This paper gives an overview of elk hunting in Finland, with the
emphasis on present-day legislation and hunting methods. It also profiles
Finnish elk hunters by age, gender, experience and motivation. It answers
the questions 'who is a typical Finnish elk hunter in the early 21st
century,' and 'why does (s)he hunt?'
Regulations that are related to elk hunting can be found in many acts
and decrees, of which the Hunting Act4 and the Hunting Decree are the most important. The
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry can lay down their own decrees to
further define the hunting legislation. Other regulations that are
important to elk hunters can be found, for instance, in the Nature
Conservation Act, the Firearm Act and the Off-Road Traffic Act (Malinen
The Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute is responsible for
estimating the sizes of the various game populations, but the input of
hunters and other nature enthusiasts plays an important part in collecting
the data they use (Nummi 48-49).
Some thirty years ago, the elk observation card was developed to help
estimate the size of the elk population in Finland (Malinen 74). This card
is nowadays used by elk hunters and hunting clubs. The hunters'
observations of male and female elks, including calves, are recorded on
the cards, which then give the Game and Fisheries Research Institute
information about the structure of the adult elk population and calf
production (Hirvihavaintokortti). It is often the case that only one
person from an elk hunting club marks down the observations on the card at
the end of each hunting day, but all the hunters give this person
information. Filling in the elk observation card is voluntary but
recommended (Turunen). The use of this card has become more widespread
during the 21st century: after the hunt of autumn 2004, elk hunters [elk
returned over 5406 observation cards, which was the all-time record
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry decides on the maximum number
of hunting licences per hunting year based on population density estimates
made by the Game and Fisheries Research Institute. The Game Management
Districts are informed about the decisions made by the Ministry, and the
Game Management Districts then grant the final licences (Suomi).
There are fifteen Game Management Districts in Finland
(Riistanhoitopiirit). Those fifteen districts, in turn, have been divided
into Game Management Associations. A Game Management Association normally
has authority in the area of one or two municipalities. There are 298 Game
Management Associations in Finland. Their operation is funded mainly
through game management fees that are collected from the hunters
(Riistanhoitoyhdistykset). Among the most important duties of the Game
Management Associations are arranging hunter's examinations and shooting
tests and giving statements concerning the licence applications that they
receive (Kairikko 108).
Elk hunting licences are issued only for specific hunting areas. The
hunting area where elks are hunted has to cover at least 1000 hectares
[about 2500 acres]. Exceptions to this requirement can be made by the
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Metsästyslaki 27 §). The licence
application has to be made in writing and a map of the hunting area has to
be enclosed (Metsästysasetus 6 §). Elk hunting clubs usually have their
own established hunting areas, which they use year after year. Elk hunting
clubs may originally have been formed, for example, by certain villagers
or co-workers, of whom some might have owned land suitable for hunting
purposes. On the other hand, if no one in a group of prospective hunters
is a landowner, the group can lease land from private landowners or from
the Finnish Forest and Park Service (Turunen).
Elk hunting clubs have an important role in determining the number of
licences, because they have to apply for a certain number of licences
based on their view of the strength of the elk population.
Elk hunting clubs often have annual meetings at the beginning of the
year, generally in January, when it is time to think about the following
autumn's elk hunting period. After the hunt of the previous autumn has
ended and the elk observation card has been filled in by the hunting club,
it is time to assess in which direction the situation of the elk
population in the hunting area is developing (Malinen 185).
Each Game Management Association organises a meeting, usually in March
or April, for those [elk hunting clubs] who are planning to apply for
licences to hunt elks. At a meeting like this the representatives of the
Game Management Association bring out their stand concerning the state of
the local elk population. The Game Management Association suggests its
plan for hunting elks, which provides a basis for a conversation about the
number of licence applications. The Game Management Association is only an
advisory body in licence-related matters (Malinen 185).
The licence application has to be delivered by 30 April to the Game
Management Association in the operation district of which most of the
hunting area mentioned in the application is located. The Game Association
has to enclose its statement to the application and send the documents to
the Game Management District by 15 May. The Game Management District must
decide on the applications by 10 August (Metsästysasetus 8 §). The
applications are seldom completely rejected, but the number of granted
licences can differ from the number that was applied for. The larger the
hunting area of a certain elk hunting club is, the more licences to hunt
elks it usually receives; when compared to small areas, the calf
production in large areas is more substantial and there is a larger elk
population to be cut (Turunen).
When issued, the licence for one elk gives the right to shoot either
one adult elk or two calves. ('Calf' means an elk under the age of one
year.) Details concerning the age or gender of the elks that are allowed
to be shot can be added to the granted licences when it is necessary to
affect the structure of the elk population (Metsästysasetus 7 §) from the
viewpoint of game management. It is forbidden to shoot female elks with a
calf or calves [unless the calf or calves can be shot as well: they are
unlikely to survive on their own] (Kairikko 49).
In addition to the licence to hunt elks, potential hunters must have a
hunting card, the right to hunt in some hunting area, a valid document of
a passed shooting test, and licences for the guns (Rantanen,
Luodikko). The hunting card becomes valid after the game management
fee for the hunting year has been paid (Metsästyskortti). However, before
the game management fee can be paid, the hunter's examination has to be
passed (Laki riistanhoitomaksusta ja pyyntilupamaksusta 2 §). The hunter's
examination is a written exam (Metsästäjätutkinto).
The shooting test is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry. The objective is to hit a 23-centimetre diameter stationary
target from a distance of 75 meters. The applicants can choose between
three different shooting postures: standing, kneeling and sitting. The
examinees have four test shots. To pass the test, all four shots, which
should be shot within ninety seconds, have to hit at least the outer edge
of the 23-centimetre target area (Malinen 178). The document of a passed
shooting test is valid for three years (Metsästyslaki 21 §).
When shooting elks, the bullet in the cartridge has to weigh at least
nine grams and the hit energy has to be at least 2700 joules at a distance
of 100 metres, measured from the mouth of the barrel (E100>2700J)
(Metsästysasetus 16 §). Shotguns and shot cartridges cannot be used for
shooting elks (Metsästysasetus 18§).
Those hunting areas where elk hunting has become a tradition usually
have established places for stands6, because elks often use the
same forest paths year after year. Some experienced elk hunters know their
hunting area thoroughly, but in order to avoid risks it is important that
also newcomers know where all the stands are located that will be used
during a particular shoot [so that they don't accidentally enter the field
of fire]. A simple way to mark a stand is, for example, to drive a stake
with a ribbon into the ground (Malinen 190).
Each stand should have its own allowed shooting sector. Whereas the
distance in a shooting test is 75 metres, it would be a luxury to have
such an extensive unrestricted view in a real-life hunting situation. The
hunters can improve the visibility in the shooting sector by removing
undergrowth and small trees from the most likely lines of fire, but that
can only be done with the landowner's permission (Malinen 191). The
visibility in a certain place is usually improved only every five years,
for example, not annually (Turunen).
Active elk hunters develop their shooting skills during the year. In
the winter they usually practise at indoor shooting ranges with air rifles
and small-bore rifles. When the weather gets warmer after winter, they can
continue practising at outdoor shooting ranges with heavier guns (Kairikko
Hunters with hunting dogs keep the dogs in good shape throughout the
year. In the early autumn the dogs can be taken to the forest to get
practical training (Kairikko 94-95). A dog that is being used in elk
hunting can be trained [unleashed in the forest] from 20 August to the end
of December (Metsästyslaki 52 §).
Building new high-seats is another thing that elk hunters can do before
the opening of the hunting season (Kairikko 95). A good high-seat doesn't
stick out from its surroundings, but provides an unrestricted view and the
possibility for better shots (Malinen 190).
There are also different kinds of huts, lodges and lean-tos which have
been built for hunting purposes; the majority of these structures have
been built by elk hunters. Since elk hunting is often group activity, it
is good to have a place where the hunters can gather and be sheltered
against the weather (Malinen 190). Building the structures is usually
teamwork; the hunting club members are expected to contribute to such
voluntary work in preparation for the hunt (Malinen 189).
Feeding grounds for elks can be made in the spring to provide elks more
food in the autumn. Feeding grounds are made in the hunting area of the
hunting club with the permission of the landowner. The field is sowed with
seeds of fodder plants. The hunters can also use salt licks to attract the
elks and place salt blocks in the forest near the feeding grounds
The Elk Hunting Season and Methods of Hunting
The elk hunting period opens on the last Saturday of September and ends on
15 December. Elk cannot be hunted between 16 December and the day before
the last Saturday of September (Metsästysasetus 24 §).
The legislation in Finland requires that elk hunters wear specific
types of protective clothing (Metsästysasetus 22 §). The red or orange
pieces of clothing that are required to be worn by the hunters are a
safety precaution, because the red or orange colour makes it possible for
hunters to see each other better. The hunters should pay attention to
their clothing also because the weather conditions can be very different
during the elk hunting season. When the season opens, the air temperature
can easily be 10 degrees Celsius and it can rain a lot. The closer the
winter gets, the colder the weather usually is, and it often snows too.
There are hunting methods that can be chosen when hunting alone, but
the most common methods are group-oriented, since elk hunting usually
involves teamwork among the members of the hunting club. The hunt is
usually organised on weekends for practical reasons: many hunters work on
Using Dogs to Aid the Hunting
Approximately seven out of ten elk hunting clubs use a dog or dogs
(Malinen 199). The Norwegian elkhound, the Swedish elkhound (Jämthund),
the Carelian bear dog and the Finnish spitz, as well as multi-breed dogs,
are among the most often used dog breeds in Finnish elk hunting (Nummi
The dogs are trained to find elks that are in the hunting area. The dog
can locate the elks by following their tracks or by picking up their
scent. When an experienced dog gets closer to an elk, the dog starts to
bark, cautiously, so as not to drive the elk away. If the dog barks too
aggressively, it might scare the elk away. The bark of the dog informs the
hunters of the found elk. If the elk runs away, the dog should follow it
and try to locate it again. The bark of the dog should also make it
impossible for the elk to hear the approaching hunter (Nummi 88). If
possible, the hunter should see that he7 is downwind when
approaching the elk [so that the elk wouldn't smell the person] (Kairikko
When using dogs, elks are shot by someone in the line of guns8. A bark that slowly gets
nearer the stand gives the shooters time to prepare their shots. The first
elk to be shot when using a young, inexperienced dog should always be shot
when the elk is standing motionless and the dog is barking. If an elk is
shot while it is running, the dog might think it should try to get the elk
to run in future hunts (Nummi 88-89).
Shooters must be extremely careful when there is a dog in sight. If the
dog is behind the elk or between the hunter and the elk, so that the shot
would go over the dog, it is not allowed to shoot (Nummi 89).
Dogs on leashes are also sometimes used. This way of using the dog is
useful when there is a need for selective hunting, but not much hunting
time left: if the found elk is not of the right age or gender, it can be
left untouched and the hunt will continue somewhere else without having to
find the dog first (Malinen 203).
Unfortunately the hunt doesn't always end after the initial shooting
(Malinen 228). There are no statistics concerning the number of elks which
have been wounded but not killed after the initial shot(s), but roughly
estimated every tenth shot elk requires some additional searching (Malinen
230). When the hit is only superficial, it might be difficult to find the
wounded elk without a dog, especially if there is no snow on the ground
(Malinen 228). A good elk hunting dog helps to find both wounded elks and
those which have subsequently died from their wounds (Malinen 199). Some
dog breeds, like spaniels, retrievers and dachshunds, are especially good
in tracking (Malinen 228).
Driven Game Shooting
In driven game shooting some of the hunters are beaters and the others are
shooters. The line of beaters is supposed to get the elks to move into the
direction of the line of guns (Malinen 199). In an ideal situation, the
area through which the line of beaters moves can be clearly defined. For
example roads, lakes and changing forest types can help in defining the
area. The distances between the beaters should stay even; knowing how to
use a compass makes it easier for the beaters to keep the right direction
An hour or an hour and a half is the maximum time for going through one
area, so the area shouldn't be very large. If the drive takes longer than
that, the shooters at their stands will become less alert. Furthermore,
the elks may have time to escape from the area (Malinen 209).
The beaters make some noise when walking, although the elks would be
able to hear the approaching beaters even if they didn't make any extra
noise. The little sounds are just a safety precaution so that the beaters
can hear and locate each other and that the line of guns can hear the
beaters. There should be an agreed safety line [the hunters define a
certain line in the forest of which the beaters should be aware before the
drive begins]; the line of beaters should inform the line of guns when
they have crossed that safety line. After that, the shooters are no longer
allowed to shoot in the direction of the beaters (Malinen 212-213).
The line of guns is formed by the shooters, who stay at the given
stands as long as the beaters are on the move. The shooter can be on the
ground or in a high-seat (Malinen 209-210). The hunters waiting at the
stands should be quiet and stay still so that the elks wouldn't become
aware of them (Malinen 212).
Beaters are not required to have a hunting card. Thus some elk hunting
clubs invite visitors to take part in the hunt as beaters (Malinen 212).
In the traditional form of driven game shooting only the line of beaters
is used to get the elks moving, but in some newer forms dogs can accompany
the beaters (Malinen 207).
There was a time when stand hunting9 only meant hunting those
elks which caused damage in the fields by eating the crop or treading it
down. Stand hunting without the intention to prevent crop damage by the
elks has become more common only in recent years. The elks visit feeding
grounds and fields every so often, which gives hunters a chance to wait
for them. An elk hunter who wants to go stand hunting still has to inform
the leader of the shoot about his plans, so that the leader of the shoot
can control the safety of the situation: if someone else wants to go to
the same place too, it has to be known. The elks usually come to the
feeding grounds and fields at twilight or in the early morning (Malinen
Calling the Elks
Half a century ago the art of calling elks10 was mastered by hunters.
When elk hunting changed into a group activity in the 1970's, the calling
method became less used. At the beginning of the 21st century, calling
elks is making a comeback. It takes years of practising before the hunter
knows how to choose a suitable place for calling elks and how to make
sounds that bring results. Male elks, female elks and calves all have
their own sounds. In addition to that, elks make different sounds
according to the situation. This method of hunting is most popular in
northern Finland, where there are few hunters in proportion to the sizes
of the hunting areas (Malinen 224), and thus relatively fewer people who
could be beaters and shooters. Getting an elk by calling it can sometimes
be even easier than locating it by using a group (Turunen).
For a long time stalking11 has been an essential
part of the hunting culture in Lapland. Quarry that has been caught by
stalking has a special value for the hunter, because only the hunter and
the game animal have been against each other. No dogs, beaters or lures
are involved. Snow on the ground is a precondition for stalking, for the
hunter follows and analyses the tracks in the snow. Elks usually don't
move downwind, which helps the hunter, since the elk can't sense the
approaching hunter so easily. The hunter should move as quietly as
possible and be odourless, in the sense that only the smell of the forest
is in the clothes. An easy way of scenting the clothes is to keep them in
a sack of spruce branches for some days. If the stalker gets close to the
elk, a few seconds will be enough time to take a good shot (Malinen
Special Traditions of Finnish Elk Hunting
Many elk hunting clubs have their own traditions and customs that are
followed within the group after a successful hunt. For some clubs the
traditions might be just developing (Kairikko 226). In addition to the
different traditions listed below, the stories told by elk hunters could
also be considered a part of Finnish hunting culture, regardless of their
The 'Kaatoryyppy', or 'Post-kill Drink'
There was a time when the shooter took a bottle of spirits from his pack
right after the elk had been shot and was being bled. Everyone involved in
the hunt took a draught from the bottle until it was emptied (Kairikko
Nowadays the discipline inside the hunting clubs makes it impossible
for anyone to continue hunting when intoxicated. Many hunting clubs have
made an agreement about drinking only after the quarry has been properly
dealt with [and the hunters are no longer in the forest]. Some hunting
clubs allow the hunters to take a small 'kaatoryyppy' at the site of the
kill, but those who want to drink more have to wait until that hunting day
comes to an end (Kairikko 226). The exact nature of the 'kaatoryyppy' can
vary, although ALKO12 sells a product called Kaatoryyppy, which would
serve the purpose. (Kaatoryyppy is a clear, unflavoured vodka-type
drink with an alcohol volume of 32%.)
Congratulating the Shooter
It is a fairly general custom to congratulate in some special way a
hunter who has just shot his first elk. In older days, the shooter had to
drink a cup of the elk's blood. However, this might be an unpleasant
experience, so the custom is no longer common. Nowadays the leader of the
shoot often just marks the shooter's forehead with the blood of the animal
Some elk hunting clubs have small medallions that are given at the end
of the hunting day to those who have succeeded (Kairikko 228). A little
branch of spruce attached to a hat can also be a recognition for the day's
work. Although it is usually success in the hunt that is being noticed,
some elk hunting clubs also have a tradition of remembering those who
missed their target. For example, a catapult [a 'slingshot' in American
English] can be given to an unlucky shooter, to be passed on when someone
else fails to hit the target. This kind of custom has probably not been
taken into use in order to make the unlucky shooter feel miserable, but to
remind the shooters of the significance of a good shot and to make the
failure seem more acceptable, in the sense that the members of the hunting
club know that it could happen to anyone.
Most hunting clubs arrange 'peijaiset', or hunting feasts, either annually
or every second year. The landowners who have leased their land are
invited to the 'peijaiset' together with their families (Kairikko 229). In
the feast everyone eats well, the hunters can share their hunting stories,
and the members of the hunting club give thanks to all those who have
given their contribution to the autumn's hunt (Malinen 250-251). The
tradition of organising 'peijaiset' started in the 1950's (Kairikko 229).
Changes in Elk Hunting Regulations and Procedures in Recent
The past fifty years show the changes that have happened in elk hunting.
It is hard to say if the hunters have become more skilful, but the dogs
have become better and the guns and optics are more sophisticated now.
Laws and acts have also changed in the course of time (Keskinen).
Legislation and Regulations
The present time frame for the elk hunting season from the last
Saturday of September to 15 December was given in the Hunting Act
of 1993 (Malinen 7). Prior to 1993 detailed information about the hunting
area had to be included with the licence application; at least three days
before the beginning of the hunt very specific information regarding the
hunters and their guns had to be sent to the police. In the 1980's and the
1990's the terms of the licences sometimes dictated how many elks could be
shot on which side of the roads running through the hunting areas (Malinen
28-29). There were many similar types of detailed regulations; one could
assume that the actual hunting became more pleasant after some such
regulations were removed.
Hunting Methods and Dogs
Elk hunting changed into a group activity in the 1970's (Malinen 224).
Thus it could be assumed that driven game shooting and using dogs inside
the line of guns are frequently used hunting methods, since they enable
the participation of many hunters. The importance of the group comes
apparent even if some hunters wish to go hunting on their own, since they
still have to inform the leader of the shoot about their plans, as
Nowadays dogs are a part of most hunts. A dog can do the job of twenty
beaters, more quickly and effectively (Nummi 88). In 1965 Tauno V. Mäki, a
Finnish hunting expert, wrote in his book Hirvenmetsästys that
there were only a few good elk hunting dogs in Finland (46). However,
nowadays the situation with dogs is different. These days elk-barking
tests are organised. The tests aim at guaranteeing that there will be
well-trained elk hunting dogs and at finding out the good traits of the
dogs for use in breeding (Hirvenhaukkukokeen 4). When taking those things
into consideration, it could be said that there are many good elk hunting
dogs in Finland these days, and dogs probably have more significance now
than in the sixties, when Mäki was writing.
The Growing Use of Electronics in Elk Hunting
Electronic equipment is an essential part of elk hunting in the 21st
century. The dog can be located by using a GPS locator that is connected
to a mobile phone, and the hunters can communicate through VHF phones
(Matikainen). The hunters can also use mobile phones for communication,
but by communicating through VHF phones more people can be reached at the
same time. A radio licence is required when using VHF phones, but after
the radio licence (18.50 euros in 2006) has been paid, the VHF phone is
free to use. Those who don't have VHF phones are contacted individually
through mobile phones (Turunen). Some hunters might have GPS locators that
show different locations like where their car or planned
destination is on a digital map (Nummi 51).
Norwegian elkhound with a
GPS transmitter harness
(Photo by Aino Turunen)
A few years ago, Pointer Solutions, a pioneer in the field of dog
radar, noticed that the traditional dog radar couldn't be developed much
further. The traditional dog radar is based on radio waves (Matikainen),
with the result that electric lines or rocks, for example, might affect
the signal negatively. In addition to that, the traditional dog radar
can't show the exact location or speed of the dog (Mikkola).
A new GPS locator device was developed as an option to the traditional
radar. In the GPS device the transmitter is attached to the back of the
dog inside a light harness. The information goes from the transmitter in
the form of short messages through the mobile phone network to the
receiver. It takes about ten seconds to locate the dog; its location,
speed and direction can be seen on a digital map displayed on a phone. If
someone telephones to the transmitter, a microphone is activated and the
sounds of the dog can be heard (Matikainen), which is an easy way to find
out if it has located an elk and is barking, even if the barking can't yet
be heard by the hunters.
Is the Number of Elk Hunters Increasing or Declining?
In 1965 Tauno Mäki wrote that there were almost 40,000 elk hunters in
Finland (Hirvenmetsästys 7). Nowadays about 100,000 Finns take part in elk
hunting. There are over 2000 women hunters, about two per cent of all elk
hunters (Malinen 101). There are substantially more elk hunters now than a
few decades ago, and more women are also involved. But is the number of
elk hunters increasing or declining?
On the one hand, the number of Finns with hunting cards has grown
rapidly in recent years. Young people are also becoming more interested in
hunting. In 2004 there were 299,600 people who had a hunting card, which
makes over 10,000 cards more than in 2000 (289,256). Not all of those
people with hunting cards are elk hunters, of course, but the increasing
interest towards elk hunting is suspected to have had an impact on the
growing number of cards (Rantanen, Tähtäimessä).
On the other hand, according to a survey by the Finnish Forest Research
Institute in the early 21st century, about one fifth of the leaders of elk
hunting clubs reported that ageing had reduced the number of active
members in their clubs. Only in every fourth hunting club had the average
age of hunters remained stable, thanks to new members. This suggests that
more older elk hunters are withdrawing from the hobby than are being
replaced by new, younger hunters. Thus if the elk population in Finland
stays at the level it is, or even grows, it could happen that in future
there would not be enough hunters and the desired number of elks could not
be shot (Petäjistö). As the sources did not agree on the age issue, one
of the questions employed in the survey on contemporary Finnish elk
hunters which follows in this paper attempts to clarify this point.
What Explains the Increase in the Number of Elks?
Although thousands of elks get shot every autumn, there are still at least
100,000 elks living in Finnish forests in the winter (Malinen 7). The elk
benefits from the actions of humans. New forestland is continually being
planted; the elks like to eat these saplings during the winter [although
that is not what the forest owners wish to happen]. Healthy female elks
breed productively, starting at a relatively young age. Furthermore,
selective hunting has actually increased the size of the elk population
through the large proportion of calves shot in the hunt. The fertile
adults who survive soon reproduce even more calves than had been shot
(Malinen 75). Thus there is a continual need for hunting to help reduce
the elk population to manageable dimensions.
Elk Hunting in Finland in Autumn 2006
Over 100,000 Finns started elk hunting in autumn 2006. Altogether about
66,000 licences were granted by the Game Management Districts, with an
estimate that 76,000-80,000 elks would be14 shot [bearing in mind
the possibility of two calves getting shot by one licence] (Hirvijahti).
The initial elk hunting seasons of the 21st century reduced the number
of elks in southern Finland, but didn't really affect the size of the elk
population in the northern parts of the country, where greater densities
of elks were to be found (Ruusila). The size of the elk population in the
northern Game Management Districts has caused problems; the need to cut
the population there was to be seen in the number of granted licences in
The Game Management District of Oulu [one of the northern districts,
and also one of the largest] granted the most licences for 2006, almost
15,000. The number of licences would make it possible to shoot over 20,000
elks in the district. The hope of fewer vehicle collisions with elks is
one reason for cutting the elk population, for there have been
approximately 400 such collisions on the roads of the Game Management
District of Oulu every year (Rantanen, Kaikkien). These collisions
are often fatal for vehicle occupants as well as the moose.
Another reason is the damage to forests caused by elks. Forest owners
are entitled to compensation from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
for the damage caused by elks, upon application for the compensation
through the Forestry Centre15, which assesses the damage (Turunen). In 2005, over
one million euros were paid to forest owners in compensation for damage
caused by elks in the Game Management District of Oulu alone (Rantanen,
Kaikkien). Thus it is in the economic interest of the Finnish
government and private forest owners alike to control the elk population
Who Are the Elk Hunters of the Early 21st Century?
From the material cited above from Mäki and Malinen, it is evident
that men comprise the majority of Finnish elk hunters. However, women are
involved too. What percentage of elk hunters do they comprise today?
Further, the ageing of the older generations of elk hunters worries many
people. Are they being replaced by new generations, or is there a risk of
elk hunting dying out? The significance of electronic equipment in
present-day hunting is noted in several sources, almost as if it were
self-evident that every hunter has some gadget to facilitate the hunt. The
sources also suggest that nearly every elk hunter today uses a hunting dog
Yet, how valid are these assumptions? In order to test them, a survey
of autumn 2006 elk hunters was conducted among the members of five elk
hunting clubs. Several additional questions were also included to further
define the hunters' backgrounds and thoughts concerning elk hunting.
The five particular elk hunting clubs were chosen for the survey
because the author of this paper knew someone from each club. Three of the
five clubs have their hunting area in the Game Management District of
Pohjois-Häme, one in the Game Management District of Oulu and one in the
Game Management District of Pohjois-Karjala.
A questionnaire16 was developed for the survey. In each hunting club
there was a contact person to whom the questionnaires were delivered. The
contact persons gave the questionnaires to the members of their club on
one of their hunting days. Thus it wasn't necessarily the case that all
the members of the five hunting clubs answered the questions, but rather
only those who were present on the particular day (or days). The contact
persons then delivered the answers to the author of this paper. All the
received answers, altogether 37, were given by the respondents during the
seven-day period between 21 and 28 October 2006.
The respondents were asked about their age and gender, their initial
motives for hunting, their experience in hunting, the distance they needed
to travel to hunt, what kinds of equipment they used, whether they used
dogs or not, and what they felt was most important in elk hunting. It was
hoped that the answers to these questions would provide a more exact
description of current elk hunters and elk hunting.
Question 1 Age
This question was planned to show the age structure of the survey group.
What was the average age of the hunters? Were they mainly older, or were
younger generations also represented?
In 35 of the received 37 question papers, the respondents had given
their year of birth. The years of birth ranged from 1927 to 1993; every
decade between the 1920's and the 1990's was represented as a decade of
birth. One of the respondents was born in the 1920's, six (17%) were born
in the 1930's, 11 (31%) in the 1940's, six (17%) each in the 1950's and
the 1960's, one in the 1970's, three (9%) were born in the 1980's and one
was born in the 1990's.
The vast majority, 29 (82%) of the respondents, was born between the
1930's and the 1960's. The average year of birth was 1952. In other words,
the average age of the respondents at the end of the year 2006 would be 54
When such results with birthdates ranging over eight decades
can be obtained from a relatively small sample group, it can be
firmly claimed that Finns from several generations are currently active in
elk hunting; the hunting clubs do also have younger members. On the other
hand, the average age of the respondents, which exceeded 50 years, could be
thought to have a connection with the previously-mentioned concern about
the ageing of elk hunters. Thus the answer to this question remains
Question 2 Gender
Does the gender distribution among the respondents reinforce the general
notion of the male majority in elk hunting?
Only one of the 37 respondents to the questionnaire was a woman; the
other 36 were men. It may only be a coincidence, but the percentage of
women hunters engaged in elk hunting in Finland has been estimated to be
about two percent, and one out of 37 makes a little over two percent.
While this limited number is not statistically significant, it does
support the fact that there really are women involved in elk hunting, even
if they are a clear minority.
Question 3 Motives for Starting Elk Hunting
Nowadays people can easily get meat simply by going to the grocery and
buying it. Buying venison is not as easy as buying beef, but nevertheless
it could be thought that getting venison is not the first thing that the
majority of elk hunters would have had in mind when they started elk
hunting (although decades ago the situation was different than nowadays).
But if it wasn't getting meat, what was the motive?
Two options stood out from the rest in their popularity: 17 people
(46%) answered that hunting some other game animal had aroused their
interest in hunting elk, and 14 people (38%) reported that a family member
who hunted was their most important motive for starting. Four respondents
(11%) had become interested through a hunting friend; one had started elk
hunting simply out of curiosity to try something new. For one other
respondent, however, getting venison was the most important factor.
The responses for this question show that many elk hunters began their
hobby only after experience in hunting another game animal or by via a
family member or friend who had been involved in elk hunting. The
experience of this paper's author suggests it is not unusual to have many
hunters in one family17, although this question as such was not addressed
by the questionnaire.
It was interesting that one person did report that getting venison had
been his most important motive. However, this person was born in the
1930's and had been participating in elk hunting for over 40 years. Thus
it is possible that there hadn't been an abundance of food when he had
Question 4 What do the Hunters Feel is Most Important in Elk
The objective of this question was to find out how hunters value the
different aspects of elk hunting. Since it is a group activity, unlike
hunting many other game animals, it could be expected that the social
aspect has some value for the hunters. Hunting in general is about being
in nature, but can it be seen in the answers?
Hunting is a group activity; the hunters form close bonds with one
another. Here a freshly-killed elk is being prepared for removal from the
(Photo by Aino Turunen)
The respondents were asked to choose two things that were most
important to them in elk hunting. All 37 respondents chose two things, but
they didn't all mark which was the more important of the two (which had
been requested). There were altogether 74 votes given (each of the 37
respondents chose two things).
'Being in nature' (option b.) received the most votes, 24 (32.5%), and
'the excitement and feelings of succeeding that are involved' (e.) was in
second place with 18 votes (24%). The rest of the options in the order of
their popularity were: 'social activity' (c.) 14 votes (19%); 'being
outdoors and getting exercise' (a.) 10 votes (13.5%); and 'the share of
meat that will be got' (d.) 7 votes (9.5%). One person gave an open
answer, (f.), in which the importance of breeding and training dogs was
On the basis of these answers, it would appear that elk hunting has a
different value for different hunters. However, 'being in nature' (b.)
received almost one third (32.5%) of the votes. In this respect the
nature-aspect alone could be thought to have significance for many
hunters; hunting can be seen as a way of being connected to nature.
"Social activity" (c.) received roughly one fifth of the votes, being in
third place. This shows that sociality, and thus probably also good
relationships and bonds between other members of the hunting club, were
also of great value to the survey respondents.
Question 5 Experience
There apparently are many older elk hunters, but how much experience do
hunters generally have?
The majority of the respondents, 11 people (30%), had participated in
elk hunting for 21-30 years. Seven respondents (19%) had been involved in
elk hunting for 31-40 years, and seven respondents (19%) over forty years.
Six respondents (16%) had an experience of 11-20 years in elk hunting;
only six respondents (16%) had an experience of less than ten years.
The responses to this question show that elk hunting has long-time
devotees. Over two thirds of the respondents (68%) have 21 years or more
of experience, a respectable period of time. This shows that there is a
strong hunting knowledge among the survey respondents.
Question 6 Distances
How far do elk hunters have to travel in order to be able to take part in
the hunt? Are they all 'local' hunters, so to speak?
The distance between the home of the respondent and the meeting
place18 of the
hunting club ranged from one to 650 kilometres. For 23 of the respondents
(62%) the distance was between 1-30 kilometres. Nine respondents (24%)
reported a distance of 30-100 kilometres; the remaining five respondents
(14%) reported needing to drive more than 100 kilometres from their home
to the meeting place.
Obviously, the respondents were not all 'local' hunters, since the
longest distance was 650 kilometres. Yet, most of the respondents (62%)
didn't need to drive more than 30 kilometres to the meeting place, which
shows that they could hunt rather close to their homes. On the other hand,
it could be assumed that for some hunters the travel costs might be
substantial. Even so, the fact that they are ready to drive long distances
suggests that being a member of a certain club is important to them.
Question 7 Electronic Equipment and Dogs
How widespread was the use of radio phones, mobile phones, GPS locators
and dogs among the survey respondents? Do the majority of elk hunting
clubs nowadays use dogs? Do all dog owners have a way of locating their
Of the 37 respondents, 36 (97%) used at least one of the mentioned
electronic devices. Thus the claim in the sources that virtually every
elk hunter nowadays uses some sort of electronic hunting aid clearly
appears to be true.
A 'typical' elk hunter
with his radio phone.
(Photo by Aino Turunen)
The majority of the respondents, 24 people (65%), reported that they
used a radio phone; 32 people (86%) also had a mobile phone in their use.
Only four people (11%) had a GPS locator.
On the basis of the survey responses it seems that mobile phones are
the most common way of contacting other hunters. Yet, among the
respondents radio phones seem to have gained popularity as well, which
shows that the advantages of radio phones reaching several hunters
simultaneously and not having to pay for each contact separately
has been noticed among the respondents.
As to how common it is to use dogs nowadays, in four of the five
hunting clubs members with an elk hunting dog or dogs had answered the
questions, which shows at least that dogs are used by most (80%) of the
clubs in the survey. This could be expected, since earlier in the
paper it was mentioned that approximately seven out of ten elk hunting
clubs (ca. 70%) use dogs.
Eight (21%) of the 37 respondents had at least one hunting dog.
All eight people who reported using dogs had either traditional radar
or a GPS locator or both for locating their dog(s). Thus the answers
to this question suggest that all elk hunters who have dogs also have
a way of locating them electronically. This may not be surprising:
having a way to locate the dog(s) makes the hunt more effective, but it
probably also means a lot to the dog owners, since they can find out the
whereabouts of the dog(s) and take care of dog's safety better. If the dog
is approaching a major road, for example, the hunters would have a chance
to try and stop the dog.
The dog breeds that were given by the respondents were the Carelian
bear dog, the Norwegian elkhound and multi-breed dogs. All of these breeds
were among those mentioned earlier in this paper as being traditional in
Finnish elk hunting. The survey responses thus reinforce the notion of the
typical dog breeds used in elk hunting in Finland.
The Future of Elk Hunting in Finland
Elk hunting has a long tradition in Finland. Although many aspects of elk
hunting have changed in the course of time, devoted hunters have adapted
to these changes and continued their hobby, which combines the hunters'
own varied interests with the controlling role of hunting in limiting the
damage caused by elks to forests, crops and traffic.
The need to control Finland's elk population is an important basis for
elk hunting in the 21st century. Future generations of Finns will probably
also have the chance to choose elk hunting as one their hobbies, as long
as game management is seen as an important part of the decision-making.
Indeed, it appears almost essential to get more young hunters involved,
both to ensure the continuity of the elk hunting tradition and to maintain
the possibility to control the number of elks effectively in the future.
It will be interesting to see how the present situation will develop. Will
the age or gender structure of elk hunters change? Or will the size of
the elk population increase?
It is no wonder that elk hunting is popular in Finland: at its best it
offers unique outdoor and social experiences and creates strong personal
bonding among the hunters. While it is obvious that the hunt can't be
successful every time (sometimes the hunters don't even catch a glimpse of
an elk), still elk hunting always has something to give back in exchange
for the hunters' time, as can be read from the following dialogue which
has been repeated dozens of times between the author of this paper and her
'What was the bag of the day?'
'Lots of fresh air and experience.'
English-Finnish Glossary of Terms and Names Used in the Paper
Game Management District
Game Management Association
Game and Fisheries Research Institute
Forest Research Institute
Forest and Park Service
driven game shooting
line of guns
line of beaters
Riista -ja kalatalouden tutkimuslaitos
Two examples (mother & calf) of Alces alces
(the Finnish 'elk' and American 'moose')
inspecting their photographer
(Photo © Asko Hämäläinen; Source: 'Hirvi-1')
1 The animal whose Latin name is Alces alces [about
which this paper is talking] is called an 'elk' in Europe and a 'moose' in
North America (Moose). 'Elk' is used in North America to designate the
'wapiti', or Cervus canadensis (European). Alces alces has
eight subspecies. The North American 'moose' has 70 chromosome pairs,
whereas the European 'elk' only has 68. All the subspecies of Alces
alces look very alike (Kairikko 18). (back)
2 Being outdoors and participating in 'nature' is often
considered to be a part of Finnish life. There are relatively few people
(about 5.2 million) in Finland, although the country itself is fairly
large. Thus there are lots of uninhabited areas where people can regularly
enjoy nature in different ways for example by picking berries or
mushrooms, or fishing, boating, biking, hiking or hunting. (back)
3 When a source is not mentioned, the text is based on the
author's conclusions from her observations of and discussions with elk
4 The English translations for the Finnish acts and decrees
mentioned in this paper were on the web pages (Translations) of
Finlex, which is a cost-free, public statute data bank owned by the
Finnish Ministry of Justice. For the purpose of this paper it wasn't
necessary to list all the sections of different acts and decrees that
affect (elk) hunting. The essential parts of the legislation were
translated by the author. The up-to-date legislation of the Finnish
Government can be found online in
5 Square brackets [like this] are used when clarifying
information has been added to the cited information. (back)
6 Places where the hunters with guns wait for the animals to
come. A 'stand' is just a certain location, rather than a structure; the
hunter can be on the ground or in a high-seat, for example either
sitting or 'standing'. (back)
7 Hunters can of course be male or female, but to make the
text more readable only the male pronoun has been used. (back)
8 'The line of guns' means the hunters with guns who are
waiting for elks at particular stands.
9 Waiting for elks from a concealed or elevated position.
10 Making sounds similar to those of the elks in order to
attract them. (back)
11 Walking quietly in pursuit of a certain elk or elks and
analysing their tracks in the snow. (back)
12 A government-owned enterprise which has the monopoly in
retailing wines and spirits in Finland. (back)
13 'Peijaiset' in Finnish folklore means 'a great feast'
(Malinen 250). 'Peijaiset' and 'hirvipeijaiset' can be used
interchangeably; 'hirvi' is just the Finnish word for 'elk'. (back)
14 The elk hunting season of 2006 was going on while this
paper was being written. (back)
15 The Finnish Forestry Centre is a network of thirteen
regional centres, which contributes to sustainable forestry and is
responsible for certain duties given by the law (Metsäkeskukset). (back)
16 See the Survey Questions (both in
Finnish and in English). (back)
17 The author's father, uncle and grandfather actively hunt
elks and even her sister has the right to hunt elks. (back)
18 Most elk hunting clubs have a certain place - for example
a lodge or a lean-to - where the hunters meet in the beginning of the
hunting day. (back)
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