Community, hunting tradition and fine firearms in the land of the Finns
If you’ve never travelled abroad to hunt, it’s pretty easy to believe what you see and read on social media about hunting in different parts of the world. Once you’ve visited several different countries, though, you realize how rarely such perceptions turn out to be true.
When I hunted in England a couple of years ago, for example, I expected there to be widespread anti-hunting sentiment, given the outcry over the country’s traditional fox hunts. Once I left London’s city limits, however, I was surprised at how deeply rooted the gun and hunting culture remained. I also once believed hunting in Europe was only for the ultra-rich, and that the average person had no chance of taking part. I’ve seen that proven wrong, time and time again. And when I first hunted in South Africa, I was under the impression all hunting was conducted behind high fences. I was shocked when we were able to hunt on sheep and cattle ranches with low wire fences, similar to what we have here in Canada.
At the same time, it’s also pretty easy for us to assume the hunting opportunities we enjoy here in Canada are superior to most other countries. To some extent they are, but in many cases, they are just different.
So when I was invited to Finland last fall to test the new Sako 90, I was as eager to try out the rifle as I was to experience the country’s hunting culture. And Finland certainly is interesting. It’s basically a country of preppers, which is no surprise considering it shares a border with Russia. Military service is mandatory and, as a result, the Finnish people are not only familiar with firearms, they’re also avid shooters.
Per capita, in fact, Finland has more licensed firearms owners than Canada—11 per cent of their population versus our eight per cent. The difference is even more significant when you compare hunter numbers. In Canada, roughly 3.4 per cent of the population buys a hunting licence each year, while in Finland that number jumps to more than six per cent. That definitely shoots holes in the theory that hunting throughout Europe is only for the rich.
In Canada, hunting is still largely an individual pursuit, with small informal groups occasionally hunting together, usually family members or a few close friends. In Finland, however, the bulk of hunting takes place through more than 2,500 hunting clubs. Membership typically includes use of a shooting range and, more importantly, access to private land, where the clubs manage both the hunting and the wildlife. When I hunted in Poland, it was a very similar system. With access to private land being one of the biggest challenges facing Canadian hunters, it’s easy to understand the popularity of these clubs.