10th October 2011

Never, in my wildest dreams did I forsee myself writing a post entitled ‘Moose hunting’….

We are up early the day of the moose hunt, to breakfast and pack lots of food to take with us (boiled eggs, bread, cheese, ham, cakes, sweets and coffee) as well as spare clothes. How do I feel? Kind of excited and nervous – not sure what to expect. We meet at a neighbouring farm – about 20 people, including one of Elisabeth’s sons Carl who is one of the hunters today. We stand around for what feels like a long time. There is a lot of talk, including about a wolf that has recently appeared in the area and has decimated local sheep flocks, killing (or being the cause of death for) 10 sheep so far. Wolves are a rare occurrence in this part of Sweden, and they are protected. The farmers are very concerned about the killings and the impact on their livelihood.

Those who are bearing a gun today are allocated a place to be, by the taking of a playing card. The rest of us are ‘sweepers’. We divide into small groups and walk through the forest, calling, ‘yoiking’, to flush out the moose, to move them towards the guns. Elisabeth takes me under her wing and promises that we will follow a relatively easy way, and keep ourselves as dry as possible. However, the way proves to be very wet and marshy because of recent heavy rain, and it is very hard going. I find it almost impossible to keep up with Elisabeth (who is also working by making funeral arrangements on her phone), pushing our way through the trees. My feet are soon wet, even though they are clothed in plastic bags and my trousers are wrapped around with duct tape. It is exhausting, and I hardly have any breath to call out to any moose that might be around! About every hour or so we meet together at pre-decided points and set out on a new part of the forest, gradually seeking to push the moose towards the lake. We hear a few gun shots, but understand so far only one moose has been shot.

I soon feel that I am pretty much a bit of a liability, though the group seem ok with me being with them.  A few speak English and occasionally translate what’s going on for me. They certainly accept Elisabeth as very much an essential part of the group. She is so at home with them, joining in the banter, forthright and full of leadership – and they listen to her. We are the only women. Before long, I am relegated to walking the roads, it being the easiest route to follow. I have to walk slowly, to keep in line with those beating their way through the trees, and I strain my neck, and my ears to make sure I haven’t lost the others in the group. The rain sets in for the day, a persistent drizzle, and some hunters get given the unenviable task of standing wast high in the water looking out for their prey. Others sit in high level chairs above the ground, keeping their watch.

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Walking along a forest road, a hare comes bounding towards us, before gracefully changing direction and returning to the safety of the trees.

And then.. I am trudging my way along the road, on my own, hoping it won’t be long before I catch glimpse of fluorescent-clad fellow group members, when I see…. the rear end of a moose, stepping quietly and disappearing into the trees on the other side of the road (away from the yoiking sweepers). Oh wow! I have seen a moose. I have to wait a while before I meet up with other members of the group. ‘Have you seen anything?’ asks Elisabeth. Breathlessly I say ‘yes’ and describe when and where. I’m one of the few people in the group who have seen anything of a moose this day.

We squelch back to Elisabeth’s house, to put on some dry clothes (actually it’s only my feet that are wet – thanks to borrowed waterproof clothes. I’ve been told of a Swedish saying: ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothes’) Then it’s time for the hunting party. In a neighbour’s house, the table is set beautifully and the soup is bubbling away. It could be the best meal I’ve had for a long time. The group arrives in fits and starts, tired and wet, and maybe a bit disappointed that the hunt hasn’t come near killing its quota of 6 moose.
There is delicious Swedish cheese cake to follow. As we leave the meal, I am asked if I will be there for the next day’s hunting. I am moving on to Växjö, I say. And have you had a good day? I grin – I’ve had a great day, and what a story I have to tell folk at home!

On our way back Elisabeth visits the farm where many sheep have been lost to the wolf. She knows how devastating this is to the family who live there, and offers her sympathy and support. I see the moose which has been shot. It is quite shocking to see it in the flesh. Though I wouldn’t have described myself in any way as being a hunting sympathiser, here in this place, hearing the reasons and seeing the context, the need for farmer and livestock to find a way to live alongside one another, the care for one another…  I don’t think I can condemn what I’ve seen.

 

(though I haven’t included a picture of the dead moose with this post)

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