Steven Rinella is an author and host of the Travel Channel’s The Wild Within, a program devoted to the ecological and cultural traditions of sustenance hunting and gathering. He lives in New York City with his family, with frequent trips to their Alaskan cabin. You can follow Steven on Twitter @stevenrinella.

Steven Rinella is a lifelong hunter. He’s also a dedicated conservationist. On his Travel Channel show “The Wild Within” they make it clear that he only pursues abundant species that are properly managed in order to protect their long-term ecological sustainability. In this video he talks about the often overlooked intersect between hunting and conservation and the one threat that keeps him up at night.

Steven also shares with us one of his favorite recipes for preparing wild game.

For more chef recipes and to plan your Picnic for the Planet visit:

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s position on hunting and fishing.

(Image: Steven Rinella. Image credit: ©The Wild Within)

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  1. The only problem with the hunter-pro-conservation argument is that human hunters don’t take the old and the sick. Consequently, they don’t promote the health of the species. Yes, they “cull the herd”, but it might have been the best and most viable that they took.

    And, sadly, I see more drunks with guns in the woods than I see responsible hunters, leaving a trail of empties in their wake.

    1. If you see more “more drunks with guns” in the woods than responsible hunters, then I think you may not be spending enough time in the woods. “Drinks with guns” are not spending millions of their hard earned money supporting the conservation of the animals they pursue. In order to ensure future generations the opportunity to attain the same knowledge that has brought the human race to its current position.

  2. Thank you very much for this post. I work as full time staff for a conservation organization in New Hampshire and hunt in my free time. I struggle when working with volunteers and landowners to discuss how I can feel so strongly about conservation and still be a hunter. This interview will give me a few new phrases to use.

    I am sorry, Sally, that you have so much trouble with hunters in your area. I personally don’t drink alcohol at all and practice leave no trace. I think that is why this video (and the show is so effective) it speaks to both sides of the argument and tries to improve all of our perspectives and techniques. Many hunters take the first opportunity that presents itself, I personally hunt for food, not trophy…

  3. Using guns to hunt is absurd. Native Americans survived for centuries w/bows and arrows. Without all these guns we’d all be safer – AND – culling the herd would mean the weakness ended up on the dinner table – .

  4. My father, founder of sustainable-living site, told me when hunting for feral sheep (once domesticated, but now reproducing wild in the forest for the last 50 years) to only shoot the ‘beta’ males. This leaves the alpha males, the best of the species, to continue to reproduce which will make the herd stronger over time. This is the opposite of what trophy hunters do – trophy hunting should really be illegal, as it consistently weakens the herds over time.

  5. guns and bows are both tools that are valid for hunting, but both can also be used as weapons for warfare. Don’t forget that people had war for guns and killed each other with arrows, including native Americans. People are what is dangerous, tools only make them more so. New Hampshire has some of the highest gun ownership rates in the country but remains one of the safest… Also, in terms of feeling confident in your shot, I have much more confidence in a well placed shot from a gun than from a bow. An arrow has a shorter distance over which an adequate amount of force can be applied to kill the animal and can be sent off target by wind, leaves, branches, etc. I do hunt archery, but there are many more variables involved that can cause an injured animal than with a firearm. If you want a sure, humane kill… then you hunt with a gun…

    The argument over which individual you cull from the herd only applies to animals that travel in herds… predators are opportunistic and take the old and weak because they are the easiest to take in a herd. In a non-heard situation such as hunting male whitetails or male turkeys (which the state restricts us to hunting) they are solitary for the most part and hunters as with predators (coyote, bobcat, fisher, wolves and mountain lions)take the first individual they can ambush and successfully take down. Coyotes don’t pick out the old, sick or beta, they get what they can and fill their bellies.

    I feel similar to Steven, that hunting is a spiritual experience as it is a relationship between two spirits. I feel that my participation in this activity over my life has increased my conservation and stewardship ethics. Its a much deeper connection than what most people experience at the grocery store…

  6. This is in response to Sally, Ben, & Elaine.

    A study I read recently indicates that what would seem to be true in regard to your assertion that the strongest bucks being taken negatively impacts the herd. As it turns out, genetic studies show the genetics of trophy bucks rarely significantly contribute to the offspring of a herd. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, the genetics don’t support your assertions. I’m not positive but I believe the study was out of the Univ. of GA which studied a herd of whitetails on a very large piece of land in Texas.

    I hardly think Native Americans reserved their kills to the weakest animals of a herd. They were skilled hunters also employed methods which probably would not be legal today. I don’t expect to eat the sickest cow in a herd of cattle anymore than I would want to eat the sickest deer in the forest.

    Most of the hunters I know are far more into actively protecting the great outdoors than most of the non-hunters I know. The money they spend on licenses and lease fees actually keeps a good portion of land out of developers hands…at least for now. There are bad eggs on both sides of this argument.

    BTW – I’m not a hunter but I admire the ones I know for their ethics and concern for the animals they hunt. Like it or not, we are part of the food chain and have eliminated most other predators which are necessary to the balance of populations. To fight the fact that nature intended our species to be meat eaters is a disruption to the natural order of things and wrong. IMHO

  7. There is another crucial role of hunters that is often overlooked. The majority of conservation, for all species not just game targets, is funded by Pittman-Robertson Funds. For anyone that doesn’t know that is the extra 11% tax that hunters and anglers pay on all their equipment that goes to conservation. So as the hunting population declines, so does the conservation budget. And anyone following the budget cuts in DC knows how willing politicians are to find alternate sources in the current economy. Hunters can also be an effective management tool. Areas that prohibit hunting and still have a high deer population that causes a traffic hazard will often recruit state or federal biologist to “remove” some of the deer. In this instance the deer meat is often wasted due to job restrictions, the deer are removed in the same manner hunters would have, and now taxpayers have to fund the individuals involved. All money that could go to non-game species. Hunters PAY the state in order to do the same job, and most hunters eat or donate meat to shelters. Regardless of your personal view of hunting, if you care about conservation you need to at least work with hunters and anglers.

    P.S. I am not a hunter, I am a birder. But I do my research on Cerulean Warblers at a site that would not exist without hunter money and support.

  8. To Sally- I’m sorry to hear there are so many irresponsible people hunting in your neck of the woods. I see a few of them around these parts. But for what it’s worth they almost always take the first deer to stand still long enough. These are hardly the “best and most viable” and certainly not “trophy” animals.

    Today there is plenty game available for all, take white-tailed deer for instance Cornell University states; “in the early 1900’s there were an estimated 500,000… today there are over 20 Million.”

    I personally find trophy hunting distasteful but in my experience the vast majority of any kind of hunters are not killing the best-of-the-best. Trophy hunting is an integral part of conservation, just look at the Colorado and Utah state governor’s tags for instance. People bid on these “trophy hunting” tags to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars that go into funding conservation efforts.

    I am a Native American who lives on a reservation. Each year at the “Big Horn Show”, a big deal in this region of the state, some of the biggest deer and elk are from my reservation. This is in spite of, or maybe because of the fact that we practice a subsistence hunt, as opposed to the state’s regulations requiring 3-point minimums. The majority of hunters are just putting meat on the table and fewer people “get lucky” or actively pursue trophy animals.

    Elaine- As I mentioned I am a Native America and I hunt with a bow and a rifle. Guns exist and always will, I make no apologies as a gun owner. The idea that we would be safer without them is a nice thought. The bigger picture is that we live in one of the safest, least violent times in all of human history.

  9. Where I was raised, the ideal deer I was taught take were spike bucks, young males not healthy enough to produce solid antler growth, and does to reduce the population expansion, with the occasional old, mature “trophy” buck past his prime. It IS culling the weak, promoting strong genes in the next generation.

    Secondly, the notion of eliminating firearms hunting sounds wonderful, like a real return to nature-friendly heritage, until you consider: how many people have the skill and sheer physical strength to safely kill a large ungulate with a bow? As a small female, I consider my use of a firearm an ethics decision. My responsibility to the game is to ensure a minimum of fear and suffering, and I know that the skilled use of a rifle means that the animals I choose to take will die quickly and humanely, usually without even realizing they are being hunted.

  10. It’s nice to read a thoughtful dialogue about this subject. It is refreshing to see the perspectives of hunter-conservationists expressed. I grew up with many negative stereotypes about hunting and hunters. However, as I devoted more time and energy to persuits in nature, I was drawn to it. I started hunting about 10 years ago and I feel it has changed me and deepened my views on conservation. I agree that it is a spiritual experience, as there are many profound feelings associated with it, though these are very hard to describe to someone who has not hunted. I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone similar to the stereotypes of hunters: men who drink while handling guns and relish violence, though I’m sure there are some such people. Rather, my hunting acquaintances are ethical, responsible, and restrained. These dialogues are important in dispelling unhelpful stereotypes and misunderstandings.

  11. Excellent discussion. For me, hunting has served as the basis for a passion, education and career dedicated to conservation. It great to see that so many non-hunters recognize the value that hunters and anglers add to the conservation movement. I believe Sara’s comment on conservation funding being provided by a self-imposed tax on hunting and fishing equipment is extremely important – just think if other public land users did the same (backpacks, mountain bikes, etc). For example, think of the money that could be raised if there were a tax on binoculars to aid in bird research and conservation? More people bird watch than hunt; 10-fold. In some areas there is a political will for this type of thing (see MN Land, Water, Legacy Act, whereby citizens voted for an additional sales tax w/ funds dedicated largely to conservation). Yet, the ‘non-extractive’ users have yet to propose such a measure. Why? Perhaps there is a different feeling of ownership and connection to the land, fostered through hunting and fishing? Regardless of the reasons, it would be great to see groups like the nature conservancy spearhead something like this.

    My second point is that, to preserve continued hunting and fishing opportunities; land trusts, the nature conservancy and other non-hook-and-bullet organizations that seek to conserve and protect land ought to draw upon support from the hunting and angling community. To do this, hunting and fishing access MUST be provided. The growing use of the no-touch approach will not win over this group. Access has become increasingly limited, especially near urban areas. As lands are preserved, we must ensure that future generations have local opportunities to develop that same conservation ethic that I have been privileged to develop through hunting and fishing. This will require more non-traditional partnerships with groups that believe conservation is best fueled through direct-use of a resource, whether it be a fish, a deer, or a duck.

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