Latvia has long and well established hunting traditions. If in 1684 German authorities completely prohibited for local residents to hunt, then today thousands of hunters in Latvia consider hunting as a sport, leisure pastime, profession and even a way of life, because hunting is not about the shooting, but about appreciating nature and the things it has to yield.
Today the most popular kinds of hunting in Latvia are beating, stand and still hunting. During beating mostly roe deer, red deer, wild boars, moose and small carnivores are hunted. Waterfowl are also very popular kind of game, and the opening of the hunting season on waterfowl in August could be considered more like a holiday for more than 19'000 active hunters of Latvia rather than everyday hunting.
Due to the fact that Latvia has comparatively mild climate it is possible to enjoy different kinds of hunting, both in summer and frosty winter. It should be noted that by the beginning of the 21st century 44, 4% of land is covered by forests.
Flora and Fauna
Owing to the diversity of natural environment the Latvian woodlands are mostly mixed, showing the qualities of both boreal conifer (spruce) and broadleaved (oak) forests. Trees making up forest stands are the dominant type of vegetation. Relatively large areas in Latvia are also covered by bogs and marshes.
The mammal fauna of Latvia comprises as much as 62 species. Many of the mammal species including game animals stay by turns in different habitats, feeding in one place and finding shelter in another. There have been recorded over 330 bird species in Latvia, and as much as 223 species actually nest here. The bird fauna depends on the diversity of habitats suitable for breeding, feeding, and resting during migration.
The geographical range, climate, flora, fauna and also historical events shape the background for hunting traditions and practices. Primarily based on the German system, the hunting and game management in Latvia has also been influenced by Swedish, Polish and Russian traditions. The hunting methods and ethics of the Soviet era have also left a significant imprint on the local traditions.
These background features together with relatively wild nature determine the peculiarities of hunting and game management in Latvia, not to be found in “conventional” European countries.
There is a long history of hunting traditions in Latvia. In the 11th century people had to hunt to pay taxes in pelts. Later on when Germans conquered territory of Latvia, common people were still allowed to hunt without restrictions up till 1570 when peasants threatened with punishment were forbidden to hunt moose, wild boar and roe deer. It was allowed to hunt wolf, lynx and bear, but the pelt had to be given to the owner of the land. In the 18th century due to conservation measures certain restrictions were implemented concerning mostly big game.
Considerable damage to hunting management of Latvia was caused during the revolution of 1905 and the 1st World War. During the time of independent Latvia (1920 – 1940) owing to strict actions and regulations the population of game animals increased significantly. During Soviet period hunting management continued to develop, though such actions as introduction of raccoon-dog to Latvian fauna caused problems that are still dealt with.
Today Latvian hunting management is developed according to principles of rational and sustainable use of natural resources, for purpose of wildlife conservation, habitat protection and restoration. That is the reason why Latvia is rich in biodiversity.
Because of the unsteady Baltic weather conditions, moisture-proof clothing could be useful for a hunter in any season, not mentioning warm clothes in late autumn and during winter. Extreme summer and winter air temperatures are rare.
It should be noted that being out in the wilderness for hunting is nothing like taking a walk in a well-tended park. When coming to Latvia for hunting one must be ready to overcome a variety of predictable and unpredictable obstacles, which require substantial efforts and appropriate skills which would help to avoid, for example, falling into a land reclamation ditch or a beaver’s burrow. One must consider the possibility of getting the tick-borne encephalitis, a very dangerous infection. Getting a permit for hunting in Latvia implies no insurance against accidents likely to happen, but there are available effective vaccinations, suggested to be treated with prior to coming to Latvia.
The hunting season is from April 1 till March 31 of the following year. The hunters’ seasonal cards are usually issued for this period. Periods of high hunting activity are followed by more quiet seasons, for instance, in spring. The peak of the season is between October 1 and January 31, when most of the limited game is harvested. Though the most appropriate and enjoyable time for stand and still hunting is during summer.
Game Animals and Hunting Methods
Artiodactyls are the major game animals in Latvia. It is allowed to hunt moose, red deer, roe deer, and wild boar. The hunters may act individually during stand or still hunting or in a hunting party during driving with the beaters.
When taking part in stand hunting, hunters usually are situated on a watchtower or a high seat from where a clear view of surrounding areas is available. Such towers are erected next to the sites frequently used by wildlife for feeding and mating. Some prefer still hunting to stand hunting, and it usually is practiced when taking roebucks or stags of red deer and moose during rutting. A hunter on individual hunting usually prefers to hunt early in the morning or at nightfall.
The advantage of individual hunting is that a hunter has a possibility to evaluate both the game animal and the shot, due to the fact that the shot should be made providing that the quarry is visible distinctly in natural light. It should be noted that no artificial lights are permitted except when hunting wild boar, red hinds and calves in places where these animals cause agricultural damages. In this case the shooting is permitted only if the hunter is seated at least 2,5m high. Night shooting from a high seat by using artificial lights is also allowed when hunting such animals as European fox and raccoon dog.
Beating is practiced in a group, when the hunters are waiting in a previously determined places while one or more beaters with or without hunting dogs comb a definite forest area, disturbing the game and driving it towards the hunters. This kind of hunting is permitted in full daylight between October 31 and March 31 of the following year.
There are 28 game bird species in Latvia. Waterfowl hunting in autumn on ducks and geese is the most popular sport among Latvian hunters. Shooting takes place mainly in the morning and also towards the evening when the birds are moving from one place to another. Quite often the ducks are lured within the hunting range by imitating their quacking or using decoys. In waterfowl hunting there is no special bag limit per day.
In autumn it is also possible to hunt woodcocks and black grouse using specially trained dogs, though this kind of hunting is not very popular in Latvia due to the fact that during many decades Latvian hunters were hunting woodcock in spring during their song flight. Unfortunately just recently this most romantic kind of hunting in spring has been banned.
In spring there are some possibilities, though very limited, to hunt capercaillie rooster during its mating season. Traditionally the shooting takes place at dawn when the hunter sneaks up on the prey at the moment the bird is clucking.
The diversity of natural environment and continually low intensity of natural management provide an excellent possibility for sustainable harvesting of a number of carnivorous species which are rather rare elsewhere in Europe.
Wolf hunting is considered to be a difficult yet tempting pursuit by most of the hunters. Wolves most commonly are hunted by beating. It is possible to hunt down a wolf during hunting artiodactyls or when taking part in special wolf hunting events. On detecting the traces of presence of wolves in the area, most likely done when there is snow, the respective forest area is encircled with flags on a string. In late summer and early autumn when wolf traces cannot be detected, the lair may sometimes be discovered by imitating the wolf’s howl. Usually cubs respond to it.
Lynx, red fox, raccoon dog, badger, marten, and sometimes also polecat and stone marten may be harvested both in individual and group hunting. Often hunting dogs are involved for both tracking down the prey and finding it in burrows or other places, though unfortunately there are almost no hounds in the country trained to trace and arrest a lynx.
Unlike many west European countries in Latvia beaver is very common and widely recognized game animal, considered even to be more like a pest of local forests. It yields meat for roasting, the famous secretion of castoreum, and warm and resistant fur. The beaver’s peculiar scull with the powerful front teeth is looked upon as a valuable trophy. Beavers are hunted by the means of still or stand hunting, Conibear traps or driving the animals out of their burrows with the help of specially trained hounds.
Only the dogs of hunting breeds are allowed to be used during hunting in Latvia. The most popular breeds of hunting dogs in Latvia are different hunting terriers, dachshunds, Latvian and Estonian hounds, and different lakes. There are several places in Latvia where a hunter can train a hunting dog, mostly on wild boars and small carnivores, red foxes, raccoon dogs in particular.
Traditionally hunting dogs are used during beating for disturbing, finding and chasing the game. Very often the skills of dogs are used to find and trace wounded or killed animals. Terriers and dachshunds are used when hunting red fox, raccoon dog and badger. Dogs are of great help in wildfowl hunting. It should be noted that very often hunting success and luck depends not only on the skills and possibilities of a hunter, but on abilities of a good hunting dog, which is sometimes even more valuable than a hunter’s weapon.
When individually hunting on moose, red deer, wild boar, and roe deer, it is permitted to use hunting dogs only for tracking down wounded or killed game.
Latvian Hunting Legislation
The system of hunting and game management has changed remarkably since Latvia has regained its independence in 1991. Hunting Law and the related regulatory acts, approximated to the respective EU norms, were implemented in 2003, and make up the legal framework for hunting and game management.
The State Forest Service (SFS) is the major hunting authority in Latvia. The Hunting Department of the SFS Central Office coordinates the activities of the SFS territorial units regarding the supervision and control of hunting. The Ministry of Environment and the Latvian State Police also have statutory powers to control hunting and game management.
The hunting rights in Latvia belong to the landowners (tenants). Landowners may lease or lend their hunting rights to any third party. Approximately one half of the country's forests are owned by states. Normally the state grants the hunting rights to hunters' clubs or private hunters.
To exercise the rights to hunt, a citizen or resident must possess the hunter's certificate, the firearms permit, if the hunter uses a firearm, and the hunter's seasonal card, authorizing the use of hunting gear, if traps or snares are actually used. Hunters must also renew annually his or her seasonal card that serves as a permit for hunting on a variety of unlimited game. For a number of limited game species a separate permit must be obtained for hunting each animal. Any person from 18 years of age can receive the hunter's certificate after having passed theoretical and shooting tests. Since the January 2005 any applicant for the hunter's certificate has to take compulsory course of training.
Hunting Permits and Licenses
The Latvian authorities estimate the size of wildlife population and ensure the protections of game animals. The protection involves habitat conservation and setting the bag limits for one or another species according to the population estimation data and the environment's biological bearing capacity. The species for which the authorities set the maximum allowable bag for the national or regional level (number of heads that can be taken) are the limited game animals. The limited game animals are elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, European beaver, European lynx, wolf, black grouse, and capercaillie.
Taking each limited game animal is legal if a permit issued by the SFS is obtained. After the limited game animal is bagged or wounded, the license is filled in and returned to the SFS.
The unlimited game animals are the wildlife species for which no bag limit to set. Hunting unlimited game is legal under the hunter's seasonal card, which is to be obtained annually. The card is used to record the bag, and after the hunting season is over, it is returned to the SFS.
The hunting licenses and seasonal cards accordingly filled in and returned to the authorities allow summarizing the amount of game animals bagged during the hunting season. Thus the acquired information compared with the population estimation data serves as basis for planning the bag limits for the years to come.
Procedure of Hunting
Any hunting event first must be announced to the SFS. No special announcing or coordination is required for hunting waterfowl, American mink, and raccoon dog on the public waters.
Hunting is allowed on one's own land or licensed hunting grounds and also on other lands, provided that landowner's written permission is obtained. To take the limited game, a permit authorizing the hunting of the respective game on the given hunting grounds is required. To optimize game management and exlude parceling out the hunting grounds a minimum size for the management area for limited game is set.
The open season is set so that hunting in the least possible ways interferes with the ways and habits of wildlife. The close season normally coincides with the breeding season of game animals. During this period there are also restrictions for filming and taking photos of wildlife.
Unauthorized Hunting Methods and Gear
In Latvia the prohibited hunting methods, firearms, and gear are mostly the same as elsewhere in Europe. For example, poisonous substances, sound recordings, explosives, non-selective hunting methods and gear, etc., are forbidden. However, Latvian hunting legislation states a number of norms and restrictions of its own. There is a ban on using arbalests and bows while hunting. In Latvia it is forbidden to hunt wildlife escaping from natural disasters. A hunter is allowed to use only those weapons, which are specified by the Latvian laws as hunting weapons. To avoid taking along weapons other than the hunting weapons under the law, the visiting hunters and their Latvian hosts are advised to apply to the Latvian State Police for explanation even in case if the visiting persons have the European Firearms Certificate. Use of automatic or semi-automatic weapons that can be loaded with more than three cartridges or it is possible to shoot by ripple fire in Latvia is prohibited. The same refers to the laser-type back sights and sights with electronic magnification for night use.
Usage of Firearms and Ammunition
The safety regulations in handling firearms are the same as in the majority of EU member states. Unlike in a number of the EU countries, the Latvian regulations set no restrictions or additional demands regarding the use of a definite type of weapon for a particular game. The only demand is to use a hunting weapon that has been specified by the law. There are two provisions regarding the use of ammunition. When shooting elk or red deer a hunter must use a slug, and no lead shots are allowed when hunting on waterfowl in nature resorts.
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