Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Bear Hunting Trip

I've told about the picture scavenger hunt. Last week, I went on a different kind of hunting trip. In Finland, about 5% of the population is registered hunters, as in they've paid license fees etc. With lots of forests and lakes, there's both water fowl, forest birds and all kinds of animals to hunt.

Hunting small animals and birds can be done alone, as one person is enough to carry the prey home. For big animals like the elk, a team of hunters is needed. A more challenging prey is the bear. Not very many licenses are given each year, as they are rare, and they are evasive animals. Normally, you don't see them and can't find them without a good hunting dog.

However, stories of bears seen here or there are common in July and August. The reasons for that are twofold. First, the mushrooms and berries are ready for harvesting, and a lot of people will go into the forests looking for them and to pick them up. (By the 'freedom to roam' rules anyone is allowed to pick wild berries and mushrooms for non-commercial uses.) The bears are also eating the berries trying to get fat for the winter. Sometimes they both find the same berry bush, and so the bear is seen.

The other reason is a bit funny. There are vast forests everywhere, but not all are good for berries. And sometimes there is a dry spell or a cold night which damages the plants in some areas so there is no berries at all in certain locations, but somewhere else the plants are fine. In ancient times, good hunting and berry locations were kept secret to protect them from outsiders. There's still a little of that mentality around, even though they're not vital to our survival anymore.

A berry picker who finds a good location will tell his family where the berries are, but will be vague about it when talking with others. Let them walk around in the forests and swamps to find their own berries. And maybe sometimes they tell stories about hungry bears they saw to scare others away. On the other hand, others may think that the bear is eating berries there, so it must be a good spot.

On my trip I scouted for good locations for later trips and also picked some berries. I found three kinds of berries ready for harvest. Some berries, like the lingonberry is not ripe yet, but will be in a few weeks.

At first I found some arctic raspberries. Just a few. I didn't bring any home, I ate them all! :-) These berries are deep in my memories from my childhood, even more than strawberries. These grow wild in the edges of fields, especially on the banks of ditches. When I was a kid when we were cutting hay for the winter I used to go eat these berries. So these are my candidate for LGRAB's Summer games. Although I have to take my own photo of them. Too bad I ate them all, now I must go back to find some so I can take a photo.
Edit: I did.
Arctic raspberry, half done. Green means it's not ripe yet.
I found a good blueberry patch. I picked some of them before I continued my scouting trip. Enough blueberries for a blueberry pie. Or maybe a berry soup...
Heathers were blooming, too. Very nice colors, but no berries here.

Ah, what is this? A sure sign there is a bunch of bloodthirsty bears around: Cloudberries. They grow in swamps and are pretty rare. They're very labor intensive to pick and thus expensive. I walked around for a hour or two in the swamp trying to find a good spot, but found only a few berries. But these are the berries with most bears around. I'm sure I heard them growling...

All the while I was walking around the swamp I hear the distant thunder. It was getting closer and closer, but I was too eager to find more cloudberries. When I finally decided to start heading home the cloud front was closing. Unfortunately, I was too late and I got caught in the rain anyway. Then I got lost in the suburbs when I tried to find a new shortcut in the rain. Who knew there was so many bikeways and streets going all directions. Luckily the sun came out so I saw which way was south and which was north and eventually found my way home.

Following the true secretive berry picker tradition I've not given you any clues where to find the berries. I'll only tell you I went there by bike. How far and which direction, that's a secret. And, look out, there's hungry bears in the forests! :-P )

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