What’s a day like at the biggest wolf hunt in Swedish history?

Sweden's wolf cull continues this week with the government allowing a record-breaking 75 wolves to be culled. Freelance journalist Beata Furstenberg reports from the first day of the hunt.

What's a day like at the biggest wolf hunt in Swedish history?
Johan Lundberg (left) and Jonas Danielsson (right) checking the digital map of the hunting area, Tinäs. Photo: Beata Furstenberg

It starts one minute after midnight on January 2nd, deep in the beautiful snow-covered countryside. A small party of hunters start tracking the wolves. Two wolves are found in the woods between Gävleborg and Dalarna län, which share a revir (wolf territory). This particular wolf territory is called “Tinäs”.

At 6am, the hunters have a morning meeting and then 150 hunters disperse to the different “quadrants” to go to their “pass”. A pass is the point a hunter will stand or sit, waiting for the wolves to come their way.

The tracks of a wolf in the snow. Photo: Beata Furstenberg

The hunt is led by Johan Lundberg, head of the local hunting association. The hunters split into groups of 30-35, each covering a particular area where they will stand and wait. The various groups monitor their positions on a digital map. When the dogs bark, a little red spot lights up on the map, signaling to the hunters where the wolf is likely to be. 

“The challenge is the number of hunting teams involved and the area involved – it’s a very large area,” Lundberg says, when asked how this hunt is different from previous years.

“Usually, we hunt on 3,000 hectar and now it’s much much bigger at 5,000 – 6,000 hectar. We asked anyone with a hunting licence if they wanted to participate, but the challenge is logistics.

“The goal is to empty the territory of all wolves,” he states.

A rifle used for hunting. Photo: Beata Furstenberg

The hunters surround the area like a chain-link fence. A group of 13 dogs are released to drive the wolves from their lair. It is quickly confirmed that the wolves, which have been sleeping, have been roused and are on the run.

The hunters wait hours. At 3pm, the hunt is called off when darkness falls. 

By the end of day one, nobody has actually seen a wolf. But the hunters think they have narrowed the search area down. During the night, a small group of hunters keep tracking two wolves and the following morning Lundgren announces: “We have a good idea where they are.”

There is a lot of excitement on the morning of day two. The first wolf is shot at 10.45am – a 31.1 kg female. The second wolf is shot a couple of hours later, at 12.30pm – a 43.8 kg male. 

At the end of day two, Tinäs territory has been emptied of all wolves. And the shooting continues across other areas in Sweden.

Jonas Danielsson shows the type of weapon commonly is used in the ongoing wolf hunt. Photo: Beata Furstenberg

When hunter Jonas Danielsson is asked why so many wolves have to be killed, he says: “Everything must be in balance. We have sheep, dogs and hunting dogs that are bothered by wolves and killed by wolves. Not even the wolves benefit if there are too many (…) they should be at acceptable levels.”

Danielsson adds that an acceptable level should be a hundred wolves, because “we don’t need more”. 


Several times during our interview, Danielsson points out that wolf hunting is “controversial”. On day two, there was an incident where a 45-year old man is said to have attempted to run over a wolf hunter. He was arrested.

Benny Gävfert, wildlife expert at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that ”the number of wolves allowed to be shot is historically the highest that has ever been allowed. This will cause growth in the wolf population to stop and level out – which we [WWF] hope will make the current government realise that if they allow even larger culls, it will be raised as an issue in the EU Commission”.

So, why has the Swedish government authorised the killing of 75 wolves?

“Politicians want to cull the wolves to attract voters, and they don’t understand how it will really affect people and the environment,” states Gävfert.

However, Lundberg states that hunting wolves is an important “cultural heritage”.  

The Swedish Wild Predator Association disagrees and has organised a mail campaign to try to stop the hunt. A Facebook page has been created, with email addresses of officials at the county administrative board and the Environmental Protection Agency for those critical of the hunt to get in touch. 

However, chairman Magnus Orrebrant strongly emphasises that the campaign does not aim to pressure individual civil servants.

“No, you should not put pressure on individual officials, but you can communicate with them. The hunting organisations do the same thing – they write protest lists and organise public meetings and meetings with ministers,” he says.

back of hunter walking through the forest

A hunter walking through the Swedish forest. Photo: Beata Furstenberg

The Swedish Wild Predator Association is demanding that the Swedish authorities stop the hunt, which they describe as unethical. They have also questioned whether the hunt is legal.   

In Norway, all their current living wolves (52) were to be shot, but a judge put a stop to the hunting, for now. The judge was forced to resign, his decision is being challenged and a final decision is to be taken on January 9th when the parties are going to meet and discuss the issue.

In Sweden, the hunt is still ongoing and more wolves are shot each day. The hunt can be followed at Jaktjournalen which gives detailed updates on the hunters’ progress, including where each wolf is killed. 

As of beginning of Monday morning, January 9th, 51 wolves have been shot in less than a week.

Beata Furstenberg is a Swedish-American freelance journalist, currently completing a master’s degree in Investigative Journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Emotions run high in Sweden’s biggest wolf hunt

Swedish hunters aren't expected to reach the full quota of wolves that may be shot in the country's biggest wolf hunt ever, but it remains a divisive topic.

Emotions run high in Sweden's biggest wolf hunt

Hunter Lars Björk points to fresh tracks in the snow as he lumbers through a whited-out forest in central Sweden, where the biggest wolf hunt in modern times is drawing controversy.

“We have quite a lot of wolves here, we’re actually sitting in a new wolf territory where we are now,” Björk, a predator expert at the Swedish Hunters’ Association, tells AFP as he settles into a small hunting lodge a few kilometres outside the town of Västerås.

Long known as a champion of environmental protection, Sweden has paradoxically had a centuries-long opposition to wolves, considered a plague in the 1800s with the state paying out bounties for kills as late as the mid-20th century.

Still seen as a threat by farmers, the state now sanctions a limited cull of the animals every year.

This year, Sweden’s hunters are allowed to kill a record 75 wolves out of an estimated population of 460, according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s latest inventory.

That is more than twice the number that hunters were allowed to kill last year, and the highest number since the culls began in 2010.

A total of 54 wolves had been killed as of Sunday. Several local authorities have already called off the hunt in their regions, and the full quota isn’t expected to be reached by the February 15th deadline. Nonetheless, the wolf hunt remains a highly divisive issue, both inside and outside the Nordic nation.

Rural problems

After Sweden’s wolves were hunted to the brink of extinction, the country declared them a protected species in the 1960s.

Wolves started reappearing in the late 1970s and 1980s, before populations started growing in the 1990s.

As their numbers surpassed 200, Sweden began allowing licensed hunts in 2010, issuing quotas for the number that can be killed during a set period.

“The purpose is simply to limit the problems they cause out in more rural areas,” 59-year-old Björk explains.

For farmers, wolves are a menace as they occasionally attack livestock, primarily sheep. They also pose a threat to hunting dogs, used to track and drive wild game such as deer and elk.

Sweden also allows yearly hunts of brown bears, wolverines and lynx – all considered endangered – in order to limit damage to livestock and reindeer.

Reindeer are integral to the indigenous Sami people’s way of life in the far north.

All hunts have detractors, but the wolf hunt has been particularly acrimonious since its inception.

Opponents of the hunt argue wolves are needed to protect biodiversity, playing an important role as predators.

“It is astonishing that Sweden keeps on making these decisions,” says Marie Stegard Lind, vice president of Jaktkritikerna, a group working to limit hunting.

The hunts continue “in spite of the fact that the European Commission has been very clear about its opinion that these hunts are in fact illegal”, she tells AFP at the group’s office in Stockholm.

In 2015, the European Commission warned that Sweden’s wolf hunt fell foul of the EU’s Habitats Directive, noting that the wolf “population has not reached a level that guarantees the conservation of the species”.

Other EU members with growing wolf populations have called on the Commission to update its Habitats Directive to better protect livestock farming.

Question of numbers

Kjell-Arne Ottosson, a Swedish member of parliament for the Christian Democrats and vice president of the environment and agriculture committee, tells AFP that Sweden needs to stand its ground against the EU.

“Wolves are a threat for those of us who live in rural areas. We have to manage that, we have to take this seriously,” Ottoson says.

The only fatal wolf attack in modern times against a person in Sweden was in 2012, when a captive wolf attacked a keeper at the Kolmården Wildlife Park.

But the issue often boils down to disputes over an acceptable size for the wolf population in terms of impact and risks, and ensuring there are enough wolves to limit inbreeding.

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, at least 300 are necessary to sustain a healthy population.

In a letter published by magazine Science in July 2022, a group of scientists argued the culls were a threat to a healthy Swedish wolf population. They said the stocks that span Scandinavia and Finland should be kept above 500.

Conversely, Sweden’s parliament in 2021 voted to cap the population at 270 wolves.

The Swedish Hunters’ Association wants to go even further and lower the limit to 150 wolves, spread across the country.

Currently the animals are mostly found in the central and western parts of Sweden.

“The wolf has a place here, absolutely,” hunter Björk says.

“But not in the amounts we have today and not in the concentrations we have today.”

Article by AFP’s Johannes Ledel