By Web Master, 3-29-12
If your only exposure to hunting came from watching outdoor television you’d probably hold a distorted view of the sport. From the couch it’s easy to conclude all hunters sport the latest high-tech hunting camouflage, are all at least a touch overweight and never walk to a favorite hunting spot.
Why walk when you’ve got a guide piloting a shiny new side by side at your beck and call?
Watch too much television and you’d conclude we only hunt from blinds strategically stationed next to the only water in four counties. You might also assume that after a couple near misses, the hunter always kills the trophy of his dreams, slaps a few cringe-inducing high fives on his buddies, poses for a trophy shot, and then rides off on the side by side into the sunset.
None of the above is necessarily bad. I’m not getting any thinner myself and a certain degree of celebration is expected. For me, however, it’s usually tempered by an awareness of the sacrifice the hunted animal pays so that we may — I’m paraphrasing author Jim Harrison here to clean up his more “colorful” language — live to reproduce and eat again.
I’ve generally oriented my big game hunts around available water, especially when I lived in Arizona where a drink can be hard to come by for wildlife. But there is an element of hunting from a blind over water that I have a problem with. I’m not saying there’s a magic distance from water beyond which it’s ethical to hunt, while everything that goes on inside the line is beyond the pale. It’s a matter of degree. Unethical hunting is sometimes clear cut, and sometimes when I try to describe it, I’m reminded of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s statement on pornography: It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.
That’s the way it is for me on a lot of these shows. My channel surfing often gravitates toward these programs, but I don’t stay long. I often get the sense I know what I’m seeing, and I don’t like it.
I was ready to give up on outdoor television, but a Facebook friend in Arizona wouldn’t let up about a favorite of his. After a bit of prodding he finally convinced me to track down “Meateater,” on Sportsman Channel. I’m glad he did. What I saw here was a vision of hunting I recognized. In recent weeks I’ve watched host Steven Rinella hunt wild pigs in California and mule deer in southeast Montana. He presents an accurate, unvarnished picture of hunting, featuring lots of walking, quiet moments glassing unfamiliar country, and even, in a recent show, an unsuccessful hunt while pursuing Barbary sheep in Texas.
An unfilled tag on a hunting television show. Expect to run across this endangered species about as often as you encounter intelligent political discourse on a cable news show.
But what pushed it over the top for me was a clip on the show’s website featuring Rinella interviewing Michael Ruhlman, chef and author of “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.” There’s a well-worn, grease-stained (I’ll try to wipe my hands next time) copy at the Flathead County Library. What can I say? Duck confit is a messy business.
“Meateater” connects the dots the way other programs fail. On most shows the hunt seems to end with a kill shot. But any hunter who has killed an elk any distance from a road knows that’s barely the halfway point. Rinella proceeds from shooting to field dressing his game (without being overly graphic) and then introduces a loin chop or two to fire. The average hunting show climaxes with some sport standing over a dead animal telling an outfitter the “hunt” was the experience of a lifetime, but the credits on “Meateater” don’t roll until Rinella has taken his first bite.
Unfortunately, if you’re watching on television, it’s easy to forget this primal experience is really what hunting is all about.
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