By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR
BOZEMAN – For Janis Putelis, producer for the Netflix TV show “MeatEater” starring Steven Rinella, the outdoors is a place of experience. It’s where he forms deep bonds with his comrades, and it provides the backdrop for learning.
Gun in hand, Putelis is a sportsman who enjoys the quiet pursuit of squirrels in the wood though he’s also worked as a fly-fishing and elk hunting guide. He grew up hunting for his own meat and advocates this as a professional through his work with “MeatEater” and through “Hunt to Eat,” the clothing line he and his brother started.
EBS recently spoke with the Bozeman-based producer about his work and his passion, which both center on the concept of harvesting his own game. Here’s what he had to say.
Explore Big Sky: You were raised in a hunting family in southwest Michigan and have built a career on the sportsman lifestyle, working in the industry and serving as a founding member of the Rocky Mountain Squirrel Hunting Foundation. Why do you hunt?
Janis Putelis: I hunt because it makes me happy. The mental and physical challenge combined with deep immersion into nature makes for a perfect cocktail that clears my mind, strengthens my body, enriches my soul and humbles my ego.
EBS: It looks like informed dialogue is an important aspect of the “MeatEater” mission. Can you speak to the role education plays in being an ethical hunter?
JP: An educated hunter is a more ethical hunter. It can be as simple as knowing the anatomy of the animal you’re trying to kill … In the end, education is most important to me because it makes me a better, more articulate advocate for what I believe in: nature, and the ability to enjoy it through hunting.
EBS: Your team has traveled across the nation pursuing a wide variety of prey and demonstrating ways to process and cook it. Why do you emphasize procuring your own food?
JP: The inclusion of procurement has largely been missing from hunting media since the beginning … But for the most part, American hunters have been happily butchering and eating their wild game for hundreds of years. Steve and I both grew up doing it, so we decided to include it in our content and that has struck a chord with our audience.
EBS: What inspires your culinary interests and how do you come up with game recipes?
JP: I’m the father of two girls, 5 and 8 years old. That makes me a busy cook with a lack of time for developing new recipes. I now mainly fall back on recipes I’ve been making for most of my adult life … If I do try something completely new, it’s because I saw a recipe or dish, made with domestic meat, at a restaurant or on Instagram, and I try it at home with wild game, making a few tweaks to account for the lack of fat in wild game.
EBS: In your opinion, what role does hunting play in conservation? How does conservation inform hunting?
JP: Hunting funds most of the conservation work done in our country … Conservation influences hunting by providing the parameters which define what can and cannot be hunted [and] how much of each can be hunted. If a species is in low numbers or decline, then hunters stop hunting it and do what is needed to reverse the direction. And it’s important to remember that what a duck hunter does for ducks also helps the marsh and everything that lives in the marsh; what the elk hunter does for elk also helps the mountains and everything that lives in them. Hunting and conservation are extremely intertwined.
EBS: As the producer of “MeatEater,” how do you work to bring together hunters and non-hunters? Why is this important?
JP: “MeatEater,” in large part due to Steve Rinella’s incredible ability to communicate as a host, is such a powerful tool. Hunters watch it, become informed and proud of their lifestyle; non-hunters watch it and become informed as well, but instead of feeling proud they might feel more at ease with hunting and possibly become supporters—if not participants—of the lifestyle. With both groups more informed, we can have a dialogue about what’s important to both groups, which should be protecting what nature we have left.
Also, non-hunters greatly outnumber hunters. If hunters want to keep hunting available to the next generation, non-hunters have to be not just OK with hunting, but supporters of it. Otherwise, the next anti-hunting ballot initiative is passed and hunting disappears one method at a time.
EBS: Areas like Bozeman are experiencing unprecedented growth and a booming outdoor recreation industry. How do you think we can mitigate negative impacts on the environment from outdoor recreation? Where does hunting play into this?
JP: We will have to police ourselves. As the populations of these outdoor recreation paradises grow and the recreationists hammer the trails and rivers, limited use is the only way I see all this continuing to work. The animals and landscapes simply can’t take the pressure that so many humans can apply. We are loving it to death. It’s a ways off, but I see popular rivers like the Yellowstone and popular hikes like those in Hyalite Canyon becoming limited entry where you’ll have to draw permits to float and hike those places. The demand will outweigh the ability of those places and the animals that live within them to buck our constant presence. Nature is resilient, but it is not indestructible.
Hunters already do this and are used to limiting themselves. We apply for limited-entry hunts that we may never draw, essentially, giving money to help those species we dream of hunting stay on the landscape. We only shoot one elk when a herd of twenty might be standing in front of us. By doing this, hunters have sustained and grown game populations and opportunities. Hunters will have to be advocates for limited-entry recreation when the time comes.