Hunting in Europe is amazingly different and challenging

Si Balch has traveled throughout Europe, mostly for forestry purposes, but he always comes home with amazing stories about hunting in these countries.

A while back I posted Si’s story about hunting in Italy. I also wrote a column about wild boar hunting in Italy, something I witnessed last fall when Linda and I were there. You can read that column here.

Today, I’m going to share with you Si’s story about hunting in Germany and France. Here it is.

European Traditions Contrast with Maine

Last fall I toured with two eminent German foresters who described wildlife issues they had. Their frustration led me to dig for more information. There are over 30 countries in Europe, and they all have somewhat different systems of wildlife management.

This piece focuses on Germany and France, and on just two species: roe deer and wild boar. Europe has 20 ungulate species (deer, goat, sheep and boar) and all their populations are increasing or stable. Roe deer and wild boar have increased for decades, and have now reached levels where they are causing considerable problems. Roe deer are very small compared to our white tailed deer (See photos).

Common hunting themes in Europe: • Tradition: hundreds of years of built-up values, practices and custom. German is a language with several thousand words peculiar to the art of hunting (Jaegersprache.) • Control of game numbers to protect crops, forest regeneration and reduce vehicle collisions. • Fine hunting experiences for trophy-quality animals. • Utilizing a resource to feed the population.

Wild game is consumed and sold as part of the normal food supply. Hunters can sell their take. There’s an ancient pact between hunters and the public that hunters will “protect” the public by controlling the animals. Boar do most of the crop damage, while roe deer do most of the forest regeneration damage.

Hunters tend to be viewed as a skilled and dedicated group that fulfills society’s desire to have a managed wildlife population which provides aesthetic pleasure, and food in the form of meat. Populations are adequately controlled to reduce crop and forest damage. The level of training needed to earn the right to have a hunting license is variable.

The French requirements are fairly limited. They are similar to Maine’s 12 classroom hours of training for firsttime hunters. The German requirements are much more rigorous, requiring 120 hours of training, plus passing an examination.

German applicants must show adequate knowledge of species, game biology and management, hunting management, game damage prevention, farming and forestry, firearms law and technique, gundog handling, inspection and treatment of game following hygiene measures, evaluating game meat – notably to determine if it can be used for human consumption – as well as welfare of game and wildlife, and nature and landscape conservation law.

In addition, both Germany and France have substantial insurance requirements. Civil liability insurance for hunting ($600,000 for personal injury and $60,000 for material damage) is a prerequisite to obtain a hunting license. Hunting is normally a carefully organized group event. It is done from raised stations, either stands or elevated small platforms.

Game is driven by both people and dogs. In Germany, hunters must have access to tracking dogs able to find wounded animals. There is also single-stand hunting similar to ours. Our method of hunting alone on foot is very seldom done. The normal practice is that a group of hunters will have responsibility for a geographic area. In Germany the minimum size is 200 acres.

There are various club or group systems. Often the owners of adjacent parcels will form a group. Access is controlled by the landowner. The hunters in a group have exclusive hunting rights. In France. the state wildlife service determines the area, and take. Within their area the hunting group in Germany determines the number of animals that should be taken, and gets regional government approval. In France, the hunting group’s area is normally defined by a municipal boundary.

The state wildlife service determines the numbers and sells licenses. These plans can be very specific as to sex and age/development stage. Roe Deer, 30 inches, 50 pounds, Wild Boar, 30 inches, 200 pounds. It’s then the duty of the hunters to take those animals and if they do not, there are consequences. In both France and Germany the hunting club can be required to pay damage compensation to farmers. In addition, in France the state can also bring in “outside” hunters to make up for the “shameful” failure of the local hunters.

The hunting seasons are long and complicated. In Germany, the roe deer season is 10 months, with two months off in spring. Rules vary through the open season for sex and age. The boar season is year-round, with the adult take limited to six months. Boars can also be hunted at night by moonlight.

Dr. Hermann Rodenkirchen owns 500 acres. Silver fir is a desirable species, but the deer are eating all the regeneration. He and one companion hunt hard for months on end, and his annual take is about 35 deer. After five years of this level of effort he is beginning to see some fir regeneration.

The scale of European wildlife populations is very different from ours. Comparing the roe deer take in Germany with the white-tailed deer take in Maine shows just how active hunting is, and how large the German roe deer population is. Germans shoot 7.2 deer per square mile while we shoot 0.6. Maine now takes about 20,000 deer annually. If we had Germanlevel deer populations and hunting activity, we would take 260,000 per year.

If we had boar at their numbers, we would be taking 136,000 per year. We really do not want to have to deal with those population issues.

Si Balch is a certified forester, LF #61, Down East chapter leader, and lives in Brooklin.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.