If you take down too many predators you can upset the balance of predator to prey. The prey animals can become overpopulated, get sick or starve. So it was hard for me to take when Mr. Rinella goes hunting for mountain lions, says he's curious how they would taste.


Meat Eater was a treat to read. I learned a lot about things I did, and did not, want to know. It is written with humor and a healthy dose of awe and appreciation for the animals. I cannot recommend this to everyone due to personal sensibilities but I heartily recommend Meat Eater for hunters and fishers. I wish my Uncle Chad were still with us. He would have loved this.

Mr. Rinella is the author of two other books, American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon and The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine. He is the host of MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel, formerly of The Wild Within on the Travel Channel, which was nominated for a James Beard Award. For more on the author please see www.themeateater.com. For more on the publisher please see www.spiegelandgrau.com.