Hunting Trials in Finland by Angela Cavill
It is my firmly held opinion that whatever one feels about hunting, owners of hunting breeds cannot and should not suppress the need these dogs have to behave in the way nature and breeding has made them and they should either understand them or choose another breed. My breed, Finnish Spitz, only comes truly to life when unleashed in an autumn Finnish Forest.
The Finnish National breed has been used for centuries to hunt game Capercaillie and Grouse and
it is an activity which is practical, for the game is used to feed the family. The hunting season and the numbers of birds allowed to be hunted are strictly monitored and it is truly a way of life. The real Finnish Spitz man in Finland is only really contented alone with his dog in the forest.
On my recent trip to Finland I found myself being driven from south east Finland to Lappland,
where for three days we stayed in a hunting lodge on the edge of a lake accompanied by a Finnish Spitz and a Nordic Spitz. My friend, Erkki Santapukki (of the famous Santasepon Kennels) and our host Ilmari Tolonan were good teachers, although teaching in this context meant mainly that I fended for myself! The terrain varies from moss covered boulders to marsh land and of course always the dense growth which means if you do not keep up you are lost!. The dog circles in its quest for game and on finding a bird gives a unique bark while waving its tail and hypnotising the bird. This is the cue for the hunter to approach in a roundabout way with his gun. As can be seen, this calls for dexterity, strength and sure-footedness on the part of the hunter, but in the peace and beauty of a Finnish forest the time flies past. Birds are scarce this year and in my whole two weeks in Finland not a shot was fired. No one minded because the enjoyment is in the appreciation of the dog and the surroundings. There was one occasion where the dog barked a Capercaillie for several minutes. Just as Erkki got into position with his gun the dog gave up and ran off leaving the bird still sitting there. Frustrating though this was, Erkki put up his gun, it would not be sporting to shoot when the dog had stopped.
On the final weekend of my trip was the event that to any true Finnish Spitz owner is the climax of the whole year. It is more important than any dog show or other event - the finals of the national barking competitions. Heats are held in each area of Finland and the winners (13 of them - some bitches were in season and unable to compete) then meet to find 'The King of the Barkers'. Matti Joenpolvi, Chairman of the Spitz Club of Finland, had offered to take me there, and although all one can do is sit and wait for the dogs to come home I felt it was an occasion not to be missed. On both the Saturday and Sunday the dogs are taken by their owners in the company of a judge and a guide to an area of forest and his work is scored. Obviously each dog has a different forest in which to compete and lots are drawn for this. We arrived half way through the first day and I sat with the committee as each judge came in with the dog's results and I struggled to understand who might be that day's winner. I had a special interest in Seppo Peltonen's Hakojan Hippu, a two year old bitch who I had first seen as a three week old puppy, daughter of Emma, who had twice been 'King of the Barkers' - what a clever breeder and hunter this man is.
As we went through to dinner Matti came up to me: one of the competitors had offered to take
me on the final day, accompanying him and his dog. This was unheard of. Given the importance
of these trials, an English woman with no known hunting background, where fitness, stamina,
the ability to move and stand silently were all of vital importance - and for four and a half hours. The responsibility was too much, I felt I could not risk spoiling his dog's chances. he had a good placing of third on the first day and this could easily be jeopardised. However, it soon became apparent that the offer was genuine and that I could easily be considered ungrateful, so I accepted with a real feeling of gratitude - and concern!
I went to bed early that night, so that in the morning I would be ready for the 6.30 am start
(starting time for the trial was 8.00 am but our forest was 100 kilometres away). Morning dawned and it was raining. The rain continued for the whole of the trial! We arrived at the location, startling a sleepy Elk. The dog, Parpin Peni, who had been lying across my knees, forgot me in an instant as his leash was slipped and ignoring the elk he set off on the serious business. Judge Eino Storlopare, with Kari Kallio the dog's owner went first, I was on their heels and the guide followed me. I had to keep up: in that terrain a few paces back and sight of the person is lost! Almost immediately came a bark from Peni. In the first ten minutes we were running across inhospitable terrain and had jumped at least six brooks! I though desperately of the four and a half hours to follow, knowing that already I had no idea of where the car was or had chance of respite! My worry lasted only momentarily. Despite the unrelenting rain, once again the beauty and peace of the surroundings pervaded and the joy of seeing 'my breed' doing his job took my mind away from myself. The time passed swiftly and five hours later (by the time we reached the car) we were enjoying a welcome cup of coffee before returning, Peni once again on my knee! to base.
It seemed a long time before the results were announced. Notes are made of the chances of finding the birds, whether the dog takes up these chances, if the dog barks at the wrong game, how many times he barks, how many barks per minute and points are gained or lost on these and similar complicated points. I have a book, several pages long explaining all this in great detail, but even if my Finnish were up to it, my understanding of the complexity is not!
Everyone congregated, the table was laden with prizes including one which I had brought and
which I determined to copy to give to Kari with my thanks. Seppo Peltonen's young Hippu did
well - she came fourth overall. My cup was full, however. Second days results were calculated
and our dog Parpin Peni had come first, bringing hip to first overall and making him the 1996
KING OF THE BARKERS!