It’s likely that everyone who hunts or fishes has a hunting hero. It could be a grandfather, TV show host, sibling or an individual you had a fleeting encounter with. For most of the MeatEater crew, hunting heroes tend to be mentors who struck a chord with them. If you’ve never had a hunting mentor, we have some ways you can find one. Here’s a few of the folks who taught us what we know.
Steven Rinella’s Hunting Hero: Matt Rinella
“My biggest hunting hero is my older brother, Matt. That guy hunts by himself, often for a couple of weeks on end, among the densest population of grizzly bears in the country. He likes to hunt alone, except for some pack llamas that he trained himself and a corgi that he keeps at his heels for company. He gets scared, but it doesn’t change the way he acts. He sticks it out, and most years he kills a bull.
“Oddly, he often admits that he’s not sure that he really likes hunting. He sees it as a curse that he’s been afflicted with, and it’s out of his power to stop it. He can out-hike pretty much anyone and he’s seemingly impervious to pain and discomfort. He can hike ten miles a day in cheap cotton socks with big holes in the heels. When he opens a steel can of canned vegetables, he drinks the packing liquid because he doesn’t like to waste anything. He keeps scraps of silver skin, blood clots, and fat from his elk in a freezer so that he can feed the trim to his dog. Sometimes, he microwaves a container of that trim and shares the meal with the dog. One day, my sister-in-law found him sitting in his teepee tent while peeling dried scraps of flesh from the skull cap of a bull that he killed. He was placing the scraps on the top of a woodstove to warm them up before eating them.
“Another time, he found a pair of boxer shorts in an alleyway and added them to his wardrobe. Months later, he had a gaping wound on his leg while hunting and he bandaged it with strips of fabric cut from those boxers. He then kept right on hunting.
“The coolest thing about him is that he fights for the places he loves. He defends public lands. He defends wildlife habitat. He advocates for elk. Right now, he’s personally trying to raise money to reopen a public boat launch near his home that was closed to the public due to vandalism. He’s proposed a solution to the problem, and he’s trying to fund it. If we had more guys like him out in the woods and on the water, we’d all be a lot better off.”
Miles Nolte’s Hunting Hero: Hari Kojima
“Though this piece revolves around hunting heroes, I’ll diverge a bit and talk about fishing heroes, since that was my childhood obsession. My true heroes were the adults who took me fishing. Mostly my uncles, who sacrificed their sacred boat silence to indulge a kid who wanted nothing more than to be out on the water. I didn’t yet understand that those men count a good day of fishing as one where more fish are caught than words spoken. The years they put up with my incessant questioning were truly heroic.
“My youthful Sundays rarely involved football. Growing up on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, I was usually standing on rock jetties or the banks of brackish canals, soaking bait or dragging spoons. At 5:00 p.m., though, I was usually home to watch Let’s Go Fishing, With Hari Kojima on a fuzzy television screen. Unless you lived in Hawaii during the ’80s, you probably haven’t heard of him, but Kojima was the king of local television back then. His ratings often eclipsed the local news.
“What made Kojima my hero, and the hero of every other fishy kid in the islands back then, was his humble expertise. He knew every fish in our waters by its Anglo name, Hawaiian name and Japanese name. The man was a knife wizard and broke down every fish with butter-smooth ease. He did it all, from catching fish and explaining the technique, showing how to clean and cook them, without ever breaking the cadence of his colloquial pidgin monologue. A YouTube nostalgia trip this morning reminded me how bad the production value was and how magnetic Kojima’s personality remains 30 years later.”
Ben O’Brien’s Hunting Hero: Gordan Eastman
“The term ‘hero’ can mean a lot of things. Most heroes in our world have some superpower or great strength that helps them stand out among us normal folk. There’s never been a hunter that could fly, change real fast in a phone booth or shoot laser beams out from behind their shades. So, we’re left to consider flawed mortals when searching for an outdoor hero.
“If there was one mortal that I’m inclined to idolize, it would be Gordon Eastman. I learned about Gordon on a recent trip to the Northwest Territories with his grandsons Ike and Guy Eastman. We ventured north to retrace Gordon’s steps with the idea that Guy would kill a Dall ram in the same area his grandfather had pioneered 50 years earlier. Throughout the trip, there were tall tales about this larger than life director, writer, hunter, adventurer and lover of wild places.
“During Gordon’s rise to popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s it was unheard of to bring footage of Alaska, Wyoming and beyond to the masses. Gordon did just that with films like Hunting Alaska Today and Savage Wild, gaining the attention of Walt Disney, who later hired Gordon to direct a variety of wildlife films for his company. He created a genre and inspired a whole generation of hunters to go beyond comfort and explore wild places. It would have been a pleasure to have known him, but I’m lucky to have experienced a small part of his family’s story.”