The Capercaillie hunter from the north

The vast forests of Finnish Lapland are famous places. The wildlife of the area is among the most popular for hunters. Miika Taskinen is one of the keepers of Lapland's hunting traditions and his expertise in treetop hunting has attracted much attention. This article presents Miika's background, the challenges of treetop hunting and his best tips for a successful hunt.

a Third-generation hunter

Miika Taskinen's roots lie deep in the rocky terrain of Rovaniemi, and the mighty wilderness of Lapland have been his backyard and hunting ground for most of his life. Miika is a third-generation hunter who learned hunting traditions from his father and grandfather when he was young. His passion for hunting started at an early age. Miika's specialty is snow time treetop hunting, one of the most challenging forms of hunting in Finland and the Nordic countries.

Treetop hunting is a form of hunting in which the hunter shoots wildfowl from the tops of trees. The challenges are related to a number of external factors, such a lack of daylight, frost and snow. Shooting situations are generally either difficult or very difficult and, with the adrenaline pumping, the hunter needs to concentrate on making a precise shot.

In winter, wildfowl such as the capercaillie and black grouse sleep in holes dug into the snow. To feed, the birds ascend into the nearest tree, which is usually found in open areas. In open areas, snow does not accumulate in the trees, so capercaillies can eat the pine needles and black grouse birch catkins. The hunting season is a challenging time for wildfowl in Finland's winter conditions. With temperatures ranging between 20 and 35 degrees below zero, it is difficult for them to find enough energy to survive.

Cold conditions

Winter is also a challenging time for hunters because birds are very cautious and alert. In open places, the birds can see well and detect movement easily. Thus, the sparse and open terrain creates a challenge for the hunter to approach a bird undetected. This is why the shooting distances long, usually 170-250 meters. Birds can also be in large flocks: there can be 5–15 capercaillies in a single flock and 10-50 black grouses. This means that many pairs of eyes are observing the environment and potential hazards.

It is important to note that the speed of combustion of gunpowder slows down in the cold, which affects the bullet's muzzle velocity and ballistics. This should be tested beforehand so that you know how the cartridge will perform in extremely cold conditions. Some may compensate by keeping the magazine in their pocket, where the cartridges can be kept warm close to the body.

However, you must remember that when the cartridge chamber is at -25 degrees Celsius and you put a +25 degree cartridge in the magazine, the temperature difference is more than 50 degrees at that moment. However, the cartridge will remain in the chamber for dozens of seconds before firing, or even up to a minute as you try to get into a good shooting position. Due to the large temperature difference, there is a risk of the bullet frosting or even moisture getting compacted in the barrel.

Shooting position and accuracy

The longer the shooting distance, the greater the importance of bullet muzzle velocity. It is therefore always better to find out in advance how your gun and ammunition will perform in cold and very cold conditions.

When shooting in treetop hunting, it is important to take into account all the variables around you that can affect the accuracy of your shot. The distance to the target, its size and the critical hit zone are important factors to consider. For example, if the distance to the target is 215 m and the target is the size of a black grouse, the critical hit zone is about 3 centimeters. This means that every movement you make during a shot can affect the success of the shot.

When you're lying in the snow and trying to find the right shooting position, you quickly realize that the factors around you influence the way you feel. Your body is stressed from the movement and at the same time it cools down quickly, which can affect your shooting position and accuracy. In addition, when you're a bit out of breath and sweaty, it can be difficult to find a position that feels comfortable and gives you the support you need.

The only support you might find is perhaps a frozen backpack you've been carrying around all day. This is a completely different situation to shooting at a shooting range, where the temperature is usually around +20 degrees and you can shoot from the top of a sandbag, which gives you optimal shooting conditions.

Treetop hunting is challenging because there are so many variables that affect the overall picture. Movement in the forest and physical stress affect the shooting position and accuracy of the shot, but so do many other factors such as weather conditions and terrain.

The best accessories and aids:

  • High-quality thermal underwear for arctic conditions. It is very important that the clothes are breathable, so that the moisture leaves the surface of the skin, then you don't get cold so easily.

  • High-quality binoculars. Stop guessing and be sure of the target and ensure a successful game shot.

  • With a good magnification range, luminous, ballistic turret optics.

  • You never know what might break. You don't want to be in the middle of the wilderness without repair supplies. Iron wire + tape for equipment breakages.

  • Sturdy skis, sometimes snowshoes or, depending on the amount of snow, sometimes just normal warm footwear.

Patience and careful observation

If the conditions are challenging and you can't seem to find any birds, it's wise to slow down. A decreased speed creates a better chance for the hunter to spot the bird with or without binoculars before the bird spots the hunter. In that way, you only proceed gradually and can look at the same trees from different angles. This strategy will help you spot birds that may be hiding in the shelter of tree branches or amidst patches of trees.

For example, a black grouse may be feeding on birch branches in the middle of a patch of forest with spruce trees in the background. This makes it almost impossible to spot the bird from a certain angle. The capercaillie, on the other hand, can hide itself almost completely in the branches of pine trees, and the underlying tree cover gives it excellent protection.

In these situations, patience and careful observation are key. Binoculars are an essential piece of equipment for a treetop hunter, as they help you to spot birds accurately and efficiently. It is also important to choose the right shooting position and prepare carefully before firing.

Good binocular sight selection is important to ensure that the hunter can see his target clearly and distinguish it from its surroundings. The size of the front lens is one of the most important factors when buying binoculars. A larger front lens provides better luminosity but also adds weight to the binoculars. You can usually choose a 50 mm lens as the front lens for your own use, as a 56 mm lens is mainly only needed in extreme conditions.

Optical quality is particularly important in cold conditions, where fog or snowfall can challenge a hunter's vision. It is then important for the optical quality of the binoculars or field glasses to be high. With a quality sight, the hunter can clearly see at which point of the bird he is aiming, resulting in a quality game shot and reducing the risk of just wounding the bird.

Know how to use your equipment

When you practice shooting, do it with the same equipment and supplies you use for hunting. If you use a backpack to support your gun in a hunting situation, practice shooting from the backpack on the range. This will ensure that you are prepared for the hunting situation and know how to use your equipment correctly in different conditions.

In general, you do not need to shoot at distances of more than 300 m. As a rule, the hunter should get closer to his target. The longest distances are usually around 250 m, but every hunter knows his own skill and knows when it is possible to make a quality game shot.

It is important to test and understand how your cartridge performs at different temperatures. This also affects the ballistic turret adjustments for different shooting distances. Miika's tips on rifle aiming include testing the aim at different temperatures: 0°C, -10°C, -10°C to -20°C and below -20°C. If the temperature changes significantly during a week-long hunting trip, you will already know in advance how your bullet will behave at different temperatures. This means that there is no guesswork in a hunting situation, and all the necessary testing can be done safely at the range.

Unforgettable memories

At best, hunting trips leave lifelong memories like one of Miika's most unforgettable ones:

“Last year I went on a hunting trip with my best friend. The highlight of our trip was a small but significant event. We headed into the wilderness, where a hut built partly into the ground awaited us. Our intention was to stay there for two nights and use the place as a base for capercaillie hunting. The area was known to be home to capercaillie, but accessing it was challenging due to the demanding terrain conditions in the area.

We started the journey by car, but we had to ski the last 12 km to the hut. Our destination was on the other side of a very difficult terrain. The landscape was mainly spruce forest punctuated by ditches and bogland between two hills north of Rovaniemi. When we arrived, it was very cold. The thermometers showed -30°C, but that did not discourage us. In the evening we took pictures of the Northern Lights and thought that in the morning we would go hunting for capercaillie.

The next morning when we set off, the temperature had dropped even lower. We were, however, prepared for this and put on our winter gear. When we had got about 500 m from our camp, we noticed a capercaillie feeding near the edge of a ditch. I gave my friend permission to shoot because I myself had previously shot several capercaillie.

My friend fired successfully and his shot echoed across the wilderness. The echo bounced back from the hill on the opposite side and drove about 20 other feeding capercaillie into flight, and they flew over the horizon. However, in the afternoon we finally caught up with the birds again and managed to catch few more.

This experience was one of my most memorable hunting trips. Although this individual event was small, it was an important part of the whole. The hunting trip taught me a lot about patience, guts, Finnish sisu and friendship.As well as the importance of functional equipment in extreme conditions. It also taught me to appreciate the beauty of the wilderness and its bounty for us hunters."

All photos: Miika Taskinen