Swedish hunting adventures
Shooting in the UK is seldom described as adventurous. However, after visiting Sweden in order to shoot ptarmigan and red fox, Nicholas Watts discovered that not only was it great sport, but it ticked all the adventure boxes too.
Obviously I wanted to know a bit more about it and the more I looked into the hunt the more interesting it became, or should I say the more extreme it seemed to be. I was told to bring plenty of warm clothing as I was travelling north of the Arctic circle to a village near Kiruna where the famous Ice Hotel is situated, 1000 ft above sea level in the middle of February.
The more I learnt the more I hesitated. The hunt would take place 2,500 ft up from a log cabin in a remote part of Sweden. I was asking myself if I had enough warm clothes, would my fingers be too cold to pull the trigger when the time came? I took the recoil pad off my gun so that I could mount my gun when I was wearing extra clothes, bought some hand warmers and obtained a European firearms certificate.
I took a plane to Stockholm and then on to Kiruna, where I was met by Hakan Soderqvist who escorted me to the Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi. One part of the premises is a very nice conventional hotel taking guests all the year round and the other part is made of ice - literally! It is remade each year and open from December to April.
It is unique. Most of the walls are made of snow blocks after the style of an igloo, while the fittings and the rest of the walls are made of ice cut out of the River Torne which flows just past the hotel. Every year in March and April, or when the ice in the river has become about 3ft thick, blocks of ice are cut and taken to a building and stored through the summer so they can be used to construct the hotel early the following winter. This is not a new gimmick - this winter is the 19th time the ice hotel has been constructed. The temperature inside the ‘building' is generally about -5°C and all of those who stay in one of the 60 rooms are loaned a sleeping bag suitable for the occasion. Eating has to be done in the other half of the hotel but there is an ice bar in the ice half where the glasses are made of ice! Obviously it is no good going into that bar and asking for a glass of water, as only drinks that have a freezing point lower than about -8°C can be used.
The Ice Hotel is part of the package, which made the trip such an adventure.
I slept well and the next morning, with the temperature at -28°C, four of us drove to a small village on the other side of Kiruna, transferred all our luggage onto sledges, hooked the sledges on to snowmobiles and set off into the hills. After an hour and a half we arrived at a log cabin in brilliant sunshine in the middle of nowhere, about 2,300 ft above sea level. The cabin had two companions - a sauna hut and an ablutions hut. As the days are quite short in the middle of February, three of us opted to get straight onto hunting some ptarmigan while one stayed behind to get unpacked and do some cooking.
The snow was up to three feet deep in places and snow shoes were advisable. Johann specialises in working Gordon setters and they had three dogs to point, flush and then retrieve the ptarmigan. Setters can soon cover a lot of ground, but the deep snow slowed them down quite a bit. The ptarmigan were not sitting very tight and flushed before we could get within shot of them, so we returned to the log cabin a couple of hours later empty-handed. However there was a nice log fire and a meal waiting for us on our arrival.
The temperature had also risen to -6°C and it soon started to snow. After a nice meal it was time for a sauna. I had visions of coming out of the sauna and rolling about in the snow but fortunately there was a second room in the sauna hut to cool off in.
The log cabin was built for the Sami people when they herd their reindeer. It was well insulated and very comfortable and sleeps five. Gordon setters are not a hardy breed of dog so slept in the hut with us and it was surprising how warm it was in the morning a few hours after the fire had gone out.
Our cabin was well above the tree line so we went down for our hunting. The fresh fall of snow overnight made all the trees look very pretty, though they were only about 6 or 8 feet high, and mostly birch. The dogs worked hard but could only find the odd ptarmigan so we went to another area where we could immediately see fresh tracks and it wasn't long before we had flushed a covey of 10 and several more odd ones.
The birds feed on the buds of birch trees. They always feed from the ground and so fresh falls of snow through the winter suits them very well as it means after each fall of snow they can feed higher up the small trees. We shot three before we returned to the cabin with some very tired dogs. I plucked the birds and was surprised to find that they don't seem to have any more feathers on them than a partridge. Roger soon had them in the pot, so as well as reindeer pâte, we were able to enjoy braised ptarmigan with lingonberry sauce.
That night there was a good display of the Northern Lights. Obviously where we were there were no other lights around and there was no other noise either and the darkness was complete, so we were able to see the full show of shimmering curtains of light that were dancing around in the sky.
The next morning, we were to be joined by some more Guns, making six in all, at an agreed site across the hills from our cabin. On arrival we were treated to coffee and biscuits. We were lucky with the weather - it was a brilliantly sunny morning, the sun shining across the completely snow covered landscape and of course there was complete silence (apart from us!).
There were plenty of ptarmigan tracks amongst the bushes and soon the setters were flushing the birds, but here the trees were more dense and the birds were soon behind bushes and made difficult targets. After a while it was decided to drive the birds over the Guns. The small trees were only growing in the bottom of the valley, less than 100 metres wide so we had a ready made drive. Soon ptarmigan were indeed flying over us and two were shot.
Two more drives were organised and another four birds were shot. It was then time for more refreshments around a fire with lots of excited chatter and a round of photos before we mounted the snowmobiles for our journey back down to civilisation.
The next morning I was out with Hakan, trying to bag a fox. Foxes are the main predator of all grouse species and mountain hares, the latter being one of their favourite meals and so by imitating the call of a mountain hare in distress, a fox should come running to the sound. It was a sunny morning again and everywhere looked like a picture postcard, snow clinging to every branch of every tree. We chose a suitable tree to hide under. Soon the calling began but no fox appeared, and I was not to know whether this was the most effective way of calling them. We repeated the procedure twice more but no fox appeared. On each occasion there was absolute silence. To have shot a fox would have made my day, but I was quite happy to be there soaking up the scenery and the silence.
My apprehension of the cold before I left home proved unfounded. It was minus 32°C the morning I left, I had brought enough clothes with me from my own wardrobe without having to go out and buy extra. It is a dry cold and I would suggest that minus 10°C is equivalent to zero in our damp climate and there was no wind whilst I was there. Ice Hotel will provide an insulated coverall at no extra cost if you want extra clothes when you get there.
To me, it was an experience of a lifetime and I would certainly recommend it if you are looking for something different and wanting to lengthen your shooting season.
There is a whole host of activities that can be undertaken while staying at the Ice Hotel such as dog sledging, driving on ice in Saab cars, snowmobile riding and dining in the country while viewing the Northern Lights.