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Outdoors author, 'Meateater' TV host comes back to Missoula to share adventures

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Author, television personality and outdoorsman Steven Rinella comes back Saturday to where it all – well, some very important parts of it, anyway – started for him.

The host of the Sportsman Channel’s “Meateater” series is the keynote speaker Saturday night in Missoula at Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ first-ever North American Rendezvous.

Missoula didn’t turn Rinella into an outdoor enthusiast. That happened long before he arrived here, initially visiting the area on a trout-fishing trip.

“I’d never heard of Missoula, or the University of Montana, before I came out fishing,” says the Michigan native, who now lives in New York City.

But when his intended career – professional fur trapper – didn’t take off because of low fur prices in the 1990s, “I hatched a plan B to go to grad school,” he says.

That trout-fishing trip – “I remember we went to Charlie B’s and made the rounds,” he says – lured him into applying to the creative writing program at UM.

And that, Rinella says, is where everything else started for him, opening doors to writing magazine articles, which opened doors to authoring books, which opened doors to television, while keeping his career fully focused on the hunting and fishing he has loved since he was a child.

Rinella’s first book, “The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine,” takes readers along on an unlikely yearlong journey as the author tries to procure, via rod and gun, the ingredients to re-create a 45-course meal from a century-old cookbook by Auguste Escoffier.

Rinella hunted mountain goats in Alaska and fished for stingrays off the coast of Florida – not to mention going after everything from raccoons to snapping turtles elsewhere – to assemble all he needed for the feast.

Along the way, reviewers said, he showed readers how far removed they are from the food they eat.

Then, in 2005, Rinella won one of 24 spots in a lottery for a wild bison hunt in the Alaskan wilderness – and was one of only four of the hunters to register a kill.

The story became his second book, “American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.” It recounts not only the grueling hunt (which included rafting the meat out of the wilderness while being chased by grizzlies), but reminds readers of the magnificent animal’s place in our national heritage.

The success of the books helped him land on TV, first as host of the Travel Channel’s “The Wild Within,” and now on the Sportsman Channel’s “Meateater.”

On “Wild,” Rinella traveled the world to hunt and fish with local personalities. On “Meateater,” he eats what he kills, showing viewers not only the hunt, but how to field dress the animals and then cook certain parts.

Which is better, writing or television?

TV wins hands down, Rinella says – with one caveat.

“I enjoy making television much more,” he says, “but I enjoy having written better than I enjoy having made television.”

“American Buffalo” is a good example, according to Rinella. You’re talking about a 10-day hunt, followed by two long years of writing the book.

“I hate writing while I’m doing it,” he says. “On TV, you’re just going from trip to trip and it’s like being a little kid. But when I’m doing TV, I always miss writing.”

Rinella credits creative writing teachers at UM such as Deirdre McNamer and Fred Haefele for taking him under their wing and helping him develop the skills that have led to his success as an outdoor writer and television personality.

He arrived in Missoula to join the creative writing program in 1997, and took three years to finish what most students complete in two.

“Full-time students can’t get their Montana hunting residency,” he explains.

After graduating in 2000, Rinella stuck around town for a couple more years, working for a tree-trimming service by day and starting his writing by night.

“I didn’t really move out of state for a decade,” Rinella adds, indicating he also spent time in Bozeman and Miles City. “Montana was paradise – a year-round good time. It was almost hard to be successful. I’d wake up in February, and know I could work, or go fish through the ice. The perch would always win out.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers “seeks to ensure America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting,” its mission statement says, “through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.”

Rinella says he will speak to “how backcountry turned me into who I am now. There’s a spiritual component to it.”

He’ll also recount some of his hunting and fishing stories. Even though his writing and television shows have taken him around the world in search of game and fish, Rinella says, “all my favorite stories are Montana stories.”

It took the Midwesterner time to get used to the state.

“I was scared,” he says. “Terrified of the mountains. I grew up in the Midwest, and Montana was absolutely overwhelming in the magnitude of its landscape.”

His unusual career brings him back on a fairly regular basis, however, and Rinella says it’s always nice to get out of New York, where his wife works in the publishing business.

“In New York, all they do is work,” Rinella says. “In Montana, people work hard trying to avoid work, because there’s so much to do.”

Rinella – he’s one of those lucky people who have figured out how to make their play pay.

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Related to this story

Steven Rinella is the keynote speaker Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers North American Rendezvous banquet at Fort Missoula.

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