What country in Europe is best for hunters is a highly debatable question, but Poland would be among the top contenders. With its vast tracts of woods, countless lakes, and even snow-covered mountains, Poland has a lot to offer to both local and visiting hunters. Located in the eastern part of Europe, Poland had its ups and downs as a nation, sometimes rising to be the key state in the area, sometimes disappearing from the map after partitions. However, despite the pressure from neighboring empires, Poland managed to preserve its one-of-a-kind national character, including a unique hunting culture that combines Western European organization with Eastern European egalitarian spirit.
Hunting in Poland: How it works
Hunting in Poland is a regulated activity with specific laws and traditions. The key element there are hunting associations or clubs, the most prominent of those being the Polish Hunting Association (Polski Związek Łowiecki – PZŁ). Those associations manage hunting grounds, leasing the areas from the state or private landowners. To become a licensed hunter, one must pass a hunter’s exam, which includes theoretical knowledge of game biology, hunting law, and practical shooting skills. After passing the exam, the individual typically joins a hunting association, like the PZŁ, where they undergo a period of apprenticeship. The apprenticeship involves participating in organized hunts and learning from experienced hunters. Only after successful completion of the apprenticeship, the hunter receives a hunting license.
Hunting associations undertake a lot of work regarding wildlife and habitat management, which is normally financed through membership fees and other payments. For many associations, an essential part of income are international hunting tourists. Those must obtain a hunting permit, which is usually arranged by the hunting association that invites them, or by an agency that organizes the hunt. You will need to have a valid hunting license from your home country and take out insurance. In most cases, you will be required to hunt with a guide from the local hunting association that manages the hunting area. For bringing firearms into Poland, European Union firearm regulations apply.
Where to hunt in Poland
Excellent hunting grounds can be found almost everywhere in Poland. The south of the country, including Silesian and Lesser Poland Voivodeships, is mountainous, with Sudetes and Carpathian ranges, raising to its highest with the Tatra Mountains that mark the border with Slovakia. While the mountains are mostly low and wooded, providing hardly any opportunities for hunting true mountain game such as chamois, they make perfect habitat for red deer.
In the east, one finds vast tracts of woods, including the Byaloveza in the Podlaske Voivodeship, the largest surviving tract of primeval European forests, shared with Belarus. The Baltic Coast, from Warmian-Masurian to West Pomeranian Voivodships, has an abundance of lakes, lagoons, and marshes, home to countless waterfowl. The northwest is largely an agrarian lowland, continuing into the center of the country with the valleys of Oder, Warta, and Vistula, and in the southwestern Lower Silesia one finds more wooded areas, including the Lower Silesian Wilderness, an stretch of woods that run uninterrupted for almost 1700 square kilometers (650 square miles).
What Animals Can You Hunt in Poland
With its vast areas of wilderness, coupled with efficient wildlife management, Poland can boast of a rich and varied fauna, crowned by European bison, a.k.a. wisent or zubr. Poland can boast of the largest herd of European bison in the world, but hunting opportunities are limited to a very small number of selected individual animals, that stand at the end of their natural life, and can be extremely expensive. Another animal that enjoys protected status within the European Union, perhaps not quite as deservedly though, is the wolf. The Big Three of hunting in Poland are the red deer, the roe deer, and the wild boar; there are also good populations of the mouflon, the fallow deer, and small game.
Of all the small game hunting opportunities in Poland, perhaps the most unique and exciting is duck and geese hunting on the Baltic coast. Migrating waterfowl finds both abundant feeding opportunities, and shelter on the bays, lagoons, marshes and lakes. Bean and greylag geese are the prime object of the hunt, with other species also present in abundance.
Poland is one of the best destinations for roe deer hunting. There have been unconfirmed rumors that some operators bought and released Siberian roe deer, which has markedly bigger antlers than European roe deer, to improve trophy quality. Whether this is true or not, Polish roe deer are both numerous and make good trophies, and hunting them is a European classic.
For most European hunters the prime time for roe deer hunting is around May, when the bucks’ antlers come out of the velvet, and the bucks began clashing with each other over the sizes of their individual territories – that would later, in August, determine how many does a buck has a chance to mate with. Both stalking and waiting from high seats, as well as a combination of the two, is possible, and during the rut you can also use calling.
The royal game in Poland is both abundant, and offers a selection of decent trophies. You may not see such monstrously huge antlers on Polish deer as you would see on animals from some operations in New Zealand or Argentina, but if what you’re looking for is a solid, representative European red stag, in a free-range, natural environment, that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to hunt, Poland is the place to go.
The best way to hunt red deer is of course during the rut, giving hunters an opportunity not only to harvest a stag, but also to admire their breathtaking rituals, in the fairy tale atmosphere of woods that decaying leaves color in all shades of green, yellow and red.
During the rut, the guide may attempt to call the stag in, but overall it’s the spot-and-stalk that is the most common method of red deer hunting in Poland. As the hunts are priced on a daily rate + trophy fee basis, and hunting involves an aspect of selection, hunters naturally prefer to first see the stag, estimate the size of the horns, and only after making the decision that that’s what the hunter wants, to invest time and effort into the stalk.
Wild boar hunting, with its element of risk involved when dealing with a wounded boar, given the razor-sharp tasks, takes a special place in the European hunting tradition. And the good old days of wild boar hunting are right now. Populations are up, driven by advances in agriculture and mild winters sponsored by global warming, while the risk of African Swine Fever requires the hunters to take as many as they can, to keep the densities down.
In summer, hunters stalk wild boars or hunt them from high seats on the fields where the pigs rampage; night vision and thermal scopes are used where legal. Autumn and winter are the time for driven hunts, as well as targeted pursuit of trophy tuskers from high seats over feeding lots.
Best time for hunting in Poland
The best time to go hunting in Poland depends on what species do you have in mind. The peak of migration for waterfowl is in mid-November. For wild boar, summer offers the perfect opportunity to hunt them on the fields at night with night vision equipment. For roe deer, the prime time is “false rut” in April-June, followed by the real rut in August-September; some hunters, however, prefer stalking in the late fall – early winter. Late September to October see the “roar” of the red deer, and late October – the fallow deer rut. Individual stalking hunts, as well as hunting from high seats, continue all through the end of the season in early January, and November to December are the best time for driven hunts.
Large, community-based driven hunts are a typically European thing, and in countries where hunting is organized around hunting associations, as in Poland, make the key part of the hunting calendar. The season for driven hunts is usually November to January. Their purpose is twofold: on the one hand, to fill the larders, on the other hand, to maintain the age and sex balance of the populations.
Goals and limits are thus set for each hunt, depending on current situation in a given hunting area. It looks something like: unlimited wild boar, no mouflon, no roe deer, 20 fallow hinds and calves, 20 red deer of all sexes excluding trophy stags. The limit is usually set for a group, and the most successful hunter gets crowned as the king of the hunt; shooting the wrong animal is punishable by a fine; trophy fees for bucks and stags may apply. Quick species identification and skill at shooting offhand at moving targets are equally important for success.
There’s a lot of camaraderie involved, and common meals with lots of friendly banter make an essential part of the hunt. Beware that novices can be subject to practical jokes, often masqueraded as ancient traditions and rituals. When in doubt, just play along and go “I knew you guys were pulling my leg, but I didn’t want to spoil your fun” later; today’s embarrassment is tomorrow’s killer campfire story.
How much does it cost?
Unlike most other members of the European Union, Poland decided against joining the Euro currency zone, retaining its own currency, zloty. The country’s economic policy depends on keeping the zloty somewhat weaker than the Euro or US Dollar, and this, among other things, makes Polish hunting offers more attractive to tourists from countries with stronger currencies. German hunters in particular found hunting in Poland exceptionally affordable. Catering to their core clientele, most Polish outfitters list the prices of their hunts in Euro.
A 3-5 day red stag hunt will cost somewhere around $1,000. That includes guiding, accommodation, and catering (without alcoholic drinks), but not the trophy. The trophy fee may run from around $100 for an antlerless or selection animal and up to $4,000 for a record-book class stag. Participation in a driven hunt is priced between $2,000 to $3,000 for 4 to 5 days. These packages typically include unlimited boars, and a limited number of other animals such as mouflon, roe, red, and fallow deer.
As always, pay careful attention to trophy fees, and generally what is and what isn’t included in the price of the hunt. Some Polish outfitters, for example, arrange it so that the local guides in the field get paid for their service directly by the hunter in cash. On BookYourHunt.com outfitters are obliged to list every single item of the hunt’s price, included and not included, on the listing, so that there are no hidden costs.
What else do I need to know?
Poland is a safe and welcoming country, with a rich cultural and historical heritage, and you will find a lot to see and do on your visit beyond hunting, from mountain skiing in the Tatra mountains to classical music concert and historical sights. Polish cuisine, nutritious and affordable, can stand its grounds against any in Europe.
Poland is a member of the Schengen visa agreement, meaning that if you have a national visa for any other Schengen country, you probably don’t need a special visa to enter Poland. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States can enter without a visa for stays up to 90 days.
Although most outfitters have a decent command of English and German, that may not be the case with local guides, especially those assigned by hunting associations. It won’t hurt to learn a few words of Polish. Just twenty or thirty basic hunting terms (“gun”, “ammo”, “shoot”, “don’t shoot”, “antler”, “tracks”) and everyday phrases (“big”, “small”, “stop”, “go”, “good”, “bad”) – and, of course, “Hello!” and “Thank you!” – can make a big difference in the field.
Whether stalking the roebuck in full glory of late spring, listening to the hair-raising roar of red stags on a misty September morning, waiting for the flight of geese in a blind on a still coastal lake, or immersed in the loud thrill of a big driven hunt for wild boar, hunting in Poland will be an unforgettable adventure.