Steve Rinella is not to everyone’s taste. A man who cheerfully likes to kill, or at least gather in the wild, just about everything he eats, will have that effect on some people. Especially if his food gathering doesn’t consist just of the traditional, like shooting deer or catching fish, but also trapping squirrels in an urban backyard and then dispatching them with a hammer. But Steve Rinella’s writing is another matter: even the staunchest animal lover would have to recognize that he writes very, very well on his uh, unusual topics. Rinella’s extraordinary 2006 volume, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, was the tale of his year-long quest to create a 45-course, primarily shot-to-death, Auguste Escoffier-ish feast aimed at bringing his vegan girlfriend over to the carnivorous dark side. It was by turns elegiac, thought-provoking and funny. (There was a point in Operation Escoffier when Rinella was attempting to cook a turtle in his Minneapolis apartment. His poor girlfriend walked in, stopped dead, said, “Oh. My. God. Steve.” and walked back out. Rinella couldn’t blame her, he wrote, considering his home did “smell like boiled Loch Ness monster.”)
Rinella’s newest book is American Buffalo, an equally offbeat take on the most iconic animal in his nation’s mythology. Entering the Alaskan buffalo hunting lottery in 2005, Rinella defies the 1 in 50 odds when his number comes up; he’s almost as lucky when he actually finds and kills one on a wintry hillside. Rinella then embarks on a epic battle with hypothermia, fever, and two grizzly bears who also want the meat. In between takes on that, there’s a lot of buffalo lore, including 14,000 years of hunting techniques, the Detroit carbon works which grew rich turning buffalo bones into bone china and the story of Black Diamond, a depressed buffalo who lived in Manhattan and served as model for the American nickel. But mostly the book is just a beautifully written story of a guy who wants to hold on to his half-ton of buffalo meat.