European Hunting is Different

Most Aussies would consider European customs, symbolisms and formal techniques of hunting a little too formal.

One quickly learns to appreciate their rituals, however. If the laws, game, methods and customs of Continental hunting weren’t successful they wouldn’t have survived for centuries.

Hunting is no better or any worse in Europe than it is in any other country. Rather it is entirely different, being tailored to fit European methods of hunting.

Perhaps the most fundamental of all the many differences between, most other countries and Continental Europe, including Scandinavia, is the age-old idea of game rights. The right to hunt European game is the absolute property of the landowner or, on state-owned land, the state. This has always been so; some historians even maintain that ownership of game rights antedates the ownership of the land.

In Australia, on the other hand, because of the abundance of feral animals and our ideas of being independent, the right to hunt on public land has always been taken for granted, although legal approval has not always been granted.

A property owner in Australia, can prevent others from hunting on his land without permission. In both countries, however, certain rules apply. Game in Europe cannot be branded or ear-tagged and owned wherever it goes.

Written laws about 850 years ago first established hunting rights, (as to large game) in the hands of large landowners or nobility. Much the same also applied in England. During the feudal period, the rights applied even to big game grazing on the lands of common people. But shooting rights are still held only by large landowners or cooperative associations of small farmers.

In Germanic countries, a man cannot just go out and hunt deer or hares and rabbits, even on his own land, unless he owns at least 80 hectares.

Mere ownership of the required amount of land is not sufficient. Even a large property owner or someone who leases a revier is obliged to take a hunter’s course and pass a severe examination to obtain a hunting license.

He must then take elaborate precautions for the care and proper tabulation of his game, which may require the hiring of a “Jaeger” or professional hunter. Even then he will be told which game animals he can shoot and those which not to shoot. An Aussie would think this is undemocratic and an intolerable interference with personal freedom.

However, as one gains more experience of European hunting, he sees that all these things are necessary. Aussie-type hunting over there would strip the country bare of game in a few years. In most of Europe, the land is either under cultivation, used for pasture or formally forested. By trial and error over centuries, it became possible to reconcile the interests of farmer and forester with those of the hunter. Thus, European hunting laws reflect the necessities of game survival in the midst of civilised communities.

Those who lease a revier on which to hunt game must pay for damage it does to the property of others. They must also care for game properly and efficiently, and keep its numbers within the carrying capacity of an area, while preserving the maximum  numbers of healthy game without exceeding an allowable amount of damage to crops and trees.

The game is not permitted to increase beyond the capability of a revier to provide feed, and it is fed in times of scarcity. This normally occurs in mid-winter when European big game is fed with hay, grain, chestnuts, beets and salt blocks.

Indirect feeding is also carried out; various wild crops are planted for the game, or else regular crops are planted but kept fenced until the need for food for game becomes necessary. Game fed in this way not only stays alive, but it does no serious damage to trees or a farmer’s winter crops. This feeding is the legal responsibility of the person owning hunting rights to that land.

Leasing a revier costs money, often lot of money. And the the sale of game meat is extremely important, since it pays for game care. In Europe a high percentage of all game shot is sold to restaurants. Deer, pigs, pheasant, partridge, and hare are sold by the owner of the land or lessee of a revier.

A guest invited to go hunting, shoots the animal after it has been identified as legal by his host or his host’s Jaeger, but has no claim on the meat. He can keep the antlers, head or other trophy, but nothing more. The Jaeger or professonal hunter is the mainstay of the Germanic hunting system. He is a necessity when the revier owner cannot spends several days a week there himself.

Often a number of landowners will form a cooperative and pool the money made from selling their hunting than from farming and grazing combined.

Many Europeans will tell you that hunting now is no more an aristocratic privilege than any other reasonably expensive sport. To some extent this is only partly true. Trophy hunting in Europe is an expensive business, particularly for game such as red stag. A fee for a superb stag is based on the weight of the rack and the number of points and can run into many thousands of Euros. However, hunting in North American and Africa in recent years has, on the whole become even more expensive.

The opportunities for hunting in Europe open to foreigners vary tremendously. Some are invited to private reviers where the hunting is superb, but for others who have no close European friends with reviers, the prospects are not so good.

Some famous and wealthy European leaders spent practically their whole lives hunting. They included General Franco in Spain, Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia, and Airmarshal Herman Goering of Germany – a tradition being followed today by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation.

Moose are still plentiful throughout Scandinavia and bears still survive in the mountainous area of Western Europe, but very few are shot in any one year. Deer (red, fallow and roe) and other animals have learned to live in close proximity to man and are thriving, well over a million deer are taken in Western Europe annually.

Undoubtedly the most prolific animal in Europe is the wild boar. Unlike most of the animals in Europe, almost nothing is done for their survival, but they have thrived and today the damage they do poses a big problem. They are cordially hated by every farmer since they can be very destructive to root crops.

There is no closed season on boars. They roam far and wide and their numbers are controlled in reviers by the Abschuss Plan, the same as other game animals.

Each nation in Europe hunts according to its individual pattern. However, hunting is quite formal and full of pageantry. The huntsman’s horn is used to start and finish the hunt, to signal distant hunters and for formal salutes to dead game. The Jaegers of each country have their own distinctive dress and equipment. Germanic Europe takes its customs most seriously.

When one hunter takes leave of another he wishes him “waidmannsheil” (hunter’s luck). The other will reply “waidmannsdank” (hunter’s thanks) and wish in his turn waidmannsheil. The first will then reply waidmannsdank. 

After shooting at a deer, the hunter who fired the shot will stick a branch into the ground where he stood. The position of the game when shot at will also be marked, and the path of the animal after the shot, if he was not killed instantly.

Game is placed on its right side. After killing big game, a hunter will sit silently for a few moments. This is the “death watch”. After this the Jaeger will take a branch from a fir or oak tree, dip it in the animal’s blood, and present it either on his hunting knife or his hat to the successful hunter, wishing him “hunter’s congratulations”

The shooter will accept the sprig and put it in his hat band, saying as he does so, “waidmannsdank”. If the hunter is alone he will give himself such a token of his kill. One must walk around the game; to step over it is a serious breech of etiquette.

Old fashioned and quaint, or overly pretentious? You decide. But after experiencing European hunting, almost every foreigner comes to understand that these things do make for a fuller hunting experience.

Both host and Jaegers will show their appreciation for a foreign sportsman who is trying to observe their traditional hunting customs and values. Their hunting may not be the kind of open slather that often occurs in Australia, but we can enjoy our way and still appreciate theirs.

This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter April 2014 issue.





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