Deep North Episode 63: In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunting iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this day, I have never gone hunting, nor seen a real gun in my life. All that is about to change.

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In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunt iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this […]

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No Restrictions Imposed on This Season’s Ptarmigan Hunt

Rock ptarmigan

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and continues until November 21. Hunting is permitted every day except Wednesdays and Thursdays, with no set limits on the number of ptarmigans hunters can shoot. A ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir told RÚV that weather conditions have been challenging on the first day of hunting.

Ptarmigan hunting season begins

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and will continue until November 21. Although the ptarmigan population has trended upward since last year, the Environment Agency of Iceland advises hunters to hunt responsibly. The agency’s hunting guidelines remain consistent with past years: hunting is allowed from Friday to Tuesday, from October 20 to November 21.

RÚV reports that this year’s ptarmigan hunting is based on comprehensive scientific data, utilizing a model that incorporates nearly two decades of data. This research suggests that the ptarmigan population can endure 25 hunting days without falling below the average count of these years. Unlike previous seasons where hunters were advised to limit their catch to three to six ptarmigans, no such restrictions have been set this year.

Bjarni Jónasson, the team leader of Wildlife Management at the Environment Agency of Iceland, told RÚV that the population has grown by 33% compared to last year. While there are regional variations, the overall outlook is positive. Nonetheless, he reiterates the importance of hunting with moderation.

Weather conditions not ideal

RÚV also spoke to Þórhallur Borgarsson, a ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir, who begins preparing his Christmas meal in May by collecting birch twigs to season the ptarmigans. He was not in a rush to start hunting this morning, speaking to RÚV from his job at the Egilsstaðir Airport.

“Given the current weather conditions, it’s not ideal for ptarmigan hunting. It’s windy out, so the bird is likely tucked away tightly, probably among the rocks,” Þórhallur stated. He also noted that there was no snowline yet. “So, the birds are dispersed and somewhat challenging to find; they don’t fly until you’re nearly stepping on them. They’re very stubborn in this kind of weather and hard to locate,” he added.

Despite this, Þórhallur maintained that there was an abundance of birds in the area, having observed them during his reindeer guiding and sheep herding activities. Þórhallur expressed moderate satisfaction with the structure of this hunting season. “Yes, people will get their Christmas meal; I’m not particularly concerned about that.” He does believe, however, that it would have been more sensible if the hunting season was continuous, affording hunters more flexibility in choosing the weather conditions for their hunts.

The sale ban on ptarmigans remains in effect, and it is prohibited to export, offer for sale, or sell ptarmigans and ptarmigan products.

Ptarmigan Quota Increased for Upcoming Hunting Season

The Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate has announced that the annual ptarmigan hunting season will begin on November 1 and conclude on December 4. This year’s hunting quota has been set at 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000 from last year.

Poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped to significantly restore numbers. In May, the institute reported that the ptarmigan population was nearing its zenith in West and Northwest Iceland in the Westfjords while the population was likely declining in Northeast and East Iceland. In August, the institute reported poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland. The total ptarmigan population was estimated at just under 300,000 birds.

Yesterday, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate, announced the arrangement of this year’s ptarmigan hunting season. An announcement on the government’s website stated that hunting season shall last from November 1 to December 4, between 12 noon and sunset, from Tuesdays to Fridays. This year’s arrangement is similar to last year’s, with the exception that the quota has been increased to 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000.

Hunters asked to show moderation

Guðlaugur Þór also asked hunters to show moderation in light of the recruitment failure in Northeast and West Iceland: poor weather conditions this spring and summer are the likely explanation. The minister further encouraged hunters to refrain from hunting in large numbers in Northeast Iceland. Lastly, the announcement iterates the ban on ptarmigan sales, which applies equally to the sale of ptarmigan to resellers and others.

“I’ve emphasised that the Environment Agency of Iceland should expedite the creation of a management and protection plan for the ptarmigan and that the arrangement of hunting season should based on that plan in the future,” the press release reads.

The statement adds that a timeline for the management and protection plan, which involves a high level of cooperation with interested parties, has been established and that the plan would likely be introduced in May of 2023.

This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to the Afternoons

Rock ptarmigan

After conferring with scientists and other interested parties, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister for the Environment and Natural resources, has decided to forbid ptarmigan hunting before noon during this year’s hunting season, RÚV reports. The head of the Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association says that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“A wholesome walk in nature”

Last week, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History submitted its annual recommendation to the Environment Agency of Iceland concerning the hunting quota of ptarmigan. The Institute advised a quota of 20,000 birds, which is 5,000 fewer than last year.

In response to the proposed quota, Áki Ármann Jónsson, head of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), lamented the poor state of the ptarmigan stock, saying that this season’s hunt would merely constitute “a wholesome walk in nature.”

The Environment Agency – having taken into consideration the rationale of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History – submitted its proposal to the Ministry of the Environment a few days later. The agency advised that no changes be made to hunting regulations from the previous two years.

These regulations, which were adopted in the fall of 2019 and are in effect for three years, specify the duration of the ptarmigan hunting season as lasting from November 1 to November 30, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays (a total of 22 days).

A gap of 12,000 ptarmigan

In light of these two differing recommendations, Guðmundur Ingi acknowledged that without changes to the current hunting regulations, 32,000 ptarmigan would most likely be shot this season. To find an acceptable way to close the gap, the Minister called a meeting with representatives of SKOTVÍS yesterday.

After the meeting, Guðmundur announced that the best way to protect the ptarmigan population would be to forbid the shooting of ptarmigan before noon during this year’s hunting season. The minister also admitted that it was unfortunate how late the decision was being made, citing the fact that the Icelandic Institute of Natural History hadn’t submitted their advisement until October 18.

“I wanted to find ways for us to keep to the quota of 20,000 birds. That’s why, after conferring with institutions and the Icelandic Hunting Association (SKOTVÍS), we made this decision today to change the legislation so that hunters will only be allowed to shoot in the afternoon.”

Guðmundur hopes that this alteration will help reduce the number of ptarmigan hunted this season. “We do, of course, encourage hunters to shoot only three to four ptarmigans or to cease completely so that the ptarmigan may enjoy the benefit of the doubt.”

Hunters pleased with the Minister’s decision

Áki Ármann Jónsson, Director of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), stated that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“I’m really pleased with this arrangement. I want to compliment the Minister for his consideration of our proposals during his decision-making. He listened to our reasoning and entrusted hunters with the responsibility of keeping with the limits of the quota advisement.”

The hunting season begins on Monday.

Ptarmigan Population Steadily Dwindling, Ornithologist Says

This fall, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends a hunting quota of 20,000 ptarmigan, RÚV reports. Never in the Institute’s 16-year history of advisement has the ptarmigan population been smaller. An ornithologist working for the institute maintains that the population has dwindled in the long term.

The population at an all-time low

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. Although the ptarmigan was granted protective status in 2003, its numbers have been steadily dwindling. This year, for example, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends a hunting quota of 20,000 birds, which is 5,000 ptarmigan fewer than last fall (which, in turn, was a 35% decrease from 2019).

According to ornithologist Ólafur Karl Nielsen, the institute has never advised a smaller quota. “The Institute has been making recommendations for 16 years now, which isn’t that long, actually. But during this time, we estimate that the ptarmigan population has never been smaller.”

Fences, power lines, hazardous to the ptarmigan

The ptarmigan population undergoes regular fluctuations, reaching its zenith every ten or twelve years. These fluctuations have natural explanations, according to Ólafur, although many other man-made phenomena now contribute to the ptarmigan’s rate of mortality. “Fences, power lines, and other such things, kill numerous ptarmigan each year.”

As noted by RÚV, the ptarmigan population has been trending downward over the past years, although numbers vary between regions. Ptarmigan are relatively numerous in the West Fjords and in West Iceland, for example, where it is estimated that the population will reach its nadir in two to three years. In North, East, and South Iceland, however, the population has already reached an all-time low, with few birds being found in those parts of the country. “But in the long term, the ptarmigan faces great adversity, and the population has been dwindling. I think we can say that for certain.”

The ptarmigan population is estimated at approximately 248,000 birds, and the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends that this season’s hunting quota not exceed 9%. This translates to four birds per hunter (compared to five birds last year). The institute’s recommendation has been passed onto the Environment Agency of Iceland, which will, in turn, submit proposals to the Ministry of the Environment.

The ptarmigan hunting season extends to every day in November, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays, for a total of 22 days.

Ptarmigan Hunting Season Extended

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has decided to extend the annual hunting season by three days this year, increasing it to 15 days from last year’s 12, mbl.is reports. Ptarmigan season begins today, October 26th, and will take place on the next four subsequent weekends until it ends on Sunday, November 25th.

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped immensely to restore the numbers. And indeed, the estimated total number of ptarmigan in Iceland as of this spring was 173,000, up from 132,000 in 2016.

A noticeable decrease in ptarmigan hunting has also taken place since 2005. Last season, the hunting quota for last past hunting season allowed for 57,000 ptarmigans to be shot.

The recommended number of ptarmigans to be hunted this year is 67,000. Based on the number of hunters that have registered in previous years, this would come out to an average of ten ptarmigans a hunter. However, the current ban on the sale of ptarmigan remains in place.

The Ministry for the Environment credits the increased stability of the ptarmigan population for the extension of the hunting season and explained that adding the extra days will also hopefully reduce stress on the hunting grounds.