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Hunting In Finland And Austria
Hunting traditions run deep in much of Europe.
Established over hundreds of years, they have become very refined, even ritualized, at least in some quarters. But yet, in others, hunting is less restrictive in nature than we have here in North America.
I have been fortunate enough to have hunted in a number of European countries where I have experienced both.
Let me begin in Austria, where I was invited by Kahles on my first driven hunt – something I had hoped to do at least once in my lifetime, from the perspective of experiencing not only this unique hunting opportunity, but also to observe first hand all the traditions, game management and planning that goes into a hunt of this nature.
I can’t begin, however, without at least mentioning the old-country beauty Austria has to offer. From the city of Vienna to its high country villages where streams meandered through town and forested mountains abounded in every direction. It was spectacular.
There was an immediate sense of history wherever you looked, so it was more than fitting that all the hunters on this driven hunt attended a mandatory pre-hunt meeting within the confines of a beautiful old hotel situated in just such a village.
The picturesque village of Pernitz is actually located in lower Austria and was within a short drive of our intended mountain hunt area, so one could just feel the stir of anticipation in the room as the meeting got underway. During this meeting, all the hunt and safety rules were clearly defined so that each hunter, all 20 of us, understood what we were allowed to hunt and why, based on specific management goals for the area. Each hunter was also assigned a gillie (guide) as well, and we each drew for an assigned hunt stand – one stand for the morning hunt and one for the afternoon hunt.
The gillie’s primary responsibility on this hunt was to ensure that you harvested only the animals intended, as well as to get you to your assigned stand. In some cases, all older male quarries were off limits, in others females were the order of the day. And yet, on this hunt, we were allowed to harvest any wild boar or fallow deer.
In a nut shell, the management strategy varied from one hunt area to another and also on the time of year. It could certainly be defined as intensive management that clearly encompassed management principles for maintaining a well-balanced population of all species.
Once the preliminaries were concluded, all the hunters headed out into the mountains and their assigned stand.
A driven hunt is a combination of drivers and their tough, little hunting dogs traversing the mountain side with the intention of pushing game past yours and other hunters’ stands. My particular stand for the morning hunt was actually an elevated wooden structure with a lateral view of a mountain lane, as well as down a narrow gap in the trees directly below my stand. It didn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to ascertain that any shooting I may get was going to be sudden and fast, as any game crossing either was not going to be in view long, especially with a driver and his dog on their trail.
The first hour or so was uneventful, other than I could hear the odd shot way off in the distance. However, by mid-morning, I began to hear the barking of these incredible little hunting dogs as they drew ever closer.
My adrenaline really began to spike when a couple of fallow deer broke from the tress directly below my stand, but they were across the gap before I even had a chance to shoulder my rifle.
Confirmation was immediate that this was not going to entail a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel type exercise, so I was going to have to pull up my socks. With that determination foremost in my mind, I was more than ready when about 20 minutes later, a mouflon ram showed up crossing the mountain lane. As soon as the gillie cleared me to shoot, that ram dropped in its tracks. Unfortunately, that was it, as within a half hour both a driver and his dog showed up, ending my morning hunt. But what a great ram! Mouflon sheep, from my perspective, are the prettiest sheep in the world and this ram had it all. Beauty, maturity, horn length and mass – a true trophy and the gillie wasted no time in placing a small twig in its mouth, a practice called “Letzter Bissen” or “last bite” that, out of respect, offers the animal something for its final journey.
All hunters, gillies and drivers then met in a meadow for an open air lunch of game stew that had been prepared in large pots over open wood fires. What a treat. After, I was taken to my afternoon stand along a mountain road, overlooking an even narrower gap in the trees. Regrettably, and this despite the dogs having worked a large wild boar near my stand and while other hunters in the area were getting plenty of shooting, I never did get another shot. Thus I ended the hunt portion of my day having taken only one animal. But what a trophy he was.
Then came the closing ceremony – a unique tradition called “Streckenlegung” or “the tableau,” where all the game taken that day was laid out in an open field with each species separated into a row with the largest males at one end, then on to smaller males, with the females relegated to the tail end. Once all these animals were laid out in the correct order, a series of wooden posts that had been sunk in the ground surrounding the game were lit on fire and hunters’ horns were blown. As this ritual unfolded well after the sun had vanished over the horizon, and with the fires ablaze, it was a most spectacular and fitting end to the day and a most memorable hunt.
While not nearly as ritualized as in Austria, my hunt in Finland was still full of surprises.
On this occasion, due to the generosity of Sako, I was invited on a combination moose and deer hunt, Finnish style.
The Finnish landscape where I was to hunt might as well have been situated within the parklands of Alberta or Saskatchewan. If I hadn’t known that I was actually in Finland, all but a half a world away, it was as if I was hunting white tail in either province. It surely was just as cold and had as much or more snow. I felt right at home.
Not only did each hunter have to pass a shooting test on a range prior to being issued a hunting license, but we also had to do it in weather that was so cold I was sure I was back home on a late November white tail stand.
Prior to my hunt, I learned of yet another in a series of twists, compared to hunting back here in North America, and that is that all hunting rights belong to the land owner but can be leased out. So hunting clubs or Game Management Associations, of which there are 298, buy the rights from the land owners to both hunt and manage the game on these properties, which can range in size from 2,000 to 10,000 hectares. I was going to hunt both moose and white tail deer on just such a property. Yes, you read it right, white tail deer. Finland is blessed with both a fine population of moose and white tail deer.
Enter the third and fourth of my surprises – hunting moose with dogs and drivers, and deer in the moonlight.
The moose hunt consisted of a number of hunters being stationed at likely looking game crossings or pinch areas and then drivers with dogs, that were specially trained to hunt moose, pushed the bush in your direction, much like a deer drive back here at home. There were six other hunters on that trip.
While I never did get a shot at a moose, one of the Sako staff did connect with a young bull the first day of our hunt. Once it had been field dressed and hung right there in the bush, I was treated to another Finnish hunting tradition – sitting around an open fire within the confines of one of the many small hunting cabins that are scattered throughout the hunt area and enjoying game sausage hot off the grill. It was a most pleasant break indeed from the deep snow and cold that seemed to penetrate even the best of my gear.
But the biggest surprise of all came with our hunt for white tail deer. Well after dark, with the full moon already high in the sky, I was taken to an elevated tree stand overlooking an open, snow covered field. That stand had to be at least 30 feet off the ground and I can tell you it was some spooky climbing that long ladder in the dark. But if I thought waiting on a Finnish moose stand was cold, it did not begin to compare to sitting up in that tree stand in the dark. I think I loosened a few molars from chattering teeth.
Now this approach to hunting deer was new to me, and I was concerned about just how well I could or should shoot under these conditions. However, I was assured by hunt officials that not only were it totally legal to do so, but also it was a primary method of hunting deer in Finland. I needn’t have worried – with a lighted reticle and moonlight on the snow I was able to see very clearly and make a very accurate shot at the one and only deer that showed up, a young buck.
Needless to say, these unique hunting experiences, many of which vary from the way we hunt, have broadened my understanding of European hunting style and left me with memories of a lifetime.
Hunting in Europe
Game is managed very differently in Europe, and it is a complex matter. Not only are the rules different from country to country, but also from hunt area to hunt area and from hunt to hunt. In addition to that complication, in Austria and many other European countries, trophy fees are charged on each animal taken and that fee is very dependent on the trophy quality and, additionally, can vary depending on what hunt area you are in. As far as bag limits, that also depends on each hunt area and how it is managed and for what species or age structure it is managed.
Game management is not one-size-fits-all in many European countries – an important tip if you plan on making the venture overseas to take on a new hunting adventure.
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