Our one-on-one interview takes us into the brain of Steven Rinella, outdoorsman, writer and TV personality.
NWTF: How does turkey hunting compare to pursuing other game species?
SR: I actually have trouble defining whether I think of them as small game or big game. They are definitely not big in pounds, but everything about them feels like a big game hunt. You are allowed one animal, you put an extraordinary amount of time into finding one animal, you target and lure them in, and you might be hunting one particular one. With other birds I think you get lost in the number of them, because when you call in mallards, for example, they come in 10s or 20s. Turkey hunting incorporates all the tactics and strategies of a big game hunt, even though you are pursuing a bird.
NWTF: What’s the most unique thing you’ve ever seen or experienced while turkey hunting?
SR: I almost got pounced on by a bear once. I was calling to a tom and a black bear came up on me so close that I heard it exhale before I realized it was standing there. It was breathing from a few feet behind me and flung my head around. It was as scared as I was. He kind of turned himself inside out trying to get out of there. I was so shocked that I had to sit down against a tree to let my heart stop beating so hard after that happened.
NWTF: What makes wild turkey better than store bought turkey?
SR: Every piece of wild game you eat has a story and all the memories are packaged up in a meal. It’s a true eating experience. Plus, eating wild turkey is a lesson in biology, ecology and American history.
NWTF: How would you prepare wild turkey for someone who is trying it for the first time?
SR: I’d make schnitzel. It’s the best thing in the world. I make it with parsley and lemon wedges. You can find the recipe in our guide book “The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game Volume 2: Small Game.”
NWTF: What is "The Meat Eater's" number 1 hunting tip?
SR: Never give up. My older brother is a very successful hunter. And he says the only reason he is a good hunter is because he has what he calls a lot of grrrr. Which is g-r-r-r-r-r. I just think, when I’m out, I’m out. I’m not going to give up. I think a lot of guys become fatalistic when they are hunting. They’d rather just quit than try new stuff or push farther. I really just keep going, keep hammering away at it. I think that is my strong point as a hunter.
NWTF: What are a few pros and cons to hunting wild turkey (or other wild game) on public land?
SR: There are a lot of cons. The birds tend to be more pressured and much wilier, and your plans can get foiled by other hunters, but the pros make it worth it. There’s a huge sense of exhilaration that comes from overcoming the cons. I appreciate the challenge, and to me, it’s more rewarding.
NWTF: Why is public land worth fighting for?
SR: For a lot of reasons ranging from the fiscal to the fact that it’s a renewable resource. Healthy public land systems support a great economy of hunter and fisherman dollars coming into communities. And public land gave us outdoor writers and conservationists such as Aldo Leopold, Jim Harrison, Edward Abbey and John Muir. Even [Theodore] Roosevelt was influenced by his love of public lands and his desire to fight for public lands. I can’t imagine the country without all the great thinkers and wildlife philosophers who would have never been exposed to the natural world if it weren’t for the ability just to go roam freely on public land.
NWTF: When you eat, what percentage of meat is wild game versus store bought?
SR: We don’t eat any store bought meat in my house. Most people eat beef, pork and chicken. My kids have eaten dozens of species and they don’t even wink an eye. The other day I sent my kid to school with a musk-ox sandwich. He’s five. We joke about how he is the first kid to ever bring a musk-ox sandwich to elementary school in Seattle. My children don’t even know that it’s unusual. But I eat in a lot of different people’s homes and at restaurants because I travel a lot, so I do eat store-bought meat. It’s just, in a place where I have control, in my home, with my kids; I don’t eat anything but wild game. That includes a lot of saltwater and freshwater fish. I’m an avid fisherman.
NWTF: And when you go to a restaurant, are you big on trying something new or do you have a go-to?
SR: When I’m at a restaurant I do one of three things. One, say if I’m stuck at an airport and I need to eat something in a hurry, I’ll just order some kind of fast food. Two, when I have the chance to order something I’m never going to be able to get myself through hunting and fishing, I’ll order it. Three, when I cook a lot of something and I want to see how other people make it, I’ll read a description of a dish and order it for research so I can go home and make a wild game version of it.
I also try to be very strategic and responsible to the best of my ability. I follow issues with sustainability of the oceans. If I see a fish that is on the decline or perhaps overharvested, I don’t buy it. So I try, in my own little way, to be smart about my purchase decisions.
To read more about Steven Rinella, visit his website at www.themeateater.com.
Photo credit: Garret Smith