Steven Rinella, author and host of MeatEater on Sportsman Channel, took some time to talk about the upcoming 5-part Montana series of his show. Steve discusses everything from the crew behind the scenes to his opinions on new hunter recruitment. To watch Steve in action, be sure and check out the new season of MeatEater, which premieres on Sunday April 7 at 9PM E/P on Sportsman Channel.
ZERO POINT ZERO: Hi Steve, hope all is well. I’m sure folks are looking forward to the upcoming run of brand-new episodes. Can you tell us a little about the shows that are premiering this spring?
A: I’m good, thanks. And we’ve definitely got some solid shows coming up. First in our lineup, I head out on a dusky grouse hunt—which is kind of unusual.
ZPZ: Dusky grouse, eh? I’m guessing a lot of people have never heard of them.
SR: I’m not surprised if they haven’t… you really don’t see that bird featured in too many TV shows. Plus the name ‘dusky’ is fairly new; until recently, they were known as blue grouse. But then genetics work revealed that blue grouse were actually two different species: dusky grouse and sooty grouse. Obviously, this is information that only a bird hunter could love! And I do love dusky grouse because they’re a blast to hunt, they live way higher in the mountains than most game birds, and they end up being one of the tastiest birds you’re ever gonna eat.
ZPZ: I’m always down for a tasty bird or two. What else is coming up on MeatEater?
SR: Well, then we’ve got a two-part Crew Special—essentially a behind-the-scenes look at how we make MeatEater, and who exactly “we” are. Finally, there’s another two-part episode featuring the comedians Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen, who I was privileged to take out on their first hunt.
ZPZ: And all of these shows are shot in the great state of Montana. What is it about the badlands and breaks that makes for good hunting TV?
SR: Montana is like a recurring character on MeatEater. I lived there for about a decade, and some of my most formative years of hunting were spent on those mountains and plains. I really admire that place, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. So when I’m thinking of great hunts that I want to show our viewers, Montana always comes to mind. I’ll hopefully have the privilege of hunting and filming there for many years to come.
ZPZ: The Crew Special, or “Meet the MeatEaters” as it is titled, seems like a big departure from a typical one of your shows. How did the idea come about to feature your crew on-screen?
SR: A while back I had a guy comment that he’d never feel comfortable going into the mountains alone like I do on the show. This made me realize that some viewers never stop to think about the fact that I’m not out there alone. I’m with a crew of great guys, who are super-competent and brave and always standing by my side. So it seemed natural to go ahead and introduce them to our fans, just as a way of giving them some much-needed credit for the hard work they put in. In addition to that, they’re pretty funny. So there’ll be a lot of laughs when people get to watch those shows.
ZPZ: Sounds cool… you must spend a ton of time with them. Excited to meet the crew.
SR: Yeah, the behind-the-scenes shoot was very special for me. The guys from the MeatEater crew—Mo Fallon and Dan Doty—are much more to me than just co-workers, so I’m excited for our viewers to meet them. What’s especially great about those episodes, in my opinion, are the closing bits of footage that you’ll see at the end of Part II.
ZPZ: Why’s that?
SR: Well, the gist of the episodes is that we are going out hunting for a buck to share for each of our respective Thanksgiving dinners. Let’s just say that the ending of the show is very touching—I’m moved every time I see them.
ZPZ: No more info?
SR: You’ll have to fire up the TV and watch for yourself. Let there be no doubt, grown men will cry like babes.
ZPZ: Planning on it. Aside from your crew, you ended up hunting with some first timers. Tell us a little more about those episodes.
SR: We filmed a two-part series with Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen—both are comedians, among other talents. Rogan hosted the TV show Fear Factor for many years, and today he’s a prominent commentator in the world of mixed martial arts, a very popular stand-up comic, and hosts a podcast that often ranks as number one in the country and gets millions of listens every week. He calls it The Joe Rogan Experience. Good name for a podcast.
ZPZ: Very cool… and the other guest?
SR: Bryan Callen is also a well-known comedian, writer, and he plays some hilarious parts in movies. He was in both Hangover and Hangover II, which is where I first saw him.
ZPZ: Comedians in the wild… seems like a strange combination. Tell me more.
SR: Both of these guys have always wanted to go on a hunt, and I was lucky to become their mentor. I decided to take them on a backcountry mule deer hunt because I knew they’d get some action and see plenty of critters while also experiencing some rugged country and a good fair chase hunt. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than that they’d be funny as hell to hunt with.
ZPZ: So were they cracking jokes the whole time?
SR: I can’t even tell you how funny they were, on camera and off. We laughed our asses off every night around the fire. But they were a lot more than just funny. Both guys proved to be tough, ambitious hunters who were up for any challenge. I’d go out with them again any time.
ZPZ: Did you have any worries bringing those guys out there with no hunting experience? Montana in October is some serious landscape.
SR: I always have trepidation when leading someone on a first-time hunt, but that trepidation is never about the weather or terrain. Mainly I worry that it’ll be emotionally difficult for them, that they won’t be able to handle the realities of how food gets made. But as much as I worry about this, it seldom becomes an issue.
ZPZ: I can see that. It’s hard to picture shooting an animal the first time.
SR: I know it seems that way. But when most people kill their first animal, the fact that they’ll be putting it to good use as food keeps them from feeling too guilty. They recognize the act of the kill as part of something greater. When I hunt with a first-timer, we spend a lot of time discussing these things. I try to lay down a very deep context for what’s going on. Deep down, hunting is the story of how we’ve managed to survive as a species.
ZPZ: Because we learned to hunt?
SR: Yes, our hunting abilities allowed us to thrive as a species and to colonize the world. Linguists have speculated that language may have been born of hunting—it was developed over time as a way to organize an increasingly sophisticated set of hunting tools and to discuss landscapes and animals that were hidden from view. Basically, language may have been created as a way to facilitate hunting. Or at least that’s a very plausible theory.
ZPZ: Interesting. So in that vein, would you be open to taking other first time hunters out on future episodes?
SR: Absolutely. I’m hoping to get some unlikely women out on their first hunts. That’s my next goal.
ZPZ: Any hints on who you are hoping for exactly?
SR: Not quite. I’m hoping that an opportunity comes about in an organic way. That’s how it happened with Rogan—we met, and a hunt came about naturally from there.
ZPZ: Well, regardless of who you bring out with you, I know you champion the notion of bringing newcomers into the hunting world in general. This next question is one I’m sure you could speak to in great detail. Are there one or two things that you hope to accomplish overall when it comes to hunting awareness and acceptance?
SR: It is a big question, but at the top of the list is to help the non-hunting public—essentially about 95% of the American population—to understand the important role that hunters have played in American history, as well as the work that hunters do as environmentalists.
Hunters are the driving force in habitat protection and wildlife conservation in this country. And there’s no better way to demonstrate these facts than by getting newcomers out on the land, and by putting wild meat onto their menus.
ZPZ: A tasty venison burger could sway an opinion?
SR: You wouldn’t believe the power of a venison burger. During the Cold War, we talked about the idea of Big Mac Diplomacy. It was this idea that American culture would win foreign populations over to the idea of capitalism and the American lifestyle. I’ve borrowed that principle to win the fight against anti-hunters. It’s hard to argue against a great meal of wild game.
ZPZ: I’d be happy to take you up on that. I’ll come for dinner and test your theory. Any expert advice to would-be hunters that watch your show and want to take up hunting?
SR: Yes, they should do just like Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen did. Get out there and team up with an experienced hunter who’s willing to show them the basics. That’ll shave many years off the learning process. The quicker you get good at something, the more fun it is.
ZPZ: I’m sure that’s why I never liked skiing.
ZPZ: Long story, and completely off-topic… it’s mostly grounded in me being averse to having snow and ice shoved up my nose for hours at a time. While paying good money for it. I wasn’t very good at all.
SR: I’m a snowshoe guy myself.
ZPZ: I’ve never tried them. I know you have to get going, but what else should we look out for in the future of MeatEater?
SR: We’re going to keep producing new and exciting material, and we’ll keep pushing the dialogue about the union of hunting, adventure, and food. I can promise you that the best MeatEater episodes are still in the future. If you like the show, stay tuned. It’ll only get better.
Be sure to visit The Sportsman Channel to see exclusive content for the upcoming hunts on this season of MeatEater. The first episode of a 5-part Montana series kicks off on Sunday, April 7th at 9pm ET/PT. The series culminates in a 2-part killer first time hunt with Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen on Sunday April 28th. You don’t want to miss it!
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