Actor and comedian Bryan Callen sat down with the folks at Zero Point Zero Production in NYC to discuss his mule deer hunt with Steven Rinella. You can watch part one of the hunt on the Season Three finale of MeatEater on Sunday APRIL 28 at 9PM E/P on Sportsman Channel.
ZERO POINT ZERO: First things first—you’re a comedian and actor by trade, and live in Los Angeles… So how does one with that sort of background end up hunting deer in the badlands of Montana with Steve Rinella?
BRYAN CALLEN: This whole thing came about because my good friend Joe Rogan called me up and said, “We’re going hunting. I need you there.” And I said, “I’m there, my friend. That sounds fun. You and I with guns in the wilderness, blasting away. Count me in!”
…I’m glad I did. It was a great five days.
ZPZ: Yeah, it seemed like you and Joe had a good experience. I know it was your first time hunting, and was wondering what sort of expectations you had heading out there?
BC: I had not been hunting, and the kind of hunting we’re talking about here is way different from what I expected. You think of hunting as setting up and waiting for a deer… but we were packing deep into backcountry hunting on foot. I’d never done anything like that.
ZPZ: And your thoughts on hunters before this?
BC: My conception of hunters was probably somewhat stereotypical, in that you get a bunch of guys with beer guts and camouflage and they go out and blast whatever they see.
ZPZ: And this experience changed that?
BC: Yes. What I came away with was a profound respect of what it takes to be a good hunter. For me, to be a good hunter means you need to have a deep understanding of the animal you’re hunting.
So to be the kind of hunter that Steve Rinella is, you really have to be tuned in to not only animal behavior, but to its ecosystem and the environment. It’s more than just sitting around waiting for an animal.
ZPZ: Got it. And your thoughts on Steven Rinella?
BC: Steve’s a very colorful guy because Steve is not just a hunter. He’s a personality. He loves what he does. He’s been hunting his whole life, but he seems to have a great deal of inherent confidence without being arrogant.
So, he’s a fun guy. And he has a really interesting point of view on the world.
And he’s a historian. He knows more about Native American culture than anybody I’ve met and, certainly, more about animal behavior and topography than anyone I’ve ever met. So, he’s kind of an expert on a lot of different levels. A very thoughtful guy.
ZPZ: You and Joe Rogan were out hunting together, but then had to split up when it came down to the actual stalking of deer. Rinella ended up heading out with Joe, and Steve’s friend took you out on your hunt, correct?
BC: Yes. I ended up hunting with Ryan Callaghan, and he was a throwback to me of what a real man should be. He’s got a mustache. We were dragging my deer out and I kept having to stop because my little hand was getting tired. Ryan isn’t that much bigger than me but he had no problem.
And on top of that, he could see deer where… he’d be like, “There are going to be deer around here.” He would just know. And then he’d be sitting there glassing that field, glassing that field for the longest time and sure enough, he’d see an antler.
And I’d be like, “Well you’ve got way more patience than I do, brother.” It was humbling. Great guy.
ZPZ: How was “roughing it” on the Missouri River?
BC: My first impression of the Montana landscape was that it was as vast and open as far as the eye can see. You feel so small… and you get a sense of what a small part of the equation you really are.
ZPZ: So you liked it?
BC: I did, even though backcountry travel and living is hard. You’re dealing with the cold all the time. It kind of kicks your butt, and you get a profound sense of how easy it would be to starve there.
What I really liked is you’re not around your computers and phones; and somehow maybe being free of that electromagnetic field changes your energy because I felt more energized, and didn’t need as much sleep… but then again I was going to sleep at 8 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m. so I don’t know.
ZPZ: And the weather must have been freezing cold out there.
BC: The most challenging thing about the living situation was hands down the cold. I don’t do well in the cold. I had seven layers on—three of which were cashmere. They call me the “Cashmere Killer.”
ZPZ: Very fashionable. Yet warm, I bet.
BC: Those three layers of cashmere didn’t do squat when I wasn’t moving. I couldn’t get close enough to the fire. I was just all over it. It was like a sweater for me.
And then Ryan Callaghan told me to fill a hot water bottle and stick it in the bottom of my sleeping bag. That was a godsend.
ZPZ: The Missouri Breaks seem like a pretty hostile place.
BC: We were in an area of the Missouri Breaks where Lewis and Clarke saw some signs of Native American life, but no Native Americans ever lived long in that area. You can’t plant anything. It’s hard to move around. It’s either very cold or very hot… and the river is full of silt, so it’s a hard area to live in.
Native Americans used to come in once in a while and hunt for food, but for the most part it was a hunting ground. It wasn’t someplace you stayed. Everything about the area is telling you to get out.
ZPZ: So it hasn’t changed much over the years?
BC: You realize that it looks exactly the same now as it did then. There are no manmade structures… it’s been that way for thousand of years.
ZPZ: So it’s an obviously rugged landscape. Was it tough to get around when you were out hunting?
BC: You need to be in shape because it takes a lot of physicality. You’re hiking five or six miles in a day and carrying thirty pounds on your back the whole time. Then packing that meat out, it was probably closer to fifty pounds.
I don’t know how you do it without being in shape… now, I’m not saying I’m in the best shape, but at least I work out everyday.
ZPZ: So what stood out about the hunt for you?
BC: The amazing thing is you can walk for miles and walk for days and not see a deer, and when I finally saw a buck, I flipped out. I fell to the ground and couldn’t even hold the rifle steady. I had buck fever. So I missed that opportunity.
On the fourth day we decided I would shoot a doe—I didn’t freeze for four or five days to not go home with a deer. It’s going to happen.
So, hunting turns you into a cold-blooded killer in some ways, but it also gives you a profound respect for how hard it is. It’s not easy, man. I wouldn’t just want to live on deer. It’d be tough.
ZPZ: Tell me about the experience of gutting your deer.
BC: I remember walking onto my deer, and you could smell it. I could feel how warm it was. It had just been alive. And then my guide had me butcher it, and it gave me a new respect for how lethal a knife and effective a knife can be on human flesh. It’s scary.
Then, getting my hands into this animal’s body and cutting out the heart—it was a visceral experience, no pun intended.
It just gave me a whole different outlook and point of view on how lucky, in some ways, I am to be able to go to the supermarket or a restaurant and pull out a credit card to survive. We just have it a lot easier than did any indigenous culture that relied on the land for everything.
ZPZ: Have you acquired a taste for venison?
BC: I’ve always loved venison. I had some of my deer today. I just finally got into the backstrap—which is the filet—and it is the best meat I’ve ever had. I fried it up to medium rare with just some butter and salt. That’s all it needs… and it’s unbelievable. I can’t get enough of it.
For me it’s like cotton candy. It melts in your mouth. It makes me feel strong, too.
ZPZ: Do you now claim the title of hunter?
BC: No. I’m far from a hunter. I wouldn’t know what to do. I would starve out there. I need a lot of people around me to teach me.
Next time I go hunting, I’m going to have a couple assistants who do everything for me—including prepping my sleeping bag. Those assistants will probably be soft and very attractive… not for… just for warmth, just for warmth.
ZPZ: Are there any overall life changes that have occurred since this experience?
BC: No, but I think hunting changed my political perspective in some ways. I have a stronger sense of how important regulation can be. I think you need a strong central authority to dole out punishment if you mess up, you know.
Without strong fish and game laws, I don’t think there would be any animals left. I think people would just blast their way into living as we’ve done in the past in history.
ZPZ: Any takeaways from the experience?
BC: I thought it was interesting how quickly I settled in to the idea of hunting, stalking, and killing my prey. That’s in my DNA. I think it’s in all of our DNA, well, men at least. I can’t speak for women but I think most men have a hunter in them. It’s how we evolved. It’s how we survived through millennia.
ZPZ: One last question. I’ve done a similar interview with Joe Rogan (link to ROGAN Q&A) on your hunt. Just wanted to see if you had a different experience out there than he did?
BC: I did not fall into a cactus. I was way more careful than Joe Rogan.
I had to pull the quills out of his a** and thigh, though, and it brought us even closer. When your face is level to your friend’s a** and you’re pulling quills out of his a**, that’s a real friend. I have a new appreciation for his glutes and upper thigh development.
I’m on intimate terms with Joe’s glutes and upper thigh.
Join us for a 2-part special MeatEater series as Steven Rinella takes Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen on their first ever hunt in the badlands and the breaks of Montana!
The series airs April 28 and May 5 at 9pm ET/PT on The Sportsman Channel!
Find Sportsman Channel in your area here.