In American Buffalo, Steven Rinella narrates the history of the buffalo as he embarks on a buffalo hunt in Alaska.
What was it like growing up in western Michigan?
From the time I was 10 years old, I was an avid fur trapper: muskrats, mink, raccoon, fox, all kinds of stuff like that. I wanted to be Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone. I always assumed that I would become some kind of professional trapper, not really knowing that there isn't such a thing anymore.
But you knew you wanted to work out of doors?
Yeah. I thought the only other way you could be outside all the time was to become an outdoor writer. Of course, I didn't really know what that meant. I just started trying to write.
When did your fascination with the buffalo start?
In 1999, I found a buffalo skull in the ground. There was just a little bit of it poking up. This was in the Madison Mountains in the south of Montana, at more than 9,000 feet. At the time I didn't even know how unusual it was for a buffalo to have been there a couple of hundred years ago. It was a strange place for them to go and it was strange that the skull had survived all that time. Years later, I started casting about for a way to do a book. I heard about this lottery to hunt buffalo in Alaska, and since it was something I wanted to do anyway, I sent my forms in. There was a 1.7% chance of my winning. It turned out that I won. And lo and behold, I got to write my book about buffalo.
Of course, the buffalo has been pretty important in our history, especially in the West.
Yeah, I only moved out West in '97 and I loved it. It was everything I always wanted. I became very obsessed by the history of it. It didn't take me very long to realize that the buffalo, as a symbol, defined everything American.
It sounds like you've figured out a way to stay outside and work.
I feel like I could write a thousand books about the outdoors and natural history and the landscape. In some accidental way, I spent my life training for this.