Poland is famous for its red deer population comprising many strong stags. Its pure nature sites are not as urbanized as in western Europe. Nowadays, red deer is spread over the whole country.
There are some iconic regions which used to be associated with exceptional red stags:
Due to the development of intensive, large-scale farming, the red deer population dispersed in the agricultural landscape of west Pomerania. In Greater Poland in the central-west, strong stags are harvested every year with the total number of hunted deer continuously growing. The population counts approximately 270,000 individuals. The hunting grounds cover 25.2 million hectares. In the season 2019/20, some 98,000 specimens of red deer were harvested.
In general, hunters in Poland are gathered in hunting clubs, which lease the right to hunt on designated areas from the government. The average area of such hunting terrain is 5,500 hectares. If a hunter wants to hunt outside of his hunting ground, he needs to get a permission. That may be a courteous invitation or a permit that costs a certain fee. Some areas are managed directly by the State Forests and the Polish Hunting Association. They focus on commercial hunting. Hunters from abroad may hunt in Poland. However, hunting liability insurance is mandatory, a hunting license is required, and it is no problem to transport firearms (with an EU firearms pass) as well as ship trophies.
In Poland, hunting is always one-to-one, meaning that every guest is assigned a personal hunting guide, who also looks after approaching and selecting the animal. Ultimately, however, it is the hunter who makes the decision and bears the responsibility. Hunting liability insurance is mandatory, a hunting license is required, and it is no problem to transport firearms (with an EU firearms pass) and ship trophies.
POLISH STATE FORESTS
HUNTING IN STATE FORESTS
BIAŁYSTOK REGIONAL DIRECTORATE
WIGRY NATIONAL PARK
The hunting season for red stag opens on August 21, even before the rut, and lasts until the end of February. It is important to note that Polish hunters are allowed to hunt red stags only after completing three years of hunting practice (to gather the necessary experience) and after passing a special trophy hunting exam. Hind and calf season begins one week later. The date was moved from October 1 to September 1, because the deer population was still growing and caused too many damages. Hind season ends in the middle of January. Calves, like stags, can be harvested until the end of February. The number of animals to be hunted is defined every year and needs to be approved by the Polish forest administration.
Without a doubt, the best time to hunt red stags in Poland is during the rut. In September, you should have a lot of opportunities to see at least a few stags and select the right one. If your main purpose is harvesting meat, then it would be wise to wait for the later part of the season. In October, driven hunting starts. However, you can still choose to go stalking or hide hunting on your own to harvest a hind, calf, or a younger stag. It all depends on your expectations, hunting skills and time pressure.
I really enjoy the emotions related to the rut spectacle. However, personally I prefer hunting deer in late autumn and winter. On the one hand, it is more challenging to find an old stag after the mating season with the days becoming shorter too. On the other hand, the deer meat tastes better once deer hormones are back to a more normal level.
Most importantly, after the rut the meat is free of the peculiar smell. Unfortunately, during the last couple of years we did not have any snow during the winter. We were pleased to see that 2021 was a surprising exception. The marks in the snow, or „white foot” as we call it in the hunting language, make it easier to track animals. Without snow, it is more demanding.
Those who want to experience the magic of the rut should travel to regions known for their high densities of red deer population. These are mainly located in the northern and south-eastern part of the country. On the eastern border in Augustowska Primeval Forest, a nice stag was hunted last year. This is the place where the Capercaillie breeding program runs. As already mentioned, chances are also very high in western Pomerania and Greater Poland. Nevertheless, you can find attractive hunting offers in the whole country. In September, the days are still long, so you have to be prepared to stay up during the night. Believe me, even if you are usually a sleepyhead, the overwhelming emotions will pay you back many times over and make redeem you for the trouble that leaving your warm bed so early means. The forest is filled with the melody of flaring hormones. You can feel and smell that love is in the air. The strong odor of musk can even be nauseating. It feels like standing in the middle of an opera.
You can try your luck stalking or seize your chance to sit on a hide located close to the rut area. I recommend you spend the whole day hunting in the field. However, it is most effective to be out early in the morning and in the evening. So normally you can get some rest. Attention: shooting red deer in the night is prohibited! Plus, be aware that you probably will not be alone in the forest. Mushroom pickers like to roam the woods as well, as picking mushrooms is a national sport in Poland.
My hunting grounds are located in the north of the country. The 4,900 hectares are situated on the edge of a larger forest complex. It is not very attractive for commercial hunting. With the deer population not being too dense, we are only allowed to hunt a few red stags every year. That is the main reason why I am trying to use what I hunt in my kitchen. However, one has to know that according to the law the hunted animal is owned by the hunting club. The hunter needs to buy it. Otherwise, the harvested animal is sold to the wild game meat dealer. Sadly, therefore most of Poland’s venison is exported to western Europe. A lot of work still needs to be done when it comes to promoting game meat in Polish kitchens and restaurants. Interestingly, the pandemic triggered some positive changes in the catering industry.
While preparing deer meat, I follow traditional family recipes which my grandmother taught me. Game meat has been in my family for generations as my grandfather was a hunter and my dad is one too. The general rule is to freeze the meat for at least one month. After that, you may prepare:
the famous Polish bigos (sauerkraut and meat stew) or
pierogi (filled dumplings) etc.
The variety of culinary inspirations is limited only by our imagination. In my kitchen, there are some exceptions to the freezing rule. After cutting and processing the meat, we prepare fried meatballs from the venison cuttings adding high-quality pork from the local butchery. We also use the bones to make a special dish. We cook them, scrape-off the rests of the meat and mix it with pork bacon and backfat. Then mince it together, boil it again adding spices and vinegar. The prepared mixture is put into jars when hot. That’s a simple dish using meat leftovers. But first and foremost, it is a way to honor the deer and all the gifts it bestows upon us. I have taken a life, but I am making sure to use every precious part of the harvest.
Adam is a hunter and member of the Polish Hunting Association since 2010. He started hunting as a family tradition. Through hunting, Adam feels truly connected with nature and he gains access to meat of the highest quality. He loves the challenge and the responsibility that comes with his passion. Adam is a trained forester and works as a Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the countrywide monthly hunting magazine „Brać Łowiecka”. Nature means freedom as well as inspiration for life and work to him.
SWAROVSKI OPTIK products make his hunting world brighter and bring the game closer. He uses his Z8i 2.3-18x56 rifle scope on every big game hunt. Check out his family’s recipe: Polish bigos with sauerkraut, red deer meat, and dried mushrooms.