by Kristian and Peter | @ull_berg @hunting_peter
When autumn arrives the hunting season has multiple milestones along its way. In Sweden, mid august marks the start of roebuck season, September and October marks moose season, depending on which region you are in, and driven hunts with dogs start as the leaves turn yellow in October as well, to mention a few. However, these forms of hunts are easy to track as they are structured around dates. One traditional hunt stands out with its dependence on the weather; top hunting for capercaillie.
Let me first start by providing some background. The capercaillie is a more or less common bird across Europe, but they are present with stable populations in the deep forests of Sweden and Norway. They generally dwell on the ground to feed of blueberry shoots, insects, and pine needles that are accessible across the forest floor. They have large legs relative to their bodies, and take to their wings only when required if they are threatened or in search for new feeding grounds.
Their reluctance to fly can be attributed to their relatively small wings which makes flying more laboursome compared to other birds. Throughout the Swedish season, which starts at the end of august, you are allowed to hunt both males and females. However, from the 15th of November and onwards you are only allowed to hunt males, which range between 3kg to 6kg in weight. In other words, they are the size of a small turkey, but as the snow falls their behaviour changes.
Since the feed on the ground becomes covered with an impenetrable layer of snow, the endless pine trees now are the only source of food. Perfect for singling out males. If you are looking for a hunt that combines elements of physical exertion and intense focus look no further. And to add another dimension to the hunt, because of the knee deep snow the easiest way to travel around is on Nordic style skis, where you can expect to travel at least 15km a day. Furthermore, threading the needle has never been more apt. The ranges you typically can get to is around 150m – which is a stretch when you are trying to hit a target the size of a credit card.
Now, once you have managed to prepare mentally, you must not forget the weather. On this particular hunt we had -18 Celsius (around 0F) in the morning, which in itself puts pressure on your gear. Our goal is to cover ground, and let our body temp keep us warm which means two things of our gear; synthetic base layers that stay dry, and a windproof outer layer. And to keep it simple, that’s the tactic we went for.
With a synthetic next to skin combo of core lightweight bottom/crew LS, and a mountain pant + Jetstream jacket one two for the outer layer, topped off with a Jetstream beanie, core neck gaiter, and traverse gloves – all in subalpine camo, perfect for the austere environment – we were ready for anything.
If you want the most of this type of hunt you need to get out right before sunrise, and stay out until past sunset. A long day in the field, but that’s when you can secure your trophy. Our search finally ended late afternoon when a capercaillie was spotted getting some of the little heat the sun had to offer low in a tree.
To make matters worse, as you are shooting above the horizon, local knowledge is key so you don’t risk shooting at any populated areas. Fortunately for me, Peter, who is a seasoned capercaillie hunter knows the area well, and knew exactly what to do when this one chance arrived. The plan was as follows; backtrack from where we came from, and walk around in a semi circle of around 200m to make sure we had a safe background. Luckily for us, the bird was more than comfortable in the sun as we stalked in position. Threading the needle could not be more suited, and at 150m, as predicted, the bird fell to the ground after a 30 min manoeuvre through the thick snow cover.
In Scandinavian hunting tradition the capercaillie is a prized trophy, depicted on plates, pots, pans, and paintings throughout the ages. With everything considered, it is understandable how hard it would be to bag a trophy like this back in the day. With high performance lightweight gear, and crystal clear optics we are able to achieve things our forefathers would deem unthinkable.
As far as hunts go, the high tempo nature, physical exertion, and requirement for precision I believe the words turbo turkey is a suitable way to describe this type of hunt to fellow hunters across the world.
Kristian and Peter | @ull_berg @hunting_peter