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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Kids, Parents Weather Long Wait to Meet Author/Host Rinella

Who needs a babysitter when Steven Rinella is in town signing copies of his latest New York Times bestseller, “Catch a Crayfish, Count the Stars”?

Rinella, 49, host of the “MeatEater” show on Netflix and the top-rated “MeatEater Podcast,” has become hunting’s chief advocate and role model the past decade. Respectful dads and adoring moms binge-watch him on TV with their kids, but that only explains about 75% of the 2,000-person line that meandered for hours June 19 through the aisles of the Scheels store south of Minneapolis.

What about the other 25% fidgeting in line, all those toddlers, preschoolers and even babies strapped atop Mom’s chest and packed on Dad’s back? These littlest of kids — not to mention the family’s puppy or barrel-chested bulldog — could only sense they were part of something so unique that their parents were risking four hours of whining, tantrums and soiled diapers for a quick meeting, handshake, autograph and photograph with Rinella.

Still, some whelps didn’t quite get it. “You’re meeting someone famous,” my daughter Karsyn explained to her 5-year-old son, Eddie. “You’ve watched him on TV, remember? We have to wait in line, just like we do for Santa Claus.”

Three hours after falling into line, Eddie peered through a doorway into a packed room for his first glimpse. Rinella stood just 15 feet inside, shaking hands, giving high-5s, signing books and smiling for family photos. As our cluster continued down the hallway toward the room’s entrance, still 45 minutes from the finish line, my grandson looked confused.

Tugging on his mom’s arm, Eddie asked, “That was Santa Claus?”

The explanations resumed. “He’s a writer, a TV star.” And the assurances repeated. “Getting close. Almost there.”

Through it all, you noticed little fretting and no kids glued to screens. And though restless, most parents only glanced at their smartphones. Instead, the adults talked hunting, fishing and MeatEater with fellow fans while their kids held books, photos, artwork, handwritten notes, hand-tied flies and hand-stitched leather they brought for Rinella’s admiration and southpaw signature. They assume he’ll sign anything without flinching, whether it’s a deer skull, knife handle, rifle sling, turkey call, shirttail, hunting license or banded-duck certificates, to name a few.

When you see such enthusiasm, you can’t help but think hunting, fishing, trapping and nature itself have strong futures. They’re essentials, and not something baby boomers invented. Yes, hunters make up increasingly smaller percentages of U.S. citizens as boomers leave the field, falling from about 7.5% of our population in 1991 to 4% in 2020.

But surveys and demographics don’t measure a hunter’s heart. Consider Germany, which in 2012 had only 400,000 hunters with registered guns in a population of 80.3 million. Since 1989, Germany’s hunters have made up only 0.5% of its population, and yet hunting endures.

Still, you feel even better about hunting when watching Rinella give it legitimacy and an inclusive face while shattering stereotypes and broadening its appeal. Maybe that’s why Scheels quickly sold out its 500 advance tickets for $32, which covered admission and a book, and sold another 50 reserve copies to walk-ups.

This wasn’t Rinella’s first visit to the region, either. He sold out the 1,000-plus seat Ames Center in nearby Burnsville when recording Episode 129 of the MeatEater Podcast in July 2018, and four months earlier packed Viterbo University’s 1,200-seat auditorium in La Crosse, where he gave a lecture to start the Reinhart Institute for Ethics’ annual Aldo Leopold Day celebration.

Rinella explains hunters’ passions through smart discussions, positive messages and quick wit. Maybe that’s why he’s the first TV-era hunter to achieve mainstream fame through hunting. He didn’t get there as an actor, or as a gifted athlete or politician who just happens to hunt. And lord knows the man can’t sing.

He got there by sharing hunting’s timeless worth through honest words, written and spoken. Rinella promotes hunting in practical terms without syrup or apology. As Time magazine noted when reviewing his award-winning “American Buffalo” in 2008: “His multichapter description of killing, skinning and chopping up a buffalo cow is alternately stomach-turning and riveting. It’s easy to understand the allure of hunting, or respecting and living off the land, under Rinella’s unsentimental tutelage.”

His TV show candidly portrays missed shots and wounding loss, while glorifying success by cooking and eating the animal’s “trophy meat.” He knows most nonhunters can handle gutting, skinning and other blood-truths. Maybe that’s why he’s been featured recently in the New York Times and Men’s Journal, and appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” as “The Julia Child of the campfire” and on “Fox & Friends” to discuss his latest best-seller.

“Catch a Crayfish, Count the Stars” targets parents, middle-schoolers and outdoor educators. Rinella waited until now to write it because he didn’t feel qualified to teach such lessons until practicing on his own three children the past 13 years. Even so, the book is rooted in his own self-reliant, working-class childhood that also embraced history and archaeology.

And so, this isn’t just another dry how-to textbook. As you read, you sense Rinella was a fun kid to be around, and a great dad to emulate. When the book achieved “bestseller” status 10 days after its June 13 release, Rinella wrote: “A book about making blowguns, cleaning skulls, scaling fish, growing veggies, and handling guns in a safe and responsible way is a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Who would have thought?”

Like most kids at Rinella’s book-signing event, my granddaughter Bailey, age 9, clutched her copy and kept it close for the ride home. Of the book’s 85 chapters and lessons, she’s most intrigued by “Build a Bug Hotel” and giggles when asked what she learned from “Pooping in the Woods.”

Though she’s a patient angler, I’ll be surprised if Bailey becomes a hunter. That seems to be her nature. But I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t read this book from its introduction to index, thus equipping herself to give nature her undivided love.

Rinella dedicated the book to kids like her, the ones who love nature, writing, “Tomorrow, it will be your job to protect it.”

Author and MeatEater TV/podcast host Steven Rinella visits with the Ya Yang family during his four-hour book-signing event at the Scheels store south of Minneapolis.

— Patrick Durkin photos

Author Steven Rinella signs a copy of his new book, “Catch a Crayfish, Count the Stars,” which quickly became a New York Times bestseller after its release June 13.

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