The World Of Hunting on the West Coast of Norway | Interview
What is the world of hunting like? I sat down with Susanne Tonheim to hear her experience growing up in a hunting family on the western coast of Norway.
Photo by Susanne Tonheim
How were you introduced to hunting?
I come from a hunting family. Throughout my childhood, I've always joined hunting trips with my dad and brothers. but I only hunted by myself after receiving my licence at the age of 14. I grew up with it, so it's just a hobby for me – like when others play football or the piano.
How does it feel to take an animal’s life?
I remember the first time I pulled the trigger. I was hunting birds. There were a lot of emotions going through my body, but then I also thought: “Okay, it was a good shot.” It was over very fast. I definitely felt a lot – and I still do, though maybe less than the first few times.
I think it also varies depending on what I'm hunting. Killing a very sweet-looking deer makes me much more emotional. There’s an adrenaline rush. You see the reaction of the deer the moment the bullet hits its heart and lungs. Seeing it fall and die, you empathise with the animal who just lost its life. But then, when you know you have fired a good shot, and you can see that the animal is hit well, you process those feelings and understand that you have to refocus on following the animal and see where they fall to check they’re not suffering.
Why do you hunt?
For me, it’s about environmental reasons and tradition. From an environmental perspective, we harvest from the population surplus, which helps to keep the populations alive and healthy rather than being overpopulated. When there’s overpopulation, some animals would naturally end up suffering from starvation and dying. We also help to keep the peace between animal populations and farmers, as there are fewer animals who will eat the grass destined for cows and sheep.
Traditional heritage is also very important for me. This is something that we've been doing since I don't know how long. I learned a lot from my father and I will pass these learnings onto my children. But there is also a very important social aspect to it. I like the feeling of being a part of a bigger group, going out and harvesting from nature – the effort and energy you put into it comes back to you in the form of food. Since I moved from my hometown to the city, this has become a very nice way to connect with my family, to go back to my roots.
Do you hunt throughout the whole year?
We are only allowed to hunt certain species at certain times of the year. All game is prohibited during breeding season, so we hunt mostly during the autumn, and we have specific hunting sites for each species. You can go online and check when and where hunting is allowed.
How does the government ensure that populations aren’t overhunted?
The government has set quotas, at least for various bird species and larger game like deer and moose. There are also restrictions when it comes to birds, so you could have a bag limit on the number of birds that you are allowed to bring back. All those quotas are set based on ecology, considering things like food availability [for both prey and predators], pressure from hunting, and how the population is doing generally.
But I also think this is where improvement is needed – we need to ensure that quotas are set correctly with proper assessments and reliable data. For example, you might receive data from a farmer who has a beautiful field that attracts deer to come and feed on. The farmer’s report might give the impression of a large deer population in the area, but if you distribute all those deer into the larger area where they migrate from, the population might actually not be that big.
Are the quotas really respected by hunters?
I would say that they are mostly respected. As a hunter, there is a lot of information you have to provide. You have to hand in the jaw of the animal – at least for deer hunting – because the jaw shows the age of the deer. You also have to give information on the animal’s details (was it a female or male, was it young), the number of hunters in your group, where you hunted, how many animals you saw. Also, if you're caught hunting illegally, you'll receive at minimum a fine, maybe even a withdrawal of your hunting licence and weapons. But I would like to believe that people follow the set quotas, because they are there for a reason.
Do you always come home with game?
No, and I think that is a good thing. You always need to remember you're harvesting from nature. It shouldn't be like going to the grocery store to buy your food. Also, when one gets their hunting licence, they are taught that they should never regret an unfired shot. So, if one is unsure or not feeling comfortable, it’s better to let the animal go rather than firing a bad shot.
Photo by Susanne Tonheim