I’m so excited today to bring you our recent interview with Steven Rinella, host of The Wild Within (check out our intro post to The Wild Within here). Steven’s new show has been acclaimed by both hunters and those that have never touched a weapon, and this widespread appeal has put The Wild Within on a mainstream stage that most likely no other hunting show has ever shared. I can actually personally attest to the unique nature of this show’s power, as this is the one hunting show my girlfriend willingly watches with me! All that being said, Steven is a tremendous outdoorsman and an incredible ambassador for our sport, but before he was jet-setting across the world, he was actually just another everyday hunter and fisherman growing up in West Michigan, just like me! So read on to learn more about Steven’s past as a Midwest whitetail hunter, the story of how The Wild Within came about and how Steven deals with anti-hunters!
W2H: Steve, we hear you grew up in Michigan. Can you tell us about how you got started in the outdoors and hunting in the Great Lakes State?
SR: My primary influence was my father. He served in WWII (he had me when he was fifty), and after the war he got involved in bow hunting for whitetails, and then hogs and bears as well. This was back in the late forties and fifties, when almost no one bow hunted. He eventually started measuring heads for Pope and Young and worked as a sales representative for Ben Pearson Archery. When I was little, like four and five years old, he used to take me out to sit with him in his treestand. I don’t even remember the first squirrel, rabbit, or grouse I ever bagged; I was very young. My two brothers, Matt and Danny, were very avid hunters as well. So that helped, because I always had a couple of hunting partners right there in the home with me. Those two guys are still my primary hunting companions. We hunt together pretty heavily in Montana and Alaska, where they live.
W2H: What makes “The Wild Within” different than other hunting shows?
SR: I can’t speak authoritatively about the content of other hunting shows, because I haven’t watched everything that’s out there. But I do get the sense that most hunting shows pay a hell of a lot attention to antler size, and that many often blur the lines between fair chase and high-wire hunting. I dig big racks as much as the next hunter, but for me hunting is about adventure and food. I like to be out on my feet in tough and wild places. And I like to hunt game that will feed me, my family, and my friends. To put it another way, I’d rather have a 150-pound black bear that’s been feeding on blueberries than a 300-pounder that’s been feeding on rotten fish. And I’d rather walk to that bear than drive to it.
W2H: What has been your favorite part of this experience with your new show?
SR: Without a doubt, my favorite part of filming The Wild Within has been hanging around in the field with the crew. Those are some of the toughest, most focused guys (and one gal) I’ve ever met. Totally capable people. Most of these guys could have hacked it in the Special Forces. Now that we’re done filming, I miss them all horribly. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about them.
W2H: How did you pitch this idea to the Travel Channel and why did you want to host this show on a non-hunting chanel?
SR: That’s not really how it worked out, as I can’t take credit for pitching the show. I teamed up with my production company, ZPZ, and we developed an idea for a hunting show that would bring together adventure, interesting folks, and good food. Then they went and found a home for it. As for a non-hunting network, I suppose there are major advantages and disadvantages to that.
W2H: Given the fact that your books and show are exposed to a more mainstream audience, what kind of feedback have you gotten from both hunters and non-hunters?
SR: Surprisingly, the feedback from non-hunters has been overwhelmingly positive. I think The Wild Within has done a lot to explain the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and it’s had an inspiring effect on people. I have received literally hundreds of emails (and Facebook comments) from guys and gals who’ve been inspired by the show to start hunting. I’m constantly surprised at the basic nature of the questions they ask. Things like, “how do you buy a rifle,” or “how do you gut a deer.” That shows the low entry level of some of these folks, which leads me to believe that they are just beginning to find out about hunting. So I’m glad I’m not just preaching to the choir. As far as the response from hunters, I think many are grateful to have their passions and lifestyles presented in a positive light to a mainstream audience. Negative feedback has been varied and usually specific: some folks disagree with me about traveling long distances in order to hunt; some disagree with me taking a neck shot (at about 30 yards) on a moose; others disagree with about taking a shot at a blacktail deer in an extremely remote and mountainous area of southeast Alaska without having a clear view of the backdrop (It was on the crest of a low ridge.) Some of these are legitimate concerns, I’m sure. And then of course you’ve got die-hard animal rights people who just hate my guts and want to kill me. But that goes with the territory.
W2H: What would be your advice for hunters who are confronted by a non-hunter about why we hunt, the ethics of it, etc?
SR: My advice is to cook them a deer steak. That’s the best piece of diplomacy in the world. People like to see animals used wisely, and eating game speaks to them. If the non-hunter happens to be a hard-hitting animal rights vegan, then just walk away. There’s nothing you can say or do, so don’t waste your time. They’ll probably come around in the end, anyway. You don’t meet many old vegans. It’s mostly young privileged kids trying to figure out where they stand in the world.
W2H: As seen in your show and books, you’ve been all over the world hunting a wide variety of game. But getting back to your roots, could you share with us your favorite whitetail hunting story?
SR: That’s easy. In the fall of 1994 I was living in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. I was in college, and my roommates and I were mostly living off wild game. We had some woodcock a couple times, but mostly we were eating salmon every day from the Sainte Maries River. Well, you get pretty sick of that after awhile. And then comes the October 1st archery opener and I kill a doe-fawn in the morning and then a nice eight-point buck that night. We ate venison like mad men after that. Burgers for lunch, steak for dinner. Even ate the tongue out of that buck. In fact, the three of us ate four deer between October 1st and the beginning of Christmas break.
Photos courtesy of Steven Rinella and The Travel Channel