Mindful bird hunting in Sweden
Life is to be enjoyed! The words are Evelina Åslund’s, the entrepreneur behind Joy Event, a company that offers hunting in Sweden combined with health and wellbeing. Hunting in the morning, yoga after lunch – a whole-body experience that is out of the ordinary.
HUNTING IN SWEDEN – FOREST BIRDS & PTARMIGAN
A small, lithe English setter dances ahead of my feet; wearing an orange vest and a GPS around her neck, Minerva eagerly searches the area nose length by nose length. Today Shiva, a slightly older, more sensible Irish setter bitch, is her hunting companion. We’re at the Viggesågen camp in the forests in Sweden, to hunt forest birds and ptarmigan along with Evelina Åslund and her dogs.
A light mist cloaks the marsh, which is dressed in warm colours and edged with small, knotted mountain birches and twisted pines. The tussocks are stiff with frost and easy to walk on. In the forest there are still patches of green, with high trees and thick lingonberry and bilberry underbrush that has darkened in colour after the first cold nights.
Hunting in Sweden, as hunting in general, is not a simple thing. It is easy for the uninitiated to focus on when the shot is fired, but very little in hunting is about the actual kill, says Evelina. Instead, she highlights the soul of the hunt, the sense of presence and the interaction with your dog and nature – as well as the satisfaction of bringing home food to the family.
It is hard to put a finger on what it is with hunting that creates such a strong experience, but you have to be extremely alert and focused at the right time. And it is fun to be able to cook using things you brought home from the forest, she adds.
For the last six years she has run the hunting company Joy Event Hunt & Health in Sweden, and her hobby has become a profession. Her dream grew slowly, that of highlighting the soft values found in hunting and attracting more women to it.
Hunting has traditionally been a male area, but I want to convey how the hunting experience can be something entirely different to old men hunting elk, she says with a smile.
Because far more men hunt than women, it is still mostly men who book hunts and, even if they are curious, they don’t really dare try out the combination of hunting and yoga. However, dream customers appear every now and then, as recently with a group of women from Stockholm who loved the idea of combining ptarmigan hunting with yoga, stretching and relaxation.
THE FREEDOM OF HUNTING IN SWEDEN
Perhaps it is just this reflectiveness, the close-to-nature experience and the reclaiming of the self that is the point of the hunt. Evelina often returns to the idea of gazing inwards and thinking “long” thoughts when sitting out on a hunt, spending time with yourself in partnership with nature and the dogs. The closeness to the origin of your food. Everything becomes clear, scents and sounds appear. It’s about pleasure and something that we all carry with us – the desire for freedom.
Hunting has always been a big part of Evelina’s life, taking her hunting certificate in Sweden as a seventeen-year-old after accompanying her father on elk hunts.
I quickly discovered the freedom that bird hunting allows, as it doesn’t require a great deal of organisation. Forest birds and rock ptarmigan are also delicious and easy to cook, she says.
Hunting ptarmigan is a social activity. The lands around Viggesågen in Sweden are ideal for forest birds such as black grouse and capercaillie, but the relatively high altitude, 510 m, means that it’s also possible to find willow ptarmigan.
There’s no rush if the dog marks a ptarmigan, explains Evelina. The dog can stand for ten to fifteen minutes, so we have plenty of time. If it had been a forest bird it would have been different, as they will run so you need to be much quieter and creep up on them.
OUTDOOR COOKING – A PART OF THE HUNTING EXPERIENCE
The afternoon is drawing to a close and we haven’t yet come across any birds. Thank goodness for yesterday’s ptarmigan hanging in a bunch against the cabin wall and, along with a frozen ptarmigan, we have enough for lunch, as there is not a lot of meat on a ptarmigan breast. Evelina kneels down and puts the ptarmigan on a stump, carefully pulling off its ‘suit’; its skin is loose and it’s easy to expose the breast. She removes the breast with a sharp knife and then takes out the even tenderer inner fillet. Evelina places the pieces we are going to cook on a chopping board and then puts the rest of the bird under a tree so a wild animal can take what’s left. You can’t get closer to nature than this.
Evelina sets up a Trangia stove next to the stump, where we’re reclining in the grass. The sound of the burner is pleasantly comforting. She fries the chunks of meat quickly, using plenty of butter, so they are just browned on the outside and almost raw in the middle.
Ptarmigan is easy to cook. It doesn’t need hanging to make it tender and tasty and, like all game, it should be eaten rare to retain its flavour. If you think the taste of game is too noticeable, the meat can be soaked in milk for a while, she explains.
She moves the meat to one side and fries finely chopped onion and chanterelles. The aromas are exquisite in their simplicity. After adding a generous dash of cream and seasoning it with salt and black and white pepper, Evelina replaces the meat in the sauce and serves us a large portion in a folded piece of flatbread.
Some culinary experiences are more memorable than others. We aren’t sitting anywhere special, it’s more practical than anything. And we are eating with our hands, with no attractive wooden mugs or smart cutlery, but yet the food tastes more and better than anything I have eaten in a long time. It is both smooth and a little rough at the same time. The creamy sauce contrasts with the ptarmigan breast’s clearly gamey flavour and the mild sweetness of the chanterelles. I am hungry after a day of hunting in the forest and, as so often with meals outdoors, it tastes divine. Eventually, we pack up our equipment and head back.
HUNTING AS A DREAM & LIFESTYLE
Evelina Åslund has made a life out of her dream. It’s not entirely easy. Running a hunting micro-business in the inland of northern Sweden demands stamina and inventiveness, but it’s undoubtedly worth all the hard work for Evelina, who thinks that life is simpler now.
I’m in charge of my own time and I get energy from being outside so much, it makes me feel wonderful – which means that I can work a lot. And I get to enjoy incredible companionship. During the hunt we are all equals, status and money are irrelevant. Hunting in Sweden is health, she says convincingly.
Before we part ways, I rub Minerva a little extra behind her ears. My pulse is pleasantly low and I feel relaxed when returning home with an experience and an encounter the richer.
Text: Janna Thalén
Photo: Sandra Lee Pettersson
Bird Hunting, Yoga
We recommend that you are experienced in handling a gun. The hunting dogs search high and low in the terrain so you need to be used to moving in sometimes tough terrain with absence of paths.
To be able to hunt in Sweden you need to follow a guide. Joy Event – Hunt & Health is one of them, but there are many other companies offering different kinds of hunting – from birds to bear, moose or beaver.
Jämtland Härjedalen offer fantastic opportunities for hunting grouse in the mountains. Hunting grouse is both harmonious and intensive, offering beautiful views and great companionship in the autumn hunt. Hunting for grouse is a little like hunting’s Formula 1, as dogs search magnificent mountainsides at top speed hunting for grouse and you need to be observant, disciplined and quick to walk home with a bird in your rucksack.
CAPERCAILLIE & BLACK GROUSE
Capercaillie and black grouse are common in Sweden and Jämtland Härjedalen provides many opportunities for photographing them close up or hunt them together with a hunting guide and return home with great nature experiences.
When heading out to hunt birds it is of course crucial to bring suitable hunting gear, but don’t worry, your guide will help you with that. However, do remember that the day will most likely be long and you will stay outdoors for many hours – dress warm and wear clothes and boots for hiking. Bring some snacks and warm drinks!
Surrounded by nature you have the best chance in the world to reflect and relax – to add some yoga afterwards is a superb way of getting in contact with mind and soul.