Hunting in Austria:
Get Them before they get You!
One of the many things I learned about my country from an outside view is that hunting is a very important element of Austrian culture and celebrated with more actively than in many other countries - European ones, that is, as Americans hunt a lot more than even Austrians.
It was in the UK that learned to anticipate the significance that hunting has in Austria: Hunting holidays are popular among upper-class Austrians, domestic hunting takes place both in the plains (where game consists mostly of hares, pheasants, ducks, geese and deer) and Alpine areas of Austria (where game is generally more diverse, most importantly including ibex, chamois, boar and red deer as well as a variety of birds).
Venison is a big deal in traditional Austrian cuisine. When I decided to do an un-armed national service in a hospital instead with of a service in the army, I had to sign a document in which I stated that I wouldn′t touch a fire arm in 15 years. That was in 1998, so there is still some time to go and thus, I am not allowed to apply for a fire arm certificate.
Hunting as Key to Austrian Culture
Regulations regarding such certificates (which are permissions to own or use a fire arm and what kind of fire arm) are pretty tight in Austria. Hunters are required to pass an additional exam in which they should prove knowledge on how to kill animals properly without causing unnecessary suffering, legal issues and alike - sort of a driver′s licence for hunting.
Despite of these regulations, there are stunning 115,000 hunters in Austria - which has a total population of 8 millions. This makes approximately one hunter for 75 hectares of hunting grounds. One of the duties of hunters is to keep an eye on migrating animals - such as wolves, bears, moose, racoons, gold jackal and other rare animals with a certain potential to cause trouble.
Every shot bear or wolf causes vicious arguments between animal rights activists and hunters with a lot of truth being said on both sides ("…hunters want to shoot poor animals for fun…bears that have lost natural fear of humans are dangerous…nature is self-regulatory…shooting some individuals of animal x does not harm the eco-system…"). Nothing different to most other western countries.
Legal Regulations for Hunters & Game
Generally, hunting is done with fire arms, traps and - rarely - birds of prey. Bow hunting and hunting with dogs is prohibited due to unnecessary suffering for the animal. Certain traps are prohibited for the same reason, most importantly gin traps. Just like in other European countries, hunting used to be a leisure granted only to the nobility.
Hunting rights were not issued to the owner of land, but were often a separate issue. These feudal privileges of the landlords were abolished under the big reformer Emperor Joseph II in 1768, but farmers and burghers could not apply for hunting rights until 1818. Only in 1849, hunting rights were transferred to the relevant owner of the land. Legally, hunting is still controlled on the level of each federal province individually.
To sum things up: There are tight regulations on who gets a hunting certificate and the permission to own a fire arm in the first place; laws and regulations are issued individually by each federal province; Austria′s domestic hunting scene is a tight community not really known for its inclusive attitude towards non-German speaking foreigners. All that makes Austria a peculiar case:
A country full of game and hunters that heavily relies on tourism - which has, however, only a marginal offering of hunting holidays. If you are willing to sit through the procedures (both legal and cultural) and have some money to spend, Austria has nevertheless a wealth of game tradition and plenty of hunting opportunities to offer. Getting a permission to go fishing is easier, though.
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