Hunting Game in Norway: A Way of Life & a Method of Management

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Julia Westbury, Fundraising Officer, RSPB Scotland

This report was inspired during a week-long trip to Norway, which was developed by ARCH, funded through the Erasmus+ programme and hosted by the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Evenstad Campus.

Hunting in Norway: A Cultural Pastime

Perhaps because of these high standards for competence and ethics, as well as the important cultural value of game meat, hunting is viewed by an increasing majority of Norwegians (74 percent in 2008) as an acceptable and even desirable activity.

In Norway, many people perceive hunting as an important tradition that plays a large part in their cultural identity. It is currently viewed by a majority of Norwegians (74% in 2008) as an acceptable and even desirable activity. There are 509,570 registered hunters in Norway (almost 12% of the total population who are 16+ years of age and eligible to hunt), 141,760 of these are considered active hunters.

As the world has evolved, the primary motives behind hunting have advanced from necessity to recreational. The primary motive behind hunting in contemporary Norway is now for leisure, and the value of experiencing the activity itself. But most hunters will cite several reasons – to harvest nature’s resources, for outdoor recreation, to keep fit and for social interaction with friends. Preventing damage to their land is also often cited as a reason.

Only a minority of hunters consider trophies or income from hunting as important. This underlines the hunting tradition in Norway that has been oriented toward meat hunting rather than trophy hunting. This approach is in stark contrast with contemporary Scottish hunting culture, which is largely centred around “sporting” for trophy red deer stags or large hunting bags of wild and reared non-native gamebirds.

Land Ownership

Land ownership in many, if not most, Scandinavian rural communities dates back many generations, even centuries in some families. In Norway the government has heavily subsidized rural communities to maintain older settlement patterns and thereby cultural continuity. The hunting culture is thus relatively intact—many urban hunters are able to return each fall to family-owned lands to hunt.

Norway’s hunting culture has remained intact with some help from the government.

The government has heavily subsidised rural communities in order to maintain traditional settlement patterns, thereby retaining a sustainable rural population, and retaining a traditional hunting culture.

Living wildlife in Norway is considered a public resource. No one owns living wildlife, but landowners do own wildlife that is harvested on their property. Therefore, while state-owned land is considered community land, and local residents have priority use for hunting, on private land, landowners have exclusive rights to hunt on their own land. However, they can also give permission to other hunters. This is obtained either through leasing the land or selling permits. Leasing can provide exclusive access for hunting parties, while permits typically give individuals short-term access to small game or roe deer.

While these hunting conditions are similar in Scotland, Scotland has far fewer land owners than in Norway, meaning that shooting rights are in the hands of far fewer people. Moreover, absentee ownership of productive land (as opposed to holiday cabins) is not allowed in Norway. This is in stark contrast to Scotland, where any individual or organisation based anywhere in the world can buy land. This can lead to issues of care. Absentee landowners are often less involved, and less interested, in land/wildlife management than are those are who are resident.

Local hunters in Norway generally have very good access to hunting through informal personal connections with landowners, or through membership in organised hunting clubs. In fact, the dominant arrangement for hunting remains that the landowner and their family, friends, or local hunters are involved in hunting on their land.

Hunters without local connections may find it challenging to gain access to big game hunting, and often must compete for leases or permits on private or state land. Small game hunting is generally more available. Clubs also lease small game rights from consortiums of landowners, and manage the wildlife and hunting on their behalf.

Regulating Hunters: High Standards for Competence and Ethics

Hunting legislation and policies in Norway emphasise the need for high hunter competence and ethical standards. All hunting should be humane and cause the animals as little stress and pain as possible.

All hunters must be registered in the Norwegian Register of Hunters and pay the annual hunting licence fee before the start of the hunting season (1st April to 31st March, but the hunting season for induvial species varies).

To be listed on the Norwegian Register of Hunters, you must take and pass a hunting proficiency test, which involves an obligatory 30-hour course and a theory test that promote ethical awareness and teach about correct hunting procedures. The courses are arranged by adult education associations, and the municipalities hold the electronic tests and issue certificates to candidates who have followed the course and passed the test. Applicants may take the hunting proficiency test from their 14th birthday. The minimum age for small-game hunting is 16, and 18 for larger game. Permanent residents of other countries do not need to take the test if they can provide proof of a similar qualification for hunting in their own country.

In order to hunt big game, hunters must also pass an annual shooting test. They must also have a trained tracker dog with them when they hunt, so that injured animals can be tracked down and humanely killed.

In terms of weapons, only rifles or gunpowder-loaded shotguns may be used for hunting. The use of pistols, revolvers, semi-automatic military-style weapons and automatic firearms is not permitted. Nor is the use of motor vehicles, night shooting or the use of lights in hunting moose or other game species.

These high standards are reflected in hunter proficiency: A recent study of 12,000 shots fired at red deer, moose, and wild reindeer in Norway indicated that wounding loss for the combined sample was less than 1%.

Regulating Hunting

In Norway, hunting is regulated by the Wildlife Act.

Under Norwegian law, all wildlife species, including their eggs, nests and lairs, are protected unless the legislation explicitly states otherwise.

Game species are divided into two groups in the legislation. Small game includes species like ptarmigan, willow grouse, capercaillie, black grouse, ducks, geese, pigeons, hare, mink and red fox, while the most important species of large game are moose, roe deer, wild reindeer and red deer.

The hunting seasons vary for the different game species, and are set by the Norwegian Environment Agency. From there, there are several institutional levels at which hunting is managed and organised.

At the lowest level, several landowners form part of a hunting field (jaktfelt). This is a historic and informal unit consisting of landowners that hunt together and collaborate regarding the practical aspects of hunting.

Several hunting fields together make up a vald, the local management unit (LMU). This is self-organised, but each vald must be above a stipulated minimum size. And while the local municipality/council does not have a say in their composition, it does issue quotas for the relevant species in these areas, with the quota being distributed among landowners based on the size of their properties. For some species, such as moose and wild reindeer, these quotas are also restricted by the age and sex of each animal that can be killed. However, landowners may further limit both the length of the season, and the number of animals a hunter may shoot per day.

There are generally less regulations for hunting small game in Norway. Some local hunting boards do set quotas, but this is not a universal approach. There are no fines to landowners for not fulfilling the allocated quota.

Hunting as a Management Method

In Norway, many people will describe hunting as merely a method of “harvesting natural resources”, and Norway recently took the lead in creating the European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity, which recognises the value and importance of hunting as a tool in European wildlife conservation.

It is widely understood that good management of natural resources is dependent, amongst other things, on a knowledge of the country’s wildlife; where each species can be found, how many there are, and how they are surviving. Increasing numbers and higher density of large animal populations can lead to economic, sociocultural, and ecological impacts on landscapes. For example, animal foraging can damage agricultural land, forests and conservation areas. By permitting and stipulating the annual quota, the authorities effectively regulate game populations in Norway. Hunters are also required to report the number, sex and age (calf, adult) of harvested game at the end of the hunting season. Hunting and reporting the results is therefore a key component in the country’s wildlife management strategy. It is an important factor in population regulation, and harvesting through recreational sport hunting is a widely applied method to regulate large wildlife species, as well as to maintain the productivity of the environment and species diversity.

Conclusion

Hunting in Norway is deeply engrained in the country’s history and its culture. This makes replicating its use as a conservation tool difficult for countries, such as Scotland, where hunting is regarded as merely a rich man’s sport. Nevertheless, there is much that Scotland can learn from Norway’s attitude to hunting.

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