Wolf Song of Alaska News

Visitor to Alaska Offers a Glimpse of Hunting and Trapping in Sweden

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 14, 2008

They don't trap and hunt in Sweden the same way we do in Alaska.

That much was evident listening to Thomas Lundblom, a 33-year-old Swedish hunter and trapper, as he addressed a standing-room-only crowd last week at a meeting of the Alaska Trappers Association.

"We hunt in quite different ways," Lundblom told the group.

For starters, Swedish hunters use dogs, most of which are Norwegian elk hounds, to chase down moose. A good moose hunting dog might fetch upward of $8,000 in Sweden, said Lundblom, much like a good lead dog in Alaska.

"The use of moose dogs is very popular," he said.

If the dogs are good, he said, they sometimes are able to corner or stand the moose and the hunters can stalk it and shoot it, he said. If the dogs drive the moose away, hopefully they drive the moose to another hunter and he shoots it.

The practice of "driving" moose, similar to what hunters do with whitetail deer in the Lower 48, is common in Sweden. Of course, moose in Sweden are like deer in the Lower 48 - they are everywhere. Sweden, which is the size of California, has a moose population of approximately 300,000. Alaska, on the other hand, has an estimated 150,000 moose.

Though his talk was titled "A Glimpse of Trapping in Northern Sweden," Lundblom talked as much, if not more, about hunting, which didn't seem to bother the 50 or so trappers on hand, most of whom are also hardcore hunters.

In Sweden, moose hunters are divided into teams, Lundblom said. Each village or area in the country has one or more teams of hunters. The teams range in size from as small as three or four hunters to as large as 75-80 hunters, he said. Most have 10-15 members.

"Every team gets a license to shoot a certain amount of moose a year," he said.

Lundblom is the leader of his team, which consists of 12 hunters. Last fall, they were allotted and shot nine moose - five adults and four calves. Of the adults, three were bulls and two were cows.

The meat was split up among the hunting families in the team. His hunting team is one of five in the village of 1,500 people and last year the village had a quota of 52 moose - 26 adults and 26 calves. The quota is determined by the village, not by a government agency like the Department of Fish and Game, said Lundblom. Most of the land in Sweden is private, so it's up to the land owners to get together and decide how many moose can be taken each year.

Swedish hunters are also allowed to use two-way radios, or "walkie-talkies," as Lundblom called them.

"That helps a lot," he said.

Unlike most of Alaska, where the moose hunting season is measured in days, the moose hunting season in Sweden lasts three months, Lundblom said, from September through November.

Asked if there were many women hunters in Sweden, Lundblom said "more and more" women are hunting but men still far outnumber women.

"In my village there are 65 moose hunters and one lady," he said.

Coming to Alaska

Lundblom's visit to Fairbanks was product of a lifelong dream to see Alaska that was made a reality by Randy Zarnke, president of the Alaska Trappers Association in Fairbanks. Lundblom contacted Zarnke a year ago to inquire about visiting Alaska to see what trapping and hunting were like here. Zarnke helped Lundblom plan a week-long trip to Fairbanks and arranged for fellow Fairbanks trapper and retired teacher Wendell Shiffler and his wife, Judy, to serve as his host. As part of the arrangement, Zarnke requested that Lundblom give a talk at the Alaska Trappers Association monthly meeting last Tuesday at the Dog Mushers Hall on Farmer's Loop.

About half the moose hunters shoot in Sweden are calves and one-quarter are cows, Lundblom said.

"I know it's a popular subject in this state," he said, referring to the ongoing controversy over antlerless moose hunts in the Interior. "I'm not one to say what's right and wrong, just how we do it."

The reason moose are so prolific in Sweden is two-fold. First, the country's forests are intensively managed as part of a thriving timber industry, offering moose a constant supply of new habitat. Second, Sweden has very few predators.

"Our carnivores are quite few," said Lundblom. "We have wolf and bear but very few of them."

The country has a population of 2,000-3,000 brown bears, but Lundblom said Swedish grizzly bears are "a little smaller and a little friendler" than Alaskan grizzlies. Hunters kill "a couple hundred" brown bears in Sweden each years, said Lundblom.

Wolves were driven to extinction about 100 years ago in Sweden but are slowly returning. The country has a population of about 150 wolves. While predator control issues aren't as prevalent in Sweden as they are in Alaska, where the state's aerial wolf control program has attracted national attention, they are generating more discussion, Lundblom said.

"The big question is do we want wolves in our country and how many?" he said.

Reindeer herders in the northern part of the country don't want wolves preying on their animals, said Lundblom. Wolves also eat moose hunting dogs, he said.

"If you ask most Swedes, they want wolves in the country but not where they live," Lundblom said.

There are also woodland hares in Sweden, which are a smaller version of snowshoe hares, as well as black grouse, a bird with light meat that resembles a ruffed grouse.

"Bird hunting is very popular in Sweden," Lundblom said.

Swedish hunters also target capercaillie, a member of the grouse family that is about the size of a turkey.

"At this time of year, you hunt them on skis when they're feeding in the treetops," he said. "It requires long-distance shooting, 200 to 250 yards with a rifle."

That prompted a chuckle from the crowd, most of whom could appreciate the accuracy of shooting a moose from 250 yards, much less a turkey.

"We don't get many of them," Lundblom said. "On a good hunting day you get one or two."

Trapping similarities

Trapping in Sweden is also a little different than in Alaska, though there are several similarities.

Because most of the land in Sweden is privately owned, trappers operate on a much smaller scale than do trappers in Alaska. A major trapline in Sweden might consist of 10 to 30 marten sets and a handful of fox and mink sets, he said.

"It's much shorter than a normal trapline here," said Lundblom, who accompanied Shiffler on his line one day last week to see what an Alaska trapline is like.

The most common animals trapped in Sweden are red fox, marten, mink and ptarmigan, said Lundblom. There are some lynx trapped in the southern part of the country and beaver are just beginning to establish themselves again after being driven to extinction more than 100 years ago.

Trappers are not allowed to use neck snares or leg-hold traps and instead use spring-loaded leg-hold snares, which work much the same and are as effective as regular leg-hold traps. The traps sell for about $40 but most trappers rig their own.

"Most of the guys make 'em themselves," Lundblom said. "They're not too complicated if you buy one and take it apart."

Swedish trappers use killing traps similar to Alaska trappers, called conibears, to trap marten with a similar box and pole set combination. Any trap that does not immediately kill an animal must be checked on a daily basis, Lundblom said.

Trappers in Sweden also use bait piles similar to what Alaska trappers use to trap wolves. They use a snowmachine or skis to make a track around the bait and then set foot snares in spots where foxes cross the trail.

Perhaps the most interest Lundblom generated during his discussion with Alaska trappers was when he showed a picture of a medieval-type marten trap that Swedish trappers use. The trap consists of two spruce logs mounted across two trees. The bottom log is fixed in place while one end of the top log is propped up with a stick that also serves as the bait holder. When a marten pulls on the stick to get the bait, the top log falls on the marten's neck or head and kills it.

"It's a lot of work to build one but they are extremely effective," said Lundblom, who was peppered with questions about how to build the trap after his talk. "I've never had a marten refuse to go in it."

If Lundblom catches a dozen marten, which a trapper in Alaska might do on one day, he considers it a good year.

Like their trapping counterparts in Alaska, trappers in Sweden aren't in it to get rich, Lundblom said.

"It's not for money that we do it," said Lundblom. "It's for interest and conservation purposes."

Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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