Chasing luck

[b]Belarusian forests are gaining popularity among foreign hunters, with about 4,000 visiting last year[/b]Regarding the number of foreign hunters, our country is ranked third in Europe — behind Russia and Hungary. Those from Italy, Germany, France, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Finland are keen on coming to Belarus — but what attracts them?
Belarusian forests are gaining popularity among foreign hunters,
with about 4,000 visiting last year

Regarding the number of foreign hunters, our country is ranked third in Europe — behind Russia and Hungary. Those from Italy, Germany, France, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Finland are keen on coming to Belarus — but what attracts them?

In twilight of coverts
Many animals live in our Belarusian forests — a natural attraction for hunters. In the past five years, the population of wild boar, roe, elk and deer has grown. In 2008, our forests were inhabited by almost 19,000 elk, about 8,000 red deer, 59,000 roe and 56,000 wild boar. Belarus’ Deputy Forestry Minister, Nikolay Yushkevich, believes growing numbers are the result of the 2006-2015 state programme for hunting development. Lodges have been intentionally creating watering holes for animals, as well as special feeders, towers and hides. They’ve also organised biotechnical events, jointly with scientists. There is no doubt that animal diversity will continue expanding; meanwhile, the population of roe and boar is annually increasing by 15-20 percent.
Red deer are now found all over Belarus. In four years, new populations of this animal have been created in eight hunting forests. Additionally, fallow deer have been introduced into our forests. Over a hundred years ago, they were common in Belarus but later almost disappeared, due to irrational forestry management. At present, they are bred at Lepel, Ostrovets and Dyatlovo forestries.
As animals rise in number, hunting is more likely to prove suc-cessful. In Belarus, 22 mammals and 31 birds are allowed to be hunted. In the past five years, profits generated by the Forestry Ministry have grown almost five-fold — owing to foreign hunting tourism.

Valuable trophies
Deer horns, boar tusks, stuffed wood grouse and black grouse are greatly valued all over the globe. Foreign hunters arrive in Belarus for these trophies since many of our animals differ from their European ‘brothers’. Boar, deer, elk and roe are smaller in size in Western Europe while Belarusian trophies are often highly praised at international exhibitions. Moreover, some are rare in Europe — such as wood grouse and black grouse. Hunting wood grouse is viewed as an elite occupation while elk can only be hunted in Poland and Belarus.
Foreigners are ready to pay good money for such trophies — 5-6kg elk horns cost 580 euros, while those heavier than 6kg cost 830 euros. Deer horns cost from several hundred to several thousand euros, depending on their quality. Aurochs are, of course, the most interesting animal for foreign hunters. However, only those which are ill or injured are allowed to be shot — up to a dozen each year. Even so, the cost of such a trophy can reach 10,000 euros.

Fireplaces, fishing and museums
Foreign interest in Belarusian hunting forests has led to the development of necessary infrastructure. About a hundred hunting lodges are operational in the country, with half owned by the Forestry Ministry. Dozens are revamped every year, improving their facilities. In 2010, another four are being built, with two others reconstructed.
60 hunting lodges are now ready to welcome guests, offering hot water, toilets, kitchens, gun safes, parking, banyas and open-air cages for dogs, as well as braziers, boats and bicycles. According to Mr. Yushkevich, hunting itself brings only 15-17 of the revenue for such sites. Developed infrastructure (with a package of services) is responsible for the lion’s share of earnings. An average foreign hunter comes to Belarus for 5-7 days, spending 70-110 euros on food and accommodation daily. However, they can spend even more if further options for leisure are offered.
There are six exemplary hunting lodges in Belarus. Belynichi lodge is never empty. It is situated near a lake, with furnace heating, cold and hot water, a fireplace, a kitchen, a bathroom, a TV set and Internet access, as well as a banya, a brazier and a summerhouse sleeping 10-16. A shooting range is available, with hunting of elk, roe, deer, boar, otters, beavers, wood grouse and black grouse permitted.
Molodechno lodge offers a tennis court and a swimming pool, besides an open-air cage housing dappled deer, wild boar, roe, ostriches, pheasants and raccoons. Families are welcome, with unforgettable memories promised for children and adults alike.
Ostrovets offers excursions to Roman Catholic churches and the Gippika equestrian centre, as well as an ecological hike around the Sorochansky lakes, trips to a private museum of stuffed animals and birds and fishing on the River Vilia. Even the most demanding tourists are sure to be impressed. Importantly, stays are possible all year round, even when the hunting season is closed.

No off-season for forests
Most hunting stops in Belarusian forests for about six weeks — from February to mid-March — but undesirable foxes and wolves are still game. In late March, spring hunting for birds opens — initially goose and then black grouse. On May 15th, hunting for wild boar responsible for damaging crops begins and guests begin to arrive in earnest, including those from abroad.
New regulations (already under development) are planned for this season, according to Mr. Yushkevich. Procedures for foreign hunters’ entry into Belarus are being simplified, with visitors encouraged to rent rifles rather than bringing them with them. This should make Belarus even more attractive.
Hunting is successfully developing but the Forestry Ministry stresses that much work still lies ahead. We lack specialists in hunting tourism to conduct market research, organise advertising and promotion and aid the entry of hunters. Rising profits from hunting tourism will inspire breeding programmes for animals but special fences will be needed to keep them within bounds, as will safe passage across roads on their migration paths. This will surely be costly but will yield returns. The Belarusian Forestry Ministry is set to solve these tasks very soon.

By Lilia Khlystun
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