As some of you will know, a few months ago I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Northern (-ish) Sweden on a moose hunting trip.
In preparation I booked my flights, applied for my Swedish hunting license, and prepared all my cold weather gear. After much discussion – and not least because of short connection times – I decided not to take my own rifle and to instead borrow one from my host.
Eventually, and after much anticipation, last week the day arrived for my departure. I arrived at Heathrow at 05:00 and checked in my bulging suitcase. I boarded the flight to Stockholm and then, helped by an arrival that was some 20 minutes early, transferred to an internal flight to Ostersund. At Stockholm I also met my host, and on the short flight North we discussed the format of the coming days. Arriving at Ostersund we transferred to a rental car for the 90 minute drive to our base for the next few days, near Hammerdal.
We were staying on an old farm in the middle of a large area of forestry. Each day the party of 11 hunters would head out, the majority sitting in low seats and doing their best to surround an area where those with dogs would try to locate the moose. The Swedish way of hunting is to use elk-hounds to locate the moose.
The moose may then stay stationary whilst the dog barks at it – the hound man then closing in to shoot the moose – or alternatively it might decide to move. It can move at a slow pace, where the dog continues barking, or may speed up, where the dog may go silent. The dogs have collars with GPS transmitters attached, so that the dog-men can locate them in the thick forestry. The dogs can travel upwards of 50km during a hunting day, their handlers travelling perhaps half of that. My hosts had told me that the excitement starts when the dog goes silent, as then you should expect the moose to appear!
After we arrived I zeroed my borrowed rifle, a Sauer 200 in 6.5x55 that is the minimum calibre allowed for moose in Sweden. The grouping seemed fine to me:
We then retired for what I realised was another of the Swedish hunting rituals – drinking! I’ve rarely enjoyed the variety and quantity of liquor that was to be served over the following four days, everything from fine single malts to home-made birch liquer. As the rest of the hunting party arrived introductions were made and plans put in place for the following days activities. The next morning it was up at 06:30 and time for the three S’s before breakfast at 07:00. It was like being in Scotland, with porridge every morning though this time accompanied by a cranberry sauce.
Before we hunted I was given a radio and all the necessary instructions; with moose it is calves, cows and bulls that can be shot, but the calves are to be taken before the cows and, whatever you do, don’t shoot the reindeer (the Saami people will want compensation). Then we headed out to the various seats, typically low seats rather than high seats. The plan was for the 11 hunters to split into two groups and hunt two separate areas, with each “dog man” going into the middle of an area and the respective “seat men” sitting around the outside. I was directed to seat 15, which was about 200 metres from a forest road and overlooked marshland at the bottom of a shallow valley, surrounded on three sides by large plantations.
It was a crisp, frosty, morning as I made my way to the seat, my feet breaking through the crust of frozen snow. The view from the seat was everything you would imagine of Scandinavia:
It was also pretty chilly!
Settling down, I heard the car that had dropped me on the forestry road head away. I got myself ready, taking a few minutes to “ping” nearby trees with my rangefinder so that I could subsequently gauge distance, and then made myself comfortable with the rifle rested on the seat next to me. I’d been told that it could be a long wait, as once the dog finds the moose there is no real telling as to which way it will go. As I sat there, I heard a noise from the plantation off to my left that could only be a large animal moving through the woods. I could hear the sound of hooves breaking through the snow, and then I could see some trees moving. Picking up the rifle I readied myself and tried to judge where the beast might exit the forest. A couple of seconds later it appeared, a lone moose cow. It was head-on to me when it exited the forest, but then turned to its left/my right so that it was now quartering towards me and continued with the loping gait that characterises the species. I haven’t shot running moose before, but I knew the theory about providing some lead, so I placed the cross-hairs on the front shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The moose dropped immediately, only then to get up, turn so it was now quartering away from me, and take a few steps towards a small stand of trees. As the moose stopped I placed the cross-hairs on its neck and took a second shot. Again the moose dropped, gave one or two kicks and then lay there motionless. I’d shot my first moose at 8:15 on the first morning! As I sat there with my heart beating like a drum I spied the fallen moose through my binoculars, just to make sure it really had happened.
In this photo you can see where the moose appeared - it is to the left hand side, next to the first small tree. After I took the shot the moose carried on moving to the right, eventually standing by the horizontal, fallen, tree which is where I took the second shot and it dropped for the last time.
The radio crackled into life as my Swedish colleagues realised that it was me who had taken the shot. The first question I got was from Frans, the dog man. When I told him I’d shot a moose he asked me “was it a big or a small one?” to which I replied “I have no idea, it’s the only moose I’ve ever seen”. Congratulations came across the radio waves, with everyone delighted that their English guest had shot a moose so early in the hunting trip. Of course I was now known as “Mr 5 Minutes”.
Over the radio I then heard that Roland, another of the dog men, had seen a cow and calf that his dog was pursuing in my direction, but this time from behind me. I listened carefully but could hear neither moose nor dog. I then heard that Roland had shot a bull moose that had appeared about 5 minutes after the cow and calf.
Some time later Frans appeared with his dog and I got down from the seat and we walked over to my moose. Approaching it I realised just how large these animals are – and mine was a small one!
After performing the green gralloch Frans gave me a small sprig of spruce for my hat and then headed off to try to find another moose.
The hunting day carried on, and about 45 minutes later I again heard noise from my left hand side. This moose was following the same route as the first one, so again I made myself ready, only to hear the moose turn to its right and, keeping in the woods, go around the back of the low seat and then up the other side of the valley. I hadn’t seen it, but to me it didn’t really matter as it’s an incredibly exciting sound, not knowing if or when the moose might appear.
I received a call on the radio telling me to head back to the forestry road where Roland would meet me so we could prepare his moose for extraction. As I got to the road Roland gave me a can of beer to match his own, which we opened and raised to the cry of “Skol”. A couple of very happy hunters.
In contrast to the pretty much flat ground where I’d shot my cow, Roland had shot his bull in a hilly area of clear fell. After a few hundred metres of difficult climbing we came upon his moose bull. It looked like a small horse! Helping Roland with the green gralloch, I realised that it was just like a muntjac but bigger, with the added option of getting inside the carcase if the weather proved too cold.
Returning to the car, the rest of the team soon arrived, one of the cars with a trailer in tow. Everyone doffing their caps to the two successful hunters, we were now faced with the difficult job of extracting the moose. I was reminded of the old adage “before you pull the trigger, think how you’ll get the bugger out!” In the past, the moose were butchered in situ and the meat carried out, but these days mechanisation lends a hand. To help extraction, the team had a small vehicle that I can only describe as a platform on top of a set of caterpillar tracks with a set of handlebars at the front and a winch on top. Starting the engine, the vehicle is then “walked” into the extraction area, with everyone helping to identify the path that will be easiest for the subsequent return.
We picked up Roland’s bull moose first, it taking the whole hunting team to manhandle the bull down to a position where it could be attached to the winch and slowly hauled onto the platform. The additional weight of the carcase helps traction, but it also meant that previously crossable ice-covered puddles and ponds now gave way on a number of occasions, so that the vehicle (with moose attached) would suddenly drop a couple of foot and icy water lap over the platform.
After much effort we got the bull down to the cars and loaded it aboard the trailer. As it headed back to HQ we then walked the platform out to my cow, whose extraction proved a lot easier. Arriving back at the buildings I learned that my cow was going to be kept and butchered by the hunting team, whilst the bull was taken to the local dealer and sold. This is apparently because the young cow would be excellent eating, whereas the bull would be tougher so better sold into the commercial food chain. Although we didn’t weigh either beast, my cow was estimated to be around 150kg dealer weight and the young bull about half as much again. In the larder my cow was then skinned and suspended. This gave a chance to look at the shot – it had gone in just ahead of one shoulder and then lodged in the ribs behind the other. On its way it had taken out the top of the heart and also gone through both lungs, so in fact my second shot had been entirely unnecessary. Complimented on my shot, I could only emphasise that it had been as much luck as judgement.
Returning to the farm, the stories of the day were re-told many times, each toasted with a round of drinks. The Swedes then broke out the cured meats – boar, fallow deer, moose and bear – as well as smoked salmon. Little if any of the meat goes to waste, with delicacies such as cured moose tongue. Over dinner I was presented with a small medal that signifies you have shot a moose on the company's ground, a memento I will treasure.
The next day I awoke with a surprisingly clear head! Looking outside I could see that it was snowing. Big, wet, snowflakes that were settling thickly on the ground. After another quick breakfast we headed out for Day 2. I was directed back to “lucky 15” and, wiping the snow from the seat, took another picture to remind me of the view.
This day was to prove less eventful, and in fact no moose were shot though I did see a cow cross the valley about 450 metres away from me.
On day 3, the Sunday, we changed the area we were hunting, and I had a small stand overlooking a forest road.
I didn’t see or hear anything, but my host had shot another cow, this time down by the lakeside. Whilst half the group worked on extracting this cow, I went with Frans and Sven – another of the hunters – to try for a moose in a small area of woodland that backed onto seat 15. I had taken my favourite spot, but this was again to prove unsuccessful, though I did see a fine fox stop by the gralloch from my cow. Being unsure of the rules – and wary of shooting something for which I didn’t have permission – I watched the fox through the binoculars. Of course over dinner that evening I was to learn that all foxes should be shot as a priority! Meeting up with Frans back on the forestry road his dog then headed into the woods and, almost immediately, proceeded to bark with great gusto. Knowing that he was onto a moose, Frans headed off into the woods with Sven heading up the forestry road whilst I stayed by the car. Hearing the dog barking furiously, the pitch changing as he and the moose headed away and then back towards me, was a highlight of the trip. Finally the barking disappeared into the distance. Trying the radio, I realised that Frans was uncontactable, so I met up with Sven and we waited on the forestry road for about 45 minutes or so. Finally Sven called Frans on his mobile phone, only to hear that he was back at the farm! Apparently the moose had headed down to one of the lakes and – being good swimmers – crossed over. Because the ice was very thin in parts, Frans was worried about his dog so called it off before it got too far out. We drove back to the farm, ready for another warming evening meal. The party was, by this time, starting to thin out as some people headed back to start work on the Monday.
Day 4, Monday, arrived with no more snow. Getting up I tried to get most of my packing completed, as I’d have to head off to Ostersund airport at 13:30. We started the day by recovering the extraction vehicles that had been left out overnight, so we didn’t get hunting until about 10:30. Initially placed into a high seat overlooking an area of re-growth, I was then moved to a low seat, before heading back to the high-seat one more time.
Within 10 minutes of getting set up I could hear Frans’ dog barking in the distance, making its way towards me. The radio was crackling as people relayed the position of the moose. The barking got louder but still I couldn’t see anything, then realising that both moose and pursuing dog had crossed the road to my left, just out of view. I heard them circle round behind me and head off into the distance. As I was picked up from the high seat I learned that Roland had shot another cow, which was now being extracted back to the farm. Arriving back I just had time to run inside and pack away my hunting clothes. Roland hadn’t wanted the antlers from the bull he’d shot on the Friday, so I’d cut these off and packed them in my suitcase as well, which was now straining at the hinges. Saying my farewells, and thanking everyone for such a fantastic trip and making me so welcome, I jumped into the car and we headed away to Ostersund. My flight left on time, despite the threat announced the day before of Scandinavian Airlines filing for bankruptcy, and connecting via Stockholm I arrived back at Heathrow at just after 8pm.
The next day was back to reality, as I was presenting to a company in Dusseldorf. It was somewhat surreal to be standing in a suit, presenting to a group of suits, when less than 24 hours before I had been sitting in a high seat listening to a dog hunting a moose. It really was a fantastic experience, which I’d recommend to anyone. Hunting folk are, almost without exception, incredibly welcoming, generous and hospitable, and my trip to Sweden – and my first moose – will remain in my memory forever.
P.S. Out of interest, there are some things I would consider taking next time;
First, thermal underwear, as sitting in a seat in sub-zero temperatures gets cold however much you wrap up.
Second, some of the chemical, single-use, hand and toe warmers; the Swedes use these and they make a huge difference.
Third, a loden cloak; though I do have one at home I didn’t take mine with me, a decision I soon regretted. I borrowed one from my host and it proved invaluable, either just to sit on or to wrap around oneself for additional warmth.
Fourth, an inflatable high-seat cushion. A lot of the time you’re sitting on wet timber seats, which really drain the warmth from you. A high-seat cushion makes life a lot more comfortable. A number of the Swedes used fur cushions, which as well as protecting you from the wet actually provide a lot of warmth as well.
Finally, a “proper” thermos. I took one of the small drink-pod type thermos’ which are fine for half a day but let the liquid go tepid after seven or eight hours. In retrospect I should have taken my small Stanley thermos, which fits into the side pocket of my daysack.