By Larry Weishuhn
“When you come back next year, you should consider coming for reindeer in Norway. Would be a great add on to your roe deer hunt in Sweden. The countries are next to each other, so only one major flight from the states and back. You could either fly or ride in a travel bus we could arrange for to take you from one hunt to the other.” said Stefan Bengtsson as we were packing gear following a highly successful red stag hunt in Scotland. I glanced at Tim Fallon and Tim Doucet, both were smiling and nodding in agreement.
“Sounds like a great idea. Maritt, is from this part of the world and through her family can probably arrange a fishing trip between the two hunts.” Added Tim Doucet. I really liked where this was going, always up for an adventure in Scandinavia. At that point I had not yet hunted Sweden or Norway and the thought of doing so sounded extremely exciting. A couple of days of fishing sweetened the deal . On the way to the airport we, the two Tims and I agreed to meet in January at the Dallas Safari Club convention to finalize our plans.
We met at Patty Curnutte’s The Global Sportsman booth; the two Tims, Stefan and Sofia Bengtsson with Scandinavian ProHunters and I. There we planned our Swedish roe deer hunt followed by a Norwegian reindeer hunt. “I can get five trophy tags. They only issue a very limited number of such tags each year to keep the overall quality of the herds healthy.” Said Stefan. The two Tims and I looked at each other, we knew we three were in for the hunt. Now we needed to find two other hunts to fill the remaining tags.
“I’ll talk to Bob and Celia Scott. I suspect one of them will want one of the permits.” Said I.
“Last time Ginni and Mike Boyd were on the ranch, they said wanted to do a European hunt with us. Gotta feeling they’ll be in.” Suggested Tim Fallon.
A quick call to both confirmed and were in on both the Swedish roe deer hunt and the Norway reindeer hunt. Next day we signed hunting agreements at the Scandinavian Prohunter (www.scandinavianprohunters.com) booth, followed by a quick trip by the “TGW” booth where we set up flights for our trip, including starting paperwork to be able to take our Ruger rifles and Hornady ammo into both Sweden and Norway.
Fast forward to a highly successful roe deer hunt in Sweden, followed by a fabulous North Seas fishing trip set up for us by Marrit Doucet near where she grew up. Then we were on our way via a travel bus to Vingelen, situated on the lower edge of the Forolhogna National Park. In Norway, hunting is allowed and encouraged on national parks. Citizens of Norway thankfully understand and realize the importance of hunting in conserving and managing wildlife and habitat to insure the future for all wildlife species.
We stowed our gear in a most comfortable lodge/guest house, and then were introduced to Jacob Alvdalskurglag, a local hunter who often helps Stefan and Sofia guide hunters. Jacob as I was to learn while hunting with him knew the area and its wildlife. He was truly a pleasure to spend time with and learn from. In my travels to hunt distant lands I am ever wanting to learn all I can about area wildlife, vegetation, terrain and the local culture. Jacob proved to be a treasure trove of information.
Forolhogna National Park is home to a large number of reindeer; numerous small groups that occasionally come together as one large herd. Like our North American caribou seem reindeer seem to continually be on the move. In Norway they generally move north and south over rolling treeless barrens and the woods which surround them. Norway’s reindeer are intensively managed, only a limited number of permits for bulls, mature and immature, and cows are issued annually, based on current population, bull-to-cow ratio, calf survival rates, percentage of mature bulls in the herd, as well as current range conditions. Hunting insures the reindeer population and the habitat remain healthy.
Reindeer are similar in appearance and antler configuration to our North American caribou. Like our caribou they tend to feed into the wind, to scent predator such as wolves and bear with which they evolved. Immediately prior to our arrival the wind had been out of the south. The herds those days had been on the southern edge of the Park near where we were headquartered. But unfortunately, two days before our arrival the wind changed to blowing out of the north. The reindeer herds left the southern edge and moved north.
Over a most delicious meal that night before our hunt, we, Bob and Celia Scott, Mike and Ginni Boyd, Tim and Marrit Doucet, Tim and Susan Fallon, as well as my cameraman, Dustin Blankenship and I listened as Sofia and Jacob told us what to expect during our hunt. Those expectations involved wind, rain, long walks, but also the availability of three horses. After a quick discussion it was decided Tim D, Ginni and Celia would start out with horses and local guides. Fallon and I would go on a hike with Sofia and Jacob.
Next morning driving to our jump off point, Jacob regaled us with tales of hunting reindeer, red stag and the abundant “alg”, what we in North America call moose. In route he pointed toward a brushy draw next to the road, “The reindeer antlers in the back of my pickup…a young lady from the village shot it there, out of a herd of four hundred, less than a hundred yards from the road. It was an easy pack.” Tim and I smiled and wished for similar luck. But we knew the reindeer were now near the northern edge of the park.
As we continued driving Jacob said, “If we don’t take reindeer today, tomorrow we’ll get two horses so we can cover more ground quickly. The horses will also help us get farther north to follow the herds.” Sounded like a good plan.
Parked, we shouldered our packs, guns and began our walk north into the barrens. Along the way I noticed Sofia and Jacob picked up whatever twigs and wood they could find.
Finally, we reached a high spot. “You and Tim glass. Sophia and I will start a fire and we’ll soon have something to eat.” Moments later they had a fire going and water boiling for tea. Next on the fire was frying pan filled with bacon, which when crisp they wrapped in potato-based “tortilla” along with some cheese. The “wrap” as a friend of mine years ago once said when asked what he thought of the food he was eating, “Tastes like MORE!” The trail meal was simple, quick and absolutely delicious!
Satiated, we headed toward another high spot on the horizon, while glassing the distant and near barrens. The high spot was marked with a tall pile of rocks which reminded me of the “Innukshuks” I had seen in the “high Arctic” of North America. We glassed and soon spotted a single reindeer cow which had apparently gotten separated from her herd. I started grunting loudly and holding my arms wide spread above my head trying to do my best reindeer bull imitation, as I had done occasionally when hunting caribou on the tundra in North America. The cow immediately started running toward us. She hung around for the next hour. Just before we headed back toward our vehicle she drifted away.
The walk back was a long one. But about half way back the wind switched from our back to in our face. “Tomorrow!” seemed to promise Jacob with a huge smile!
At camp we learned the other three hunters had not seen any reindeer.
During the night I got up and opened my window. The wind was blowing briskly from the south. If it continued the morrow would bring the reindeer back in our direction.
“We’ll start on the southwest side. Thor will be bringing two horse. Larry, you and Tim will ride. Sofia, Dustin and I will walk.” I did not argue. I grew up with horses and loved to ride. But helicopter crashes from my years of doing game surveys have made it difficult to mount or dismount, other than stepping into or out of a saddle with the aid of a stump, rock, or whatever allows me to do so. Once I am in the saddle I do great!
While unloading the horses, we spotted reindeer several miles away. “We’ll ride about ten miles in. There are reindeer scattered across barrens and we may find a couple good bulls on our way in.” Said Jacob. Before mounting, I stuffed a Drake NonTypical down vest and rain coat into my pack, just in case they might be needed. There too, they would make my pack an Ideal rifle rest.
After about two miles in the saddle as we topped a rolling ridge. There we spotted four herds containing about eighty reindeer. “The herd on the right has two wide, massive and multi-tined bulls. We will drop back behind this ridge and try to get ahead of the herd,” suggested Jacob. Sofia nodded in agreement.
A few minutes later, “We must hurry!” urged Sofia when we spotted a local hunter walking directly toward the herd we stalked. “He’s headed to a cabin just beyond the next ridge. Locals can take a cow or calf.”
We picked up our pace. Shortly we could see antler tips. I looked at Tim. He was smiling. The two of us have hunted together in Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Austria and other far off lands. Tim is the owner of the FTW Ranch where is taught Sportsman All-Weather, All Terrain Marksmanship (www.ftwsaam.com) the finest shooting/hunting school in the entire world.
As we raised up for a better look we spotted the hunter just as he unknowingly spooked the herd we were after. The last of we saw of the two big bulls along with younger bulls, cows and calves they were going over a distant ridge at least a mile away.
Back at the horses, “Let’s head to the ridge where we saw the herds disappear. They may slow down to feed, or we may see another herd or two.” Said Jacob.
After riding thirty minutes we approached the cusp of another ridge. Jacob asked us to stay where we were while he crawled to the top and scanned the rolling barrens beyond.
No sooner had he reached the crest Jacob turned, held his arms high above his head indicating reindeer bulls beyond, then waved us up. Tim and I grabbed packs and our Ruger M77 .375 Rugers, then made certain they were loaded with our 250-grain Hornady GMX ammo.
Near the crest, “Big bull about two hundred yards, slightly to the right.” I followed Sofia up slope, followed by Tim and Dustin.
Lying down I pushed my pack, as a rest ahead of me. Just as Jacob stated, there stood a big bull just to the right of a cow about two hundred yards away.
Rifle solidly and comfortably rested pointed at the bull, I settled in behind the Ruger, cranked the scope up to 10X and locked the crosshairs on vitals. Just then the previously profiled bull turned to look our way. I could hardly believe how wide the bull’s antlers were. But now I had wait for the cow to move. She had fed directly behind the bull. When she did, I pushed the three-stage safety to fire. I heard Dustin say, “Any time you’re ready!” Words I love to hear!
At my shot the bull bolted. “He’s shot perfectly. He will not go far!” said Sofia as I quickly bolted in a fresh round.
Sofia was right. We found my bull less than fifty yards from where I had shot at him. He was HUGE!! Behind me I heard Jacob say, “Legendary bull! One our village will be talking about for years to come! Congratulations, you have taken one of the best reindeer that will be taken in Norway this year! Truly a dream bull!” My bull did indeed look huge, high, wide and handsome! I could not have been more pleased! Close as we could tell the bull’s antlers had a spread of at least forty-eight inches.
As I admired my bull Jacob suggested, “Tim, you, Sofia, Dustin and I should follow the herd. I do not think they will go far.”
About twenty minutes later I heard a shot, then saw Jacob on top of a ridge they had disappeared behind waving. Tim had take his bull.
A little while later Thor arrived with a horse pulling a drag, on which we loaded our two bulls for the trip back to the vehicle. The meat from both bulls would go to local villagers.
Back at camp that night we learned while our other three hunters had seen bulls, they had not taken any.
The following day while I helped take care of the meat from Tim’s and my bull, as well as caped the bulls, then salted them, the remaining three hunters headed back to the barrens. They returned that night full of stories about how they had taken fabulous bulls. After my fellow hunters had gone to bed, I stepped outside to admire the night…the wind had switched once again.