The two-part “MeatEater” episode “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse” is a masterpiece of outdoor television and a heck of a hunt. For those who are unfamiliar, Steven Rinella’s “MeatEater ” is a unique and thought-provoking example of a genre that is routinely neither. The first part documents Rinella’s failure to locate (and growing obsession with) a highly vocal yet elusive sooty grouse. The second installment introduces a soft-spoken local hunter by the name of Barbara Gabier who, almost magically it seems, puts Rinella onto a grouse in less than an hour.What the episode dramatizes so well is the hunter’s frustration and near-refusal to come to terms with failure. Rinella, a very accomplished hunter, threw the book at a bird that was most likely 40 feet over his head half the time. But rather than pursue the bird on his own until the very end, Rinella enlists Barb who essentially offers a change of perspective. She puts Rinella out of his own head and into hers, which happens to contain a lot grouse hunting knowledge. What follows is a kind of romance between hunters in which Rinella is brought up to speed on sooty grouse hunting, something he wasn’t capable of on his own in the time given to him.
Knowledge has its limits, and to overcome them, we often have to look beyond ourselves. If anything, hunting is a humbling experience; it’s even more so when you don’t have a buddy or mentor to show you the ropes. This is why young hunters hunt with older hunters. It’s an old lesson, but in “Unconventional: Alaska Sooty Grouse,” it unfolds like a short story in which an enigma is presented and then resolved in a sideways or unexpected fashion.