The hunting instinct is present in all humans regardless of nation or culture, but all nations and cultures practice hunting in unique and different ways. One example of such differences, for example, is that most European outfitters charge the trophy fee according to the size of the trophy. This can influence the bottom line in a dramatic (and not always pleasant) way. For example, an entry-level Red Stag trophy will typically be priced at $2,000 or less, while the “gold medal” may cost over $10,000.
A lot of American hunters, and in fact most hunters from most countries where you can still hunt in pristine wilderness, aren’t especially keen on this practice. Hunting in North America, with the exception of game farms, is based on a flat-fee principle. The hunter and the guide will work hard to get the biggest trophy they can find, but the size of the trophy is the gift of Mother Nature. It has nothing to do with money.
In fact, we can’t think of something that is more intimidating afield than having a magnificent stag in your sights, and wondering whether you can or can’t afford to fire the shot. Just the very thought about finances in the heat of the hunt is somehow uncomfortable. The only way to hunt a preserve that charges per inch of antler or horn is to be prepared to pay for the biggest animal they can provide. Then if you get to shoot a smaller one, you can think of the smaller trophy fee as a discount.
Of course, the Europeans view it, as the French say, from a different optic. In most parts of Western Europe you simply can’t have any hunting at all if you don’t manage your land. The by-inch approach to trophies encourages the preserve managers, huntsmen and guides to work harder on creating better herds, and fosters their professionalism. It shows that the guides and huntsmen know what’s there in their wood, and know their job. Mistakes in trophy size estimation can lead to bitter disagreements, which damage the outfitter’s reputation; if the outfitter trusts their guides with this, they gotta be good.
However, not all European outfitters follow this principle. At the Monteria hunts in Portugal and Spain, for example, where the game appears before the hunter and vanishes from sight very quickly, leaving no time for antler size estimation (species identification and shooting are hard enough: read more about Monteria in our blog story), the outfitters charge the same money for any size of the trophy. And now the good news came from Belarus outfitters, that the outfitters there are moving towards flat-fee based hunts.
Never heard of Belarus? Then you’d better check your dates and start packing your trunk: Belarus is perhaps the best-kept secret of European hunting. Kings of Poland, Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order, Emperors of Russia and Secretary Generals of the Soviet Union all came in their time to hunt the pristine wilderness of the Belavezha Forest. Once you learn of this country, roughly the size of Kansas, squeezed between Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, it would be hard to resist the temptation to hunt there.
It’s easier to say what you can’t than what you can hunt in Belarus. There’s no such mountain game as Ibex and Chamois, and Brown Bear, while numerous, enjoys a protected status. Wild Boar, once a highlight of Belarusian hunting, is now an outlaw, because of African Swine Fever; you can hunt it, in fact hunting preserves are under orders to kill every single one on their territory, but you can’t keep the trophy, as the corpses must be destroyed. All other European big game animals are there galore: Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Mouflon, Moose, European Roe Deer, as well as an abundance of birds and small game.
Red and Fallow Deer hunts in Belarus are on par with any other country in Europe. The mighty stags trumpet their warning call to rivals across the crispy air of the autumn woods, and the experienced guides send them a challenge to come out and fight. Another highlight of hunting in Belarus is the Moose hunt “on the roar”, as they call the hunt during the mating season. Hunting from high seats, Euro style, and driven hunts for big game are also in vogue, and some preserves can still organize the old-fashioned Wolf hunt with flags (read more about this hunt here).
There are even opportunities to hunt the mighty Zubr, or Aurorch, Europe’s cousin of the Woodland Bison. Once only members of the royal families were allowed to hunt them; today a very small number of permits, for hunting selected animals that are nearing the end of their natural existence, are issued, with the money going towards conservation of the herds.
In spite of autocratic regime, Belarus is open towards foreigners, and in fact citizens of the United States and the countries of the European Union can enjoy a 5-day stay in the country without a visa. (Note: the Belarus five-day no visa entry does not give you the right to enter Russia or Ukraine, even though the three countries have open-borders agreements). The people of Belarus are exceptionally friendly and hospitable, and the prices on everything are more than affordable.
Hunting seasons are generous: the spring season for migratory geese, for instance, runs as long as two months. It is legal to rent rifles and shotguns from outfitters, to hunt with a bow, and (in some contexts) to use night vision and thermal scopes.
Belarus outfitters offer perhaps the best of both worlds: the West European level of organization, and the East European unspoilt wilderness. Now with the outfitters abandoning the practice of charging per inch, and moving towards flat-fee based hunts, hunting Belarus has become an absolute bargain that is hard to beat indeed.