Finland Afoot: The Moose Hunt of a Lifetime
Dr. John Woods 08.14.14
Any moose hunt is an exciting and challenging endeavor for an outdoorsman whose heart and soul lives the sport. Indeed, such a hunt is a true once in a lifetime adventure. It’s an overused cliché for sure, but it applies none-the-less. In my case the shoe was a perfect fit. It was to be my first ever moose hunt.
When the call came with the invitation, I was told the hunt was to be in Finland! “They have moose there?” “Don’t they?” Well, certainly they do. The daydreaming commenced, and the world traveler that I am, I knew right off that Finland was north of somewhere, but I had to consult my trusty world atlas just to be sure exactly where it was.
Crossing the big water going east meant I arrived in Finland just at beckoning light. We boarded a bus and headed out direct to Riihimaki, a small town a short drive north of Helsinki. This served as home to the famed Sako gunmaker’s manufacturing plant for a scheduled tour and issue of loaner rifles and ammo for the hunt.
The travel bus was a delightful way to see the countryside. Finland, like so many European countries, is quaint. Everything is compact, from cars, cell phones (remember Finland is the home of Nokia), hotels, private homes, and eateries. Everywhere one looks, modern is creeping in on centuries old buildings, churches, and neighborhoods. Time doesn’t stand still in Finland either.
The Sako factory is a must see for the engineer-minded or hunters curious about the making of the best hunting rifles in the world. Craftsmanship was alive. Shop workers on the floor wore blue lab coats and the place was clean as a whistle. Our hunting guide, Pentti Louhisola, was the consummate host. After a quick Riihimaki hotel lunch of whitefish, sausages, bread, and cheese, we hit the road to the state operated shooting range.
To hunt in Finland you have to pass a test. I initially thought maybe my hosts were kidding, but it’s no joke. This is serious business in Finland. First we did paperwork and proof that I possessed a valid hunting license from America. Then I was ushered to the shooting range.
Shooting range? Okay, I can hit a paper target pretty well. Did I mention the target was over a hundred yards out and it would be moving? In Finland every hunter, resident or not, has to qualify every year by hitting a “running” target that is a life-sized paper moose. It’s big, but it’s moving. The target goes one way then the other on a rail system. To qualify, one has to hit the target going both directions. The sad part is when a resident gets too old or has lost sufficient eyesight to connect the shot, they can no longer hunt moose.
Our guide wisely counseled us to aim on the beard hanging down under the chin and stay on it. Dang if that don’t work. You have to connect on three shots within the target circle to pass no matter how long it takes. I went three for three, while another hunter in the group took over twenty shots to accomplish it. Qualifying done, we were ready to roll.
We were headed for the 80,000 acre Lohtaja Hunting Club near the city of Kokkola on the western side of the country near the Gulf of Bothnia, which is the northern sector of the Baltic Sea. The terrain is a mix of black soil farmland, huge rock outcroppings, and dense spruce forestland. Timber and paper making is big business in Finland.
By the time we reached the lobby of the Hotel Kantarellis in Kokkola we were pretty much done in. The bar was paradise. They set up a private area with tables of hot hors d’oeuvres, a selection of varietal wines and cold beers. This left us well sated. During the repast we were given instructions on the conduct of the hunt, including safety procedures for the brass horn hunting drives. Then off to bed.
Long before the Capercaillies crowed from their tower tall roosts amidst the spruces, we were on our way to the hunting area. Finnish hunters go after moose in the dense bog ridden forests in one of two ways. They either gather up a group of beaters or drivers, or they release braces of hounds to do the hard work of pushing moose toward the hunters.
The Lohtaja club members opted to volunteer as the beaters as their contribution. Hunting is highly revered here, and they yearned to be a part of the action. When we all arrived at a staging area, the Lohtaja members had the hunt completely organized. I was paired off with a local guide named Lemji who had the command of a half dozen English words, but I understood them fine.
I was placed on a stool out in the woods and was told to listen for the beaters’ horns. I sat on a folding stool in the outskirts of a vast evergreen forest somewhere near the town of Kokkola. It was cool and damp enough for the huge blue spruce timber to saturate the air with a refreshing pine oil scent. I thought Mother Nature had conjured up her best aroma therapy, and it was working. I’m not usually so relaxed when hunting. Palms sweated anyway, gripping the native born Sako 30-06.
In short order I could make out the drones of brass notes coming my way closer and closer. The traditional Finnish game horns blew low, then high, long and short notes, pitches changing with the frequencies emitted by the dozen or so game drivers supplied by the membership of the Lohtaja Hunting Club on whose land I sat. They were coming my way. I wondered what thought a Fin Moose might have at the sound of it all.
A twig snapped and I jerked my head to the right. A perfect Christmas tree spruce swayed about, but there was no breeze. Then the tree rolled over flat as though being aggressed by a Panzer. My lord, I thought, they’ve sent me in here to shoot a Volkswagen. Only this one wasn’t on tires, but hoofed legs. And that definitely wasn’t a VW logo ornament atop its hood.
I have been elk hunting out west a dozen times and deer hunting for 38 years, but never have I heard a 1,000-pound animal arrive so quietly. He mowed down the tree just in front of me, turned broadside, casting his dark eyes deep into mine.
Without thinking I reflexively raised the Sako, thumbing off the safety and settling the crosshairs on the bull’s vitals–and fired. He darted off into the spruce as I sat there on the stool rather stunned. I stood up and walked to where he had been. No blood always brings a sinking feeling.
Within moments my Lohtaja guide was standing at my side. I motioned the direction of the bull’s departure and the guide tore off after him with me in tow. We didn’t go far. About 150 yards into the tundra terrain laid the hulk. He was huge and Lemji was already dancing around the antlered head. Then a dozen or so beaters caught up to us. Back slaps came all around. One placed a ceremonial twig of spruce into my hat signifying I was the celebrated shooter.
Then came an amazing display of human engineering so swift, time was not even granted me to pull my camera from my backpack to record it. A team showed up with a harness rig with a dozen loops sewn from a central strap. Members shouldered each of the loops, and at a command, the team lunged forward, towing the half ton Bull Moose a hundred yards or more to the road where it was hoisted upon a flat bed truck. Absolutely amazing!
We returned to the Lohtaja Lodge to render the moose in portion to share with all the members of the club working the hunt that day. Enough was set aside for a fantastic feast hosted that evening in their club house. But I was not the only one donning the spruce sprig. A hunter from Norway had taken a spike bull, and another chap from Montana connected on a cow. I was informed that three moose in one day including my “trophy” bull was quite an event for Lohtaja.
This strategy was repeated the next day. I was posted in a new area that was more open from a previous timber harvest. The hunt was slower, though, as I walked along a forest road a shot rang out. I froze and poised my rifle. In seconds a cow moose came running by me at a full run. Oddly a beater’s horn rang out stopping the cow in her tracks. I centered the Swarovski scope and dropped the cow in her tracks. Montana Brad also collected another cow. It was rather prideful to be told that evening by our hosts that the club members were quite impressed with the Americans’ shooting ability. We were, too.
Any hunt in a new and strange land is an adventure. Fins are a cordial folk and share our spirit for hunting big game. It’s beautiful countryside. Helsinki is a fantastic old world city. If it’s adventure you seek, try a moose hunt in Finland.