Except for NFL games, I seldom arrange my schedule to watch television.
For the next few months, however, I’ll tune in at 8 p.m. EST on Sundays when Steven Rinella’s “The Wild Within” appears on the Travel Channel (http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/The_Wild_Within).
The first few episodes have proved as smart and fascinating as Rinella’s books, “The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine,” and “American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.”
A Travel Channel promotion says Rinella, 36, travels the world to explore diverse cultures that help explain the instinctual hunter/gatherer within us who’s waiting to come out. It continues:
“Steven uses his pioneer spirit, resourceful mentality and outdoor skills to explore the subcultures that cherish and maintain their hunting, fishing and gathering traditions. Steven stays true to the tradition of sustenance hunting. Nothing he harvests goes to waste, and he only pursues abundant species that are managed to protect their ecological sustainability.”
If you’ve read Rinella’s books or magazine articles, you know he didn’t write that last sentence. He doesn’t use euphemisms like “harvest” when discussing hunting, fishing and trapping. As he often says: “My rules are simple: If you eat it, kill it. And if you kill it, eat it.”
The show’s first episode opened in Rinella’s Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, where the Michigan native keeps a chest-freezer in his bedroom closet. He then flies to a cabin he co-owns in southeastern Alaska to fill that freezer by catching crabs and shrimp, and shooting a goose and black-tailed deer.
He does so with respect, intelligence and edgy wit, and without apology or weasel words. Unlike most hunting shows, Rinella doesn’t shy from showing the deer’s blood, its raw liver and loins, its bullet-shattered heart, or the incision exposing its abdominal and chest cavities. Where most hunting-show hosts focus on antlers, Rinella celebrates the meat, proudly displaying choice cuts as prime trophies.
And when he and his brother must track and finish off a buck, Rinella frankly explains that not every animal collapses dead when shot. His blunt honesty hits home. Wildlife isn’t livestock, after all, and it doesn’t live and die in controlled stockyards and slaughterhouses.
Why pretend otherwise? Hunters lose credibility when we act as if every fish or animal we kill goes out like a euthanized pet. Besides, predation is inexact and some wounding loss is inevitable, whether inflicted by wolves, eagles, weasels or robins. Only humans, however, have a conscience that demands we strive to make death fast, painless and certain.
Rinella makes meat-gathering understandable – even cool and relevant – through his self-confident love and explanations for hunting. He’s not the first communicator to share that reverence, of course. Recall “A Sand County Almanac,” in which Aldo Leopold writes about shooting a black duck after freezing in wait along an ice- and snow-covered lake:
“I cannot remember the shot; I remember only my unspeakable delight when my first duck hit the snowy ice with a thud and lay there, belly up, red legs kicking.”
Like Leopold, Rinella realizes most people accept hunting when they know hunters are guided by rules and regulations, and that we value the meat it provides. In Rinella’s home, all meat comes from fish, animals and birds he kills.
He explains these are nature’s truly organic, free-range, low-fat meats. During a TV interview with Warren Etheredge on “The Warren Report,” Rinella recalls pitching a fit when his wife, Katie Finch, brought home turkey sausage from a farmer’s market. He was livid when confronting her, saying: “What? You bring another man’s meat into my home?”
Equally important, Rinella doesn’t pretend he’s a throwback to earlier times. “The Wild Within” portrays hunting and fishing to be as legitimate in modern U.S. culture as they are in the cultures of other countries. To help make that point in each hour-long episode, Rinella visits Texas, Hawaii, Montana, California, Guyana, Scotland and Canada in the show’s first season.
Rinella believes hunting is more than just outdoor recreation or wildlife management. It’s part of our species’ identity. Only in recent times have so many people claimed otherwise.
“The Wild Within” celebrates hunting and its significance, something I never thought I’d see on television. Put it on your schedule.