Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson@jonrunargudjons
Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson
Raised by the harsh winds and everlasting frosty glaciers of Iceland, exploring the mountains and wilderness since early childhood, sleeping in snow holes or wherever he could find shelter during the adolescence years, and later documenting the beauty of the wild as an educated photographer and graphic designer Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson has stories to tell. Now his stories extend beyond the field of view on any given hunt.
Exactly! Being close to nature, understanding it, and observing the true forces of the wild, comes very naturally to me. It’s something we, Icelanders, get with mother’s milk.
Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson
Did you hear a lot of hunting-related stories before falling asleep as a kid?
I was the first hunter in my family. There were a lot of nature-lovers, mountaineers, travellers, hikers, but no hunters. The closest relative, my stepfather, was a goose hunter. He was the first to teach me. I was 11 when I started hunting birds with him. My first catch was a little bird called a ptarmigan. I remember clearly finding a few of them hiding in the snow and firing that first shot.
When you think of those times, of yourself as a kid sitting there in the snow, what comes to mind? How did it feel?
I’ve been hiking in the mountains collecting blueberries since the age of five or six. Hunting for ptarmigans felt similar to hiking – but with a shotgun or a .22 in your hands. It felt great to climb up and bring some birds home with you to cook great food.
As a kid, I learned a lot about nature – to sense it, to cope with the harsh winds and freezing cold, to know the limits of my body. I loved being alone in nature, but I always had to tell someone where I was going so they would know where to find me if something happened or I got hurt. Nature was always in my bones. Being out there I felt and still feel in balance with myself.
Where in Iceland did you grow up? What scenery were you surrounded by?
I grew up in a small port town called Hafnarfjörður, located about 10 km south of Reykjavik. My home was surrounded by small hills (in Denmark they would call them mountains). My favourite lake, mountains, lava, and rocks to play on were there. I could cycle or walk, or hike from home straight into the wilderness. My parents worked all day, and I was out there, alone or with my friends. We didn’t see each other much during the three-month summer holiday either. Back then, in Iceland children had to help the fishermen take care of the fish.
It sounds like a chapter from an adventure book!
I know it does! Our childhood was very different. No one had a mobile phone; nobody was controlling us. But we all learned about the cold, rain, and wind. If you don’t put on the right clothes in the morning, you’ll probably be freezing or completely wet by noon. That’s how we learned the lesson and started reading the clouds. We didn’t have any apps to tell us the weather forecast – we just followed the signs of nature.
Nothing changed when I grew up. I just started hiking the bigger mountains and taking a shotgun with me. I still do the same thing today. After moving to Denmark two decades ago I just found another kind of country and another way of being close to nature. I still seek peace; I love observing and feeling the powers of the wild. I still don’t have a cottage in my hunting grounds in Sweden, I usually only sleep in a hammock or on the ground, like I did as a child.
Later in your life, you’ve sailed the seven sees on hunting journeys. Every experience must’ve been quite different from what it’s like to hunt for Arctic foxes in your home country!
I have been hunting in England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Lapland, and other regions. And you’re right, hunting Arctic foxes in Iceland is very different to in Denmark, Sweden, Germany or even England. Our government asks to keep the numbers of Arctic foxes down, and a hunter get paid for each fox tail. It’s important to regulate the numbers of this species because otherwise they would destroy the settlements of bird colonies, such as common eider, arctic tern, or guillemot. These birds are now threatened species because some time ago people built houses or structures on land where the birds had been nesting for many years. So, now it’s our duty to keep the Arctic foxes away from those birds.
Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson
Every time we build a road or change something in nature, we are changing something in the lives of other species. That’s why it’s our responsibility to ensure that those species don’t get threatened or extinct.
I realized there were more hunting opportunities in Denmark and Sweden than there were in Iceland, and I never wanted to move away from my passion. But I like to joke that the real reason I moved was because my favourite beer is produced in Denmark, and you can only buy this beer in Iceland for one week before Christmas. My favourite cigar is also made in Denmark. So, there were at least two solid reasons to move…
How often do you go hunting now, not for beer, I mean?
It depends. I haven’t been hunting that much recently due to Covid-related travel restrictions. That changed things a lot. Before the pandemic, I had big plans for Germany, Ireland, and England. But plans had to shift. A year before that I went hunting for 110 days (which I would probably never do again!). Of course, that’s including travel time. I wasn’t running around with a rifle in my hands the whole time. When we were hunting for moose in Lapland, we drove 1700 km there and another 1700 km back. Still, I call it a seven-day hunt because I wasn’t doing anything else in that time.
Now my passion is limited by a heart attack I had this spring. I am slowly starting over again going hunting once every two weeks or so. I hope to increase that soon.
Why do you hunt? What is the highlight of hunting for you personally?
The simplest answer is that I love nature. And by loving it I understand how important it is to interact with nature because we, humans, are the species that govern the Earth. Every time we build a road or change something in nature, we change something in the lives of other species. That’s why it’s our responsibility to ensure that those species are not threatened or go extinct.
When I’m out there hunting, I don’t shoot all the animals I see. I go for a catch only when my freezer is getting empty or when someone is having a party and they order a wild boar or roe deer. I also have clear rules – I always shoot the weakest animals, the ones that likely won’t survive the winter first
Interacting with nature by making certain choices and harvesting the fruits is my way of showing love and respect. I’ve seen with my own eyes what happens when no actions are taken for a long time. I once went hunting in an area where no hunter had gone for about 20 years. It didn’t take us long to realize all the foxes living in that area were sick. There were almost no roe deer and no wild boar left. We started eliminating the sick foxes and after some time the health of the animal population improved. The roe deer, the wild boar, even the lynx and the puma returned to the woods. To me, it was obvious proof of how human interference brings fruitful results by removing sick animals.
I wonder, how do you approach the hunting sceptics? You must’ve met a lot of people with different opinions while traveling around the world?
Oh, I meet a lot of sceptics! I think dialogue is very important. I try to explain to people that by taking an animal’s life I’m not destructive to nature. I’m keeping the healthier animals healthy and away from the sick and weak, creating space for another healthy animal to live. It’s also important to know where the meat that we eat comes from. Even my girlfriend partly stopped being vegetarian after I invited her for dinner and served some home cooked wild meat. Because it simply tastes great!
Another truth is that vegetarian food is taking space from wild animals as well. Every grain of rice or corn needs to grow somewhere which means the animals that lived there have to move. So sometimes growing ecological food means taking more lives than hunting does. All life has a living space, and every living animal has the right to be here.
Moreover, when we have pets, we feed them with the dog or cat food that is mostly made of dead animals. I have a strong sense of smell and know the scent of dead animals. When I enter a pet shop, I instantly recognize that strong smell of death.
It’s impossible to talk to hardcore anti-hunters, saboteurs who are so strong in England and getting stronger in Sweden. But hardcore pro hunters can have the same intransient mentality. These groups are failing to create a healthy dialogue towards the best solution for the co-existence of species and a well-balanced future with nature for the generations to come.
In my opinion, being open minded, dialogue and being ready to learn new ideas and better methods from others, is what we should aim for. I don’t think being too categorical is the way forward. My own point of view towards vegetarian food has changed a lot over the past few years. Now my diet is more balanced. I eat vegetarian food once or twice a week, but I also enjoy fish and meat dishes. I’m kind of in the middle of the nutritional chain – listening, learning, and evaluating different ideas, all the time.
Do you have any personal hunting-related rituals?
To me, it’s very important to respect the animal. I never step on or over it, never treat the animal disrespectfully. I’m thankful to nature for giving me this life to take. I touch the animal with my hands to feel the condition of its muscles. When I do the gralloching, I examine the body and internals – this tells me what kind of life the animal had and if there were any sicknesses.
What’s your favourite time of the day for hunting?
I love to go hunting for 16-18 hours straight. Starting in the late afternoon, waiting for the right buck; then a little after sundown changing into a night set; hunting all night for wild boar, stalking, or waiting from high ground; then changing again to roe buck hunting; enjoying the sunrise in the woods, and hunting until about noon the next day. It’s my favourite type of hunting because it allows you to observe the different shifts of animals in the forest. In the daytime, you hear different birdsong in the trees and the orchestra of crickets on the grass. The evening brings a different set of birds. You can hear a fox and a roe buck calling their rivals for a fight or searching for their female companions. Until the raven flies over and caws… That usually closes my hunt. After that there isn’t much movement or activity for a few hours.
Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson
Since I had not been brought up with a hunter in my family, I knew how to survive well in the mountains but sneaking into the forest was quite new to me. It was when I got my first thermal spotting scope that I finally learned about life in the forest at night. Now I know how to get closer to the animal, how they react when you step on a branch or if you move too fast or in bad wind. Through my thermal spotting scope, I have learned a lot more about animal behaviour and senses.
At first, I didn’t want to shoot with a thermal riflescope, but then I tried the best of the best at the time – Pulsar’s Thermion 2 XP50, and I realized I saw everything I needed to take a good shot. It helps me decide which animals to harvest. I can see the species, sex, approximate age, and the general condition of the animal.
Before thermal technology became as good as it is today, you could only rely on your own knowledge, how the animal moves and acts while making the harvesting decision. Now, through my thermal riflescope and spotter I can even see small tree branches. I can be sure no other animal is hiding behind the one I’m aiming at, and all the small details, which is so important for making the decision are clear. I can be very conscious of which animal’s life to take, whether it is for harvesting or regulating.
Moreover, with a thermal scope I can observe such fun things as butterflies, little mice, or bats (which I never knew were so warm-blooded, in fact). The device is so powerful!
Recently you shared some inspiring images of an erupting volcano in Iceland shot with the Pulsar thermal spotting scope, Helion 2 XP50 PRO. How did you come up with an idea?
I come from the land of ice, snow, erupting volcanos and fire. I was keen to test the instruments to the extreme to see from how far a thermal scope can detect a source of warmth. That scope has a detection range of 1.8 km and I wanted to challenge that number. I had the perfect chance as I was going to visit my family in Iceland, which I hadn’t seen for two years because of Covid.
When I finally got there, I had to find a place from where I could observe the volcano. It wasn’t erupting all the time, only at certain times while I was there. I went to Seltjarnarnes, where I lived from age 11, and shot the erupting volcano with a Helion 2 XP50 PRO from the harbour across the ocean, at a distance of 32 km. That’s how far it can spot!
How about your three daughters? I’ve seen photos of them riding horses, and it seems like they are growing up close to nature as well. What foundations are you trying to build for them?
It is important for me that future generations learn as much as possible about nature and how everything functions. I also want them to eat healthy food, taste good meat and know that meat is not grown in plastic bags, but is a part of animals. I take them with me on a hunt, but only when they ask for it. I’ve arranged some special places where all four of us can hunt together. But it must be their choice. I don’t want to push people into anything in life. Being a hunter today is a lifestyle, a choice. How we interact with nature should be our choice.
My daughters have often seen me slaughter animals often and have participated and learned some of the handcraft. Afterwards we prepare delicious meals with the meat. Good, real, wild game meat is much higher quality than the conventionally created one, and humans don’t need to eat as much of it as we do to survive. My hope for the future is less, but much higher quality meat and better animal lives, a more natural balance between humans and nature.
I hope more and more people will understand that every choice has a consequence, and the more we throw away, the more needs to be created. By getting food for yourself – for example, by hunting – you become more aware of your own choices, and more balance can be achieved.
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Jón Rúnar Guðjónsson
I shot the erupting volcano with Helion 2 XP50 PRO from the harbour across the ocean, in the distance of 32 km. That’s how far it can spot!
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