We had finished a
large and sumptuous dinner beginning with caviar and vodka and ending with
steaks and wine. Before us, as we lounged in comfortable leather armchairs, a
fire was blazing in an open hearth. You might have supposed that we were
sitting in some exclusive London club discussing the latest racing horses.
Actually, we were in a Soviet hunting lodge in northern Russia, and our
conversation concerned not horses but moose.
were Andrei Shapatin, Senior Hunting Inspector of the U.S.S.R., a tall,
friendly but shy man, and Aleksandr Malinovsky, head of the Soviet Hunting
Administration, an affable, stocky, red-faced Russian who had spent some years
in Berlin as a member of the Soviet occupation forces, specializing in game and
We had motored up
to the Pereslavl Timber and Hunting Domain, four hours' journey from Moscow,
the afternoon before, and had spent the day hunting snowshoe hares—with little
success. I had passed most of the day circling a large wooded area. The nearest
I got to a hare was on my second time around when I found hare tracks
superimposed on the footprints I had made the first time round. We never
discovered how close behind me he had been.
day, however, we planned to go moose shooting, and my hosts seemed supremely
confident that we would be successful. To an American or Canadian hunter,
accustomed to tramping for days through the wilderness in search of moose, such
optimism might have seemed a little naive, unless Russian moose were a
different breed from the American. But, in the opinion of Soviet zoologists,
the Russian moose (Alces alces) differs physically from the American moose
(Alces americana) only in minor respects. The Russian moose stands more than 7
feet, has antlers slightly smaller than the American variety and weighs
slightly more—about 1,200 pounds. His coat is usually a darker, glossier brown
than the American, and the lower parts of his legs are pure white.
however, to be an important difference in personality, if not in physique.
American experts claim that the American moose is so shy that he has been
driven from most of his former habitats in the U.S. not only by hunters or
poachers but by the mere presence of man. The Russian moose, on the other hand,
seems much more sociable. He is often seen in the suburbs of Moscow, and last
summer while I was lunching with the mayor of Leningrad at a government villa
in the heart of the city on the banks of the Neva, three moose calves swam
ashore from the river and invaded the garden.
A hundred years
ago the moose was almost extinct in European Russia. "They were shot off to
provide pants for Catherine the Great's guardsmen," a Russian
conservationist told me. "But Soviet guardsmen don't wear moosehide pants,
and today there are over 15,000 in Moscow oblast [province] alone."
measures instituted before the revolution and re-established by Lenin just
after the revolution have not only saved the moose from extinction but have
made them virtual pests in some forest areas. The Pereslavl Domain, for
example, has between 500 and 600 head of moose, and they are doing such damage
to the timber that forestry officials were insisting that 100 of them be shot
off this year alone. However, hunting officials considered this far too drastic
and planned to shoot only 40 or 50. Poachers, bears and wolves, they estimate,
would destroy another 20 or 25.
Malinovsky, one of my hosts, is himself a trained forester. After what he
learned during occupation service in central Europe, he is convinced that good
forestry and good hunting can and should coexist. To prove it, he has
established 12 model timber and hunting domains throughout the U.S.S.R. where
scientific forestry and wildlife conservation methods are being put into
Domain, one of the 12, has an area of over 100,000 acres. During the Russian
Civil War, when Moscow had no fuel, it was ruthlessly cut over. Again during
the siege of Moscow in 1941 it was severely timbered. With proper management,
Malinovsky hopes it will once more be the great pine and birch forest it was
before the Russian Revolution. His newly recruited staff of foresters are
cutting a regular grid of firebreaks and logging roads through the second
growth. He has also recruited a force of 30 gamekeepers, whom he is training in
standard European hunting and conservation practices. Already they have all but
eliminated wolves from the domain and, as a result, the number of moose calved
that reach maturity is visibly greater than ever before.
hopes go further than physical conservation practices; he hopes to develop the
sporting ethics of the Russian hunter.