Hunting is a hugely popular national pastime in Sweden, in particular the moose hunt, and is as much a part of life for the country’s working class as it is for the rich.
Some 300,000 moose, or elk as they’re known in Europe, roam Sweden’s woods during the summer months, and about a third of those are killed off each autumn during the hunt.
“Society has changed over the years. Now people can pursue their interests, regardless of gender and there’s nothing stopping them. Women have always been a part of the hunt but in a different way,” Anja Kjellsson, a game manager in the northern county of Västerbotten and who runs a network for women hunters, told AFP.
In the past, women took care of the hunting dogs and the animal meat from the hunt, and minded the children while the men were out in the forests.
“The hunt has always been a little traditional, but now it’s really caught on among women,” she says, noting that the change started in earnest in the 1980s.
“Now they shoot the animals themselves,” Kjellsson says.
According to the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management, the share of women passing the hunting exam has risen from 18 percent in 1995 to 25 percent this year.
Some 14,200 women in Sweden have now paid the annual hunting conservation fee required to hunt – including Sweden’s glamourous, 24-year-old blonde-haired blue-eyed Princess Madeleine (who shot a roe deer last year) as well as Communications Minister Ulrica Messing.
Special networks for women hunters have in recent years been set up nationwide.
“Women need help initially to get started, without the pressure of men looking on. Men often have an advantage because they learn to shoot a weapon during their military service,” says Ewa Klingspor, a 61-year-old sculptor who runs a network for women hunters in Stockholm.
Some women prefer to hunt in all-female groups while others enjoy a mixed group.
The highlight of the hunting year is the moose hunt, which this year opens on September 4 in the northern parts of the country and October 9 everywhere else.
A large hulking beast, the moose is dark brown with massive shoulders, shovel-shaped rounded antlers, and a long muzzle and short goatee. It can easily weigh up to 500 kilos (1,000 pounds), yet it roams the forest on awkwardly long, spindly legs.
In addition to moose, Swedes hunt bear, deer, boar, as well as small game such as hare, pheasant and grouse.
The sport is considered a popular social outing and an opportunity to breathe in the fresh clean air in Sweden’s pristine outdoors – another of Swedes’ favourite pastimes.
“It’s fantastic to be out in the woods before dawn and see nature wake up. Suddenly a fox or a deer turns up in front of you, it’s fascinating,” says Klingspor, who has taken part in hunts since she was a little girl tagging along with her father.
The hunt “is primarily about the outdoors, but also the excitement and the knowledge that is required to become a good hunter,” she adds.
The meat is consumed by the hunters, with 20 percent of households nationwide and up to 90 percent in the north consuming meat from game.
Weapon manufacturers have caught on to women’s swelling interest in the sport and now make rifles adapted for women. So-called ‘lady guns’ are lighter, with shorter barrels and butts.
Men have also gradually come to accept women as equals on the hunt.
“Some men gave me funny looks in the beginning. They didn’t really know how to deal with it,” says Jaana Arvidsson, 42, who passed her hunting exam six years ago and who works for the Board of Fisheries when she’s not out hunting.
“But once they see you shoot, it changes. They’re often very helpful, they want to share tips and stuff,” she says.