OK, I admit it. I’m a huge fan of Steve Rinella.
I first became aware of him when I reviewed his book, American Buffalo, for this magazine some years ago. I enjoyed that book immensely, so when my three sons alerted me to the presence of many episodes of his Meat Eater television program on Netflix, I binge-watched them as soon as each series became available. I subsequently ordered another of his books from the United States and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
When American Hunter: Adventures from the life of an American hunter finally landed in my mailbox, I wasn’t disappointed.
The book starts at the beginning, logically enough, recounting local squirrel hunting adventures from Rinella’s childhood in Michigan. He and his brothers were allowed to tote a .22 rifle and shotguns unsupervised as young as 10 and 12 years of age! As if I wasn’t already completely captivated, Chapter 3 sealed the deal as Rinella discussed his fascination with the role of fur trappers in the discovery and settlement of America’s west. That fascination sparked his own determined but ultimately futile attempts to earn a living trapping muskrats, mink, foxes and racoons in the woods near his home.
As a young teenager I shared a similar dream and the 40 or more rabbit traps that hang in my office as I type represent some of the pieces of that shattered aspiration.
Thereafter follow chapters tracking Rinella’s progression from a child obsessed with hunting for money to an adult obsessed with hunting for food. Hunting for black bear, deer, caribou, mountain lion and Dall sheep is all covered, initially in the context of three university students conducting their version of subsistence hunting, and more recently from Rinella’s perspective as a hunting writer feeding his young family from wild-sourced meat even though based in the concrete jungle that is New York.
Along the way there are chapters discussing catch and release fishing, which Rinella describes as ``playing with food”, and a chapter dedicated to the complicated topic of hunting ethics, or “killing proper”.
Not surprisingly, the premise on which the book is written is that the main purpose of hunting animals is to eat them. Accordingly, each of the 13 chapters ends with a few pages of “Tasting Notes” that focus on the qualities and peculiarities of the meat of a range of different species. Squirrel, beaver, bear, salmon, deer, mountain lion and more, Rinella has eaten it all and invented weird and wonderful ways to prepare even the strangest body parts. He is very much focused on using as much as possible of every animal he kills, and I like that.
I don’t use this cliché very often because it’s not often true … but this was a book I literally couldn’t put down. I read it cover to cover in a single day.
I really enjoy the thoughtfulness Rinella puts into both his hunting and his writing. I love his hunting ethics and philosophy too, and how he is able to articulate that philosophy in a way that I have never been able to. At several places in the book, as Rinella described aspects of why he hunts, I found myself nodding in agreement and thinking to myself “yep, that’s it!”. His writing is intricately descriptive, too, with fine details gleaned from Rinella’s substantial knowledge of wild animals, American history and the natural world providing a colourful and informative backstory to each chapter.
As an aspiring outdoor writer myself, this book brought me great inspiration albeit tinged with just a little jealously that I am unlikely to have the adventures Rinella has had, nor describe them nearly as well.
As Rinella explains in the opening chapter, Meat Eater is not a how-to book. It is a book that attempts to answer the questions “why I hunt, who I am as a hunter, and what hunting means to me”.
If, like me, you enjoy delving into these questions yourself, then you should get this book, because it is also a bloody good read.
Written by: Steve Rinella
Published by: Speigl and Grau Trade Paperbacks, New York
Content: 245 pages plus 16 pages of colour photographs.
Price: About US$20
Available from: Several on-line outlets
Reviewed by: Martin Auldist