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World Perspective | SWEDEN

Moose Hunters Take to New, Virtual Stamping Grounds

October 27, 2000|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STOCKHOLM — They may tote laptop computers, push baby carriages and command half a dozen languages, but beneath the button-down shirts of the contemporary Swedish male beats the heart of a caveman.

At least that's the explanation of many Swedish women for the mass exodus from home and office every autumn during the bonding ritual of moose hunting.

The season remains so wildly popular in Sweden, despite the broad sweep of technology and urbanization over the past half a century, that some businesses and services with predominantly male employees simply close for a week or two to avoid having to decide who stays behind to mind the fort.

"You can even see 'Gone hunting' signs on police stations and schools in the countryside," says Marie Dalstroem, an analyst with the Swedish Assn. for Nature Protection.

With little conservation ground to stand on--the moose population in Sweden numbers a healthy 400,000--there is virtually no anti-hunting lobby here aside from a few handfuls of militant but ineffectual vegans, Dalstroem says.

"Not many people would dare object. It's such a strong tradition," she says, raising her hands in mock surrender.

For those unable to make it to the woods during the short span before officials whistle an end to the season--once the annual quota of 100,000 felled moose is reached--Sweden's leading daily newspaper has stepped in to offer a virtual sop. Svenska Dagbladet has created a Web site (http://www.svd.se/alg) with cameras trained on moose stamping grounds, offering the desperately desk-bound a chance to take a cyberspace shot.

The Web site functions as a contest, with visitors encouraged to watch via the mobile and stationary cameras monitored by professional hunters and submit reports of moose sightings to win outdoor gear, hunting safaris or a freezer load of moose meat.

The site also invites them to submit photographs from this year's hunting trips, their favorite selections from the hunting-related editorial cartoons that are abundant each season, and moose meat recipes handed down through the generations.

"This paper has been publishing for 116 years, but never has it attracted the attention it has with this game," says Lennart Holmgren, one of the Web site managers who created the hunting site, which gets about 100,000 submitted "shotgun blasts" a day.

Caught in the headlights of stardom, Holmgren and his colleagues exhibit a bit of moose mania themselves when they ponder aloud how they might harness 3-D imagery or even "smell technology" to make the virtual hunting experience more realistic. (The site already offers audio of moose calls.)

"We get a lot of calls from men who can't get into the woods for one reason or another this year, and they want to thank us for giving them this substitute," says Erica Treijs, a project director at the newspaper. "They are so grateful, it's pathetic."

Rather than sating interest in hunting, the virtual version appears to have enhanced it, she says. Game management officials who keep count of the real moose killings have told the newspaper that they expect the quota to be reached in record time this year.

Because moose-bagging limits are established for each region, the hunting season that begins in late September varies in length, lasting as little as a few days in the more densely populated areas close to big cities and as late as January in the far north.

"It's an obsession with a lot of men because it's the only time they communicate with each other," says Ilva Arnhof, a health researcher who hails from near the Finnish border.

"Every man I know goes in for hunting, but it doesn't appeal to women. We don't need to be out in the cold and huddled around a campfire to talk about our feelings."

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