The number of people training to become hunters in Germany has doubled in the past 10 years, with a growing proportion of women among the new recruits. Fans of the controversial leisure activity say it helps them connect with nature.
Shooting practice, swotting up on woodland biology and special vocabulary, learning hunting law off by heart — that’s what Heike Poth, 53, and Sabine Severin, 54, need to do to get their hunting licences.
At shooting practice in Germany’s south-eastern Sauerland region, they stand side by side with 15-year-old Paul, firing their shotguns at a bunny target 30 metres away.
Then they try a moving wild boar target from 60 metres and a deer from 100 metres. They must do this every weekend, plus theory twice a week in the evenings, for six months.
Interest in hunting is growing in Germany, including among women and young people, as was evidenced at Europe’s biggest hunting fair “Jagd & Hund” in Dortmund recently.
In 2018, 20,060 aspiring hunters took part in hunting courses in Germany. In 2009, that number was just 9,656, according to the German Hunting Association (DJV). The proportion of women grew by a quarter in the same period.
Currently there are 385,000 active hunters in Germany. And there were lots of new gadgets for them at the hunting fair: digital aids for planning, high-tech clothes to protect them from boar attacks and thorny undergrowth, and other safety items.
“Loden green is yesterday, bright orange is today,” says a DJV spokesman.
Bernd Roth has been a member of the association for 38 years and now trains newcomers in Sauerland. “If you commit a safety error, it’s an automatic fail,” he says.
So what’s the attraction of hunting, a controversial activity that costs US$3,880 a year?
Severin, a secretary, loves nature. It’s not the shooting that’s the main thing for her, she says. Hunters have “huge respect for animals,” she says. Therefore, “What we kill, we eat.”
If you buy meat in a supermarket or in a butcher, you’re asking other people to kill animals for you, she says.
Paul grew up hunting and is continuing the family tradition.
“You give a lot to the hunting ground. Caring for it is time-consuming. When you shoot something it’s like a reward, like a ‘well done,’” he says.
Book retailer Heike Poth says it’s all about knowledge. “When do they [deer] shed their antlers, when is rutting season, when do they shed their coats? You learn a lot about the animals”.
But how can you shoot a creature after learning all about it?
“I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll ever do it,” she says. “My friends often ask me ‘How can you?’ Of course the thought of Bambi resonates with all of us.”
Hunting is also the object of ethical and moral debate. Environmental campaign groups WWF and Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) are demanding a change in hunting laws.
The list of species that can be hunted should be shortened, hunting should be sustainable and regulations should be put in place to protect endangered species, according to NABU. Some critics also see it as animal torture.
In the Sauerland group there’s a mix of people — an IT specialist, a physiotherapist and a car mechanic.
Right now they’re learning about dogs, without which hunting is rather difficult. Flushing dog Anton is introduced to the class, a small animal but “brutal and fearless,” who fetches ducks out of water, corners foxes in their dens and baits wild boar, his owner Michael Adams explains.
Which animals can be hunted depends on the territory — it can be wild boar, deer, badgers, foxes, ducks or other birds.
Industrial engineer Waldemar Skorupa is fascinated by the use of technology in nature.
But a hunting licence, liability insurance, a gun licence and an entry licence for the hunting ground all have to be paid for. Then there’s the actual guns, visual equipment, clothes and — in his case — the “incredibly expensive digital technology”.
Knowledge of hygiene, animal illnesses and environmental protection is also a must. And hunters speak another language — there’s a list of some 400 new words to be learned.
Alexander Kolodinski, director of education for the local hunting community, would like the sport to have a better image.
“Some people think hunters just go out and shoot everything. But it’s a lot more about environmental protection. We don’t shoot for shooting’s sake”, he says.
The high school teacher thinks that the number of hunters will continue to grow, with recruits coming from all sorts of backgrounds.
“People come to the forests for peace, they switch their mobile phones off in the hideouts — that’s attractive even to big city types”. – dpa