Although he loved this work, he secretly dreamed of becoming a chef but when the Bavarian Saalforste were looking for an apprentice professional hunter for the Saalachtal in 1968, Otto's father urged him to take the position. Luckily, says the experienced hunter in retrospect. He knows wild game and the forest like no other. The topic “Respect your Borders” is a very important concern of the 72-year-old, as he explains in our interview.
Why are game animals fed in winter?
Without feeding, the roe deer and stags would have no chance of survival in winter because they find too little food in our snow-rich region. They begin to eat the bark from trees due to starvation and in doing so they destroy the forest but are still not able to survive. The damage to the trees does not just mean a loss for the land or forest owner, but also the danger of landslides increases. To avoid this, the game are fed. This is quite a lot of work. One stag alone needs a good five kilos of hay every day. In my hunting ground I looked after around 100 animals. You get to know your stock, not every animal comes every day but in a snow-rich winter, you can be sure that they come by regularly.
But how did the animals survive in the past?
In the past, the game used to move to the lowlands in winter where there wasn't as much snow. The animals would wander for up to 200 km, spend the winter there and then come back to their regular territory in the spring. This isn't possible these days because everything is built up. The animals are practically stuck here. That's why we have to help them in winter.
Don't the animals hibernate?
No, but the animals completely shut down their metabolism. The pulse rate sinks to around 20 beats per minute which is similar to hibernation. If the animals are startled by humans, they use a lot of energy to flee and are usually lost because it costs them too much energy. It just takes one single person to enter their territory and unsettle them. This animal has no chance despite feeding. It can not survive. That is why it is of great concern to me that people know what an effect their behaviour has on the animal kingdom.
Otto, what are the duties of a professional hunter?
In the past, a professional hunter had to protect his hunting ground from poachers. In the meantime, the job description has changed completely. These days it is essential above all else to care for and regulate the game population on the hunter's territory. Game belongs to our cultural landscape and is just as important as bees are for flowers. A hunter must ensure that the population is not too large as this would damage the forest. A forest must be managed sustainably. A significant part of my work was the feeding of the animals in winter. Roe deer and stags are very shy animals but they knew and accepted me. During the feeding I always talked to them and built up their trust. You have to have a feeling for them and remember that they are very intelligent creatures. They knew that I respected their habitat.
How can we use nature without stressing the animals?
Most important of all is that snow-shoe hikers, ski tourers and also skiers only use the marked pistes and signposted trails. There are so many beautiful places and hiking trails here that it is not necessary to go off the beaten track. Many people find it hard to believe but the animals have become used to ski pistes and the noise associated with them. They know that nothing will happen to them. But when skiers go off-piste and ski their own routes that is a catastrophe for game. I can not emphasize that enough. During my decades of experience as a professional hunter I have observed that the shy animals are not bothered when people are out in the forest as long as they remain on the path. Walkers can even shout loudly and that does not disturb the animals. On the contrary, they even prefer it because they know where the humans are.
That is why it is better to walk in a group. The “enemy” is predictable but if someone is 20 metres away from the path it makes them nervous. Of course, the resting times of the game must also be taken into account and that is why you should not be out and about in the night. This is the only thing which guarantees a stress-free coexistence between humans and animals. Since the habitat of the native wild animals is increasingly restricted, it is very important to guarantee them their last places of retreat. Those who spend time in the forest are in the living room of the animals and should be aware of this.
How do people react when you speak to them about their misconduct?
On the whole people are very understanding when you make them aware of the problems. In my experience people are willing to learn when you explain things to them. Mostly they are prepared to turn around or return to the marked trails. There are of course some rogues among them but there are also some of those among the hunters.
Have you had any special experiences in the forest?
The first thing that comes spontaneously to mind is something which I am still asked even today and always makes me smile. When I am out and about in the natural world I often start chatting to hikers. As I am recognizable as a hunter from my equipment, many of them want to know if I can show them nest with chamois eggs. This idea comes from humorous postcards which show a motive with a chamois nest and eggs which have apparently been laid by the chamois. It seems as though some people actually believe that. The animals have almost as mythical a status as the Edelweiss, because there are so many legends about them and you seldom see them.
How as your (dream -) profession shaped you?
I have developed a very close connection to nature which I have passed on to my wife and children. I was outside in all wind and weather and usually spent around three months of the year in the huts on my hunting ground. Thankfully, the family was understanding of this and when it was possible, they accompanied me again and again. There is simply nothing better than to live in complete harmony with nature and to get to know the animals in the forest up-close.
Many thanks for the interview and the interesting look at the world of the native game animals.
“Respect your borders“
is an initiative by the Salzburg, which promotes a conflict-free approach to nature and wild animals. The educational campaign is designed to make locals and guests aware of the issue and to develop an awareness of the effects that disrespectful behaviour has on nature. The initiators from tourism, nature conservation, hunters and politics believe that many of those who cause problems are not aware of the consequences of their behaviour. With the help of folders and information boards, the dangers for game are highlighted. Information boards in the forest describe how to behave correctly so that game and forest are protected.
You can find further stories from the region at lofer.com/wintermagazin